Growing up, SandBox Middle East CEO Lito German would sit at the dinner table, all ears as he listened to his father go on about his day. A well-renowned “spin doctor and advertising guru”, his dad would tell great stories of his latest campaigns with his wide-eyed son hanging on his every word.
So as Lito grew up and built a career of his own, it comes as no surprise that he too went into the realm of public relations and marketing. “I often joke that I have more than 40 years of marketing experience, even though I’m only 51,” he smiles.
“Thanks to my dad, my training started at an early age.” Throughout his career, Lito has worked with top marques, including Coca-Cola, BMW, Toyota and Lexus. But most of his time was spent in the automotive industry.
“It perfectly aligned my passion with my profession,” he explains. “I’ve lived the cliche of loving my job and, therefore, not having to work for the past few decades.”
Lito’s stint with BMW taught him German precision, attention to detail and the value of luxury marketing. With Toyota, he was inspired to pursue constant improvement, which taught him the importance of establishing and adhering to standard processes. The collective experience, he claims, has made him the leader he is today.
“This selective hybrid of German, Japanese and Filipino styles of management is what I apply today at SandBox,” he says. “As you can imagine, my decision to leave the automotive industry after nearly two decades was not an easy one to make. But it came at such a pivotal moment and a time of radical change, not only for me but also for the industry in general. In the context of the COVID-19 crisis, jumping from one job to another just didn’t seem like that big of a deal.”
In March 2021, Lito made that leap of faith from Toyota to SandBox, an import and distribution company based in Dubai, focusing mostly on food and grocery items from the Philippines. He hasn’t looked back. With heaps of opportunity for both himself and the company, the role was just the challenge he was after.
“There’s a dizzying expanse of opportunities available. We just need to generate more awareness and appreciation for the world-class products that the Philippines offers,” he enthuses.
“The global appeal of Filipino food and grocery items is undeniable. And while I’m happy to see a lot of Filipino products in the Middle East, I recognise that they’re mostly targeted towards the Filipino communities. The biggest opportunity for our company and the brands we carry lies in expanding our distribution reach to a global audience.”
The brand is a company’s tree of life. As such, you have to nurture and protect it and help it grow to its full potential.
To achieve this, Lito has a three-point growth plan in place for channel growth, brand and product expansion, and business scalability and sustainability.
Basically, SandBox plans to stabilise and expand its reach in other Gulf Cooperation Council markets while also opening distribution lines in new markets, including Germany, Spain, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and it plans to grow its range to include grocery and personal care items. However, core to this is making sure SandBox has a solid foundation in place.
“We are growing at an aggressive pace as we open new markets and take on additional brands,” he confirms. “Therefore, we need to ensure that we have the financial stability to fuel our growth and the right structure to empower our people. We will always reach high and wide, but we must also keep our feet on the ground and maintain our balance at the same time.”
It’s a one-of-a-kind import and distribution company. While many of its competitors only act as the “middlemen” for the industry, SandBox goes further. “We are not merely traders but rather product developers, relationship builders, door openers and brand builders,” Lito says.
“We work very closely with our partners to build brand awareness and product appreciation. We use in-depth, comprehensive market studies to determine ideal price positioning and we hold focus group discussions, proposing new variants that are suited to local tastes and cultures. More importantly, we invest heavily in marketing the products we sell.”
Being so dedicated and passionate helped the company secure one of its top brands, Delimondo – a Filipino brand that has gained global recognition for its premium food products.
“Delimondo is the brainchild of its Founder Katrina Ponce Enrile. It was the first major brand that truly opened the gates for us,” Lito beams. “Having a top marque like Delimondo in our exclusive portfolio made subsequent discussions with other brands much easier.”
Recently, SandBox has grown its portfolio with big brands like Oh So Healthy and Pacquiao 3 in 1 Coffee. However, to continue building the business successfully, Lito recognises the importance of his team.
“We work with constantly curious minds, always questioning whether we can make something better, faster, more cost-efficient and so on,” he says.
“We drive innovation and constant improvement with this mindset. And this innovation keeps us on our toes while keeping our excitement and engagement levels up.” Of course, in this line of work, Lito reveals that beyond all the bells and whistles, it’s the brand and its reputation that are at the centre of everything.
“My work in crisis PR taught me that if the brand is ever damaged heavily, then the repercussions are more lasting and far reaching than any other business setback,” he cautions. “The brand is a company’s tree of life. As such, you have to nurture and protect it and help it grow to its full potential.”
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