Cover Green, black and red olives and olive oil | Photo: The Bow Tie Duck

A tech savvy Frenchman found himself on Philippine shores and sought out to bring flavours of home he craved most to local consumers.

Meet The Bow Tie Duck by Julien Marie; a digital retail space that was born pre-COVID, well ahead of the pandemic induced trend. It boasts a highly curated range of products from around the globe. As a specialty, artisanal purveyor, Julien ensures that each item is something he can personally vouch for. 

The Bow Tie Duck emerged as an idea in 2013, a couple years after I had arrived in the country,” he says. “As a consumer, I could not find the products that I missed from home so I launched the first iteration of the Bow Tie Duck in 2014. While the concept garnered some traction at the time, I didn’t have the right partner to grow the business,” Julien elaborated. 

Read more: How Has Dining In The Philippines Changed Through The Pandemic?

Thankfully, not only did he find commercial success in the Philippines, but he also found love. His now-fiancee Raizza Encinas is his partner in crime and better half. The duo re-launched the online marketplace in 2019 as a side project as they focused on other work simultaneously, but The Bow Tie Duck soon demanded more attention as it grew in popularity. “Raizza and I are a perfect match professionally. I often try to go too big too fast. She is the one who turns my ideas into reality with our team,” he admits. 

For someone with Julien’s background, "teching" up and going the digital route was natural and par for the course. In fact, Julien began his career with .com giants like Friendster and Yahoo!, then moved onto consultancy and e-commerce, further sharpening his skills.

Fast forward a few more years and you find Julien combining his life’s two passions: technology and food, finally carving out his niche in the world. “Food has always been one of my passions. One of my weird hobbies as a kid was to learn by heart the Michelin guide during long family road trips. I have been really lucky to experience many great restaurants during my youth, that I spent first in Nice and then at the border of Burgundy and Champagne, two regions with amazing food and wine traditions,” he shares. 

Today, The Bow Tie Duck has around 1000 products, and adds around 20 new items each week, from fresh oysters, wild fish, and cinco jotas jamon to jams, fresh fruit and baked goods. 

Learn more about this purveyor, and his journey, here: 

Read more: The Future Of F&B Is In The Cloud Says Chef Mikel Zaguirre 

You went digital ahead of the curve, before the pandemic. Why did you want to start here and not brick and mortar? 

That was quite a no-brainer for me as I breathe digital and e-commerce. Also, I always thought of e-commerce, when done right, as a channel where you can deliver a truly amazing experience. A key example is for fresh air-flown items, like line-caught fishes, oysters, truffles, high-end produce that have a really short shelf life. For those, we work mainly on pre-order, which allows us to deliver them to consumers within 12 hours of them landing in Manila airport. Also, as we have a tech background, we developed the technology so that we don’t need to tell [you] that your delivery will take 'two to five' days. We tell you exactly what day and we only have a one per 1000 error rate.

We also are really stringent on quality. We do extensive quality checks and never deliver even slightly bruised produce, and always make sure there is ample shelf life on all items delivered. 

What important lessons have you learned during the pandemic as someone in the F&B industry?

As we are F&B outsiders, we saw the industry with unbiased and maybe naive eyes. We did things that seasoned insiders didn’t do as they deemed, I think, the market not mature enough, and maybe... we proved them wrong. The notion that the market is not mature enough was maybe true 10 or 15 years ago, but the country has evolved tremendously since then. Filipinos travel more and their natural love and curiosity towards food has made them crave more. The food scene has completely changed with increased fine dining options. 

Read more: Wine And Food Retailer Alex Lichaytoo Says Quality Is Everything

What COVID safety measures did you implement? What COVID-19-related measures do you think are here to stay (even post-pandemic) and how do you feel about them? 

We structured our company in a 90 per cent work-from-home setup. The only team that is working physically in our facility is our operation team to stock, package and dispatch our orders. We have a strong policy where we can’t meet physically during the pandemic. I’ve always have been a proponent of remote working, even before the pandemic, as I think people do their best work when they can have the right work-life balance and have an environment where they can focus, so this will stay the same. And hygiene measures are of course the fundamentals of food safety.

The Philippines, in comparison to other countries, is behind in terms of online shopping, food delivery services etc. What do you think needs to improve? Or why do you think we were slow to catch on?

The country is catching up at an amazing pace. Payment channels are now modern and more reliable. The biggest obstacle in terms of logistics is the infrastructure, starting with something as basic as a standardised address system.

Read more: A Taste Of Home: Designer Charina Sarte Shares What Filipino Food She Misses Most

What did you learn about yourself during these challenging times? Did you pick up any new skills, hobbies or passions during the pandemic? 

The most amazing thing I learned is how perspective changes when you grow a company and are responsible for the livelihood of your employees. Raizza and I really try to give freedom to our employees to manage their departments in a way that makes sense for the company but also in a way that is fulfilling for them. We can’t ask employees to have the same level of ownership as we do, but by giving them the freedom to execute their tasks the way they deem the best, helps them become more dedicated to their mission. We really believe that given the proper environment, anybody can thrive in what they do.

What do digital shops need to do in order to thrive and stand out in a crowded marketplace?

As [with] everything in business, what matters is brand positioning, meaning how to be different from anybody else, while making sure the difference is valuable to consumers. You also need to be able to deliver this value completely and consistently. And whatever you do, consistency is key. This is the secret of three stars Michelin restaurants as well as McDonald’s. That’s why we invest a lot in technology; as humans are inherently bad at being consistent.

Read more: Hapag Private Dining Gives A Unique Twist To Filipino Cuisine

How best do you think consumers/diners can support you and the F&B industry in the short term, and the longer term? 

Our customers are amazingly loyal to us and we are really lucky and grateful for that. I think that this is something every business needs: a core group of loyal patrons who support you. It is important during these times to order from your beloved restaurants, even if it means going a little out of your way to make it happen if they don’t have fully running delivery. Restaurants are key elements of the social fabric of cities, we should not let them die.

What do you see for the future of F&B in the Philippines? 

A lot of innovations started to develop before the pandemic, like the cloud kitchens. This is a time of amazing innovation and exploration. The Bow Tie Duck is one of these experimentations. I think the market will continue to be dependent on the internet and deliveries for everything that is not easily accessible.

What are the most important tips you have for people who want to be in your line of business? 

Focus on what you are naturally good at. Bow Tie Duck was a natural extension of me, as I was lucky growing up regularly going to amazing restaurants in France and learned a lot about food. Tech, food and music are the three things that are part of me, and I’m really lucky to be able to merge two of my three passions in my work. 

In everything, focus on your strengths first, then find the people that complement you. Raizza’s strengths are my weaknesses. She is an amazing manager, and always cautious while always finding a way to make things happen in a consistent way, while I’m the crazy guy pointing the direction on where to go and always trying to break the status quo. In any business, you need these two elements working well with each other, as naturally, they are in tension. Trust and understanding are what makes it work.

As a seasoned purveyor, what have you learned about yourself and the industry over the years? 

The most important thing I learned is to accept and embrace my limitations. Accepting them allowed me to know what I have to improve on.

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