CAR TRUNK SURPRISE. Decorating a car trunk with streamers, balloons, and other party supplies is among the fanciest and safest ways to show appreciation for your loved ones in the new normal. (Contributed photo)

MANILA – The doorbell rings and you’re greeted by a delivery person who tells you that “someone” ordered food for you. But instead of handing you the delivery, she tells you that you need to pick it up from the car’s trunk.

You’re suspicious, but agree to do so. She leads you to her car and when she opens the trunk—surprise! It’s decorated with nearly a dozen balloons, lights, and a streamer that says “I miss you!” You later realize that it’s from your boyfriend who’s currently abroad working to save enough for your future together.

This is what goes on in the “car trunk surprise” business that’s making rounds on social media as a new way to surprise loved ones in the new normal that currently restricts travel and bans large gatherings due to threat of Covid-19 pandemic. It’s also a side hustle which has helped displaced cruise-line worker Babe Ruth Tolentino, 30, earn extra cash after major cruise operators suspended their sailings.

“Nag-decide ako na mag-start ng business na puwede sa’kin. Ngayong pandemic, mahirap magwork ngayon kung saan-saan. Meron naman kaming car, so ‘yun na lang yung naisip ko (I decided to start business that I can handle. Now that we have pandemic, it’s difficult to go around to work. We have car, so I came out with this idea) instead of just delivering food or other items,” Tolentino told the Philippine News Agency.

Tolentino said she and her sisters lost their jobs because of the pandemic so she thought of making use of their cars to delivery items to make profit.

“Sabay-sabay kami nawalan ng work. Ayun nga, may mga kotse then wala naman kaming mahanap na work, ‘yun na lang (We lost our jobs at the same time. We had cars but we couldn’t find work, so that’s what we thought of),” she added. 

(Clockwise) Aira Aranas, Ella Aranas and Babe Ruth Tolentino, the brains behind "Mi Amor Car Trunk Surprise", are all smiles as they join car trunk surprise recipient Mima for a photo. (Contributed photo)

Since her sisters were crafty, she decided to combine their artistic talents and her social skills to put up a business that eventually became known as “Mi Amor Car Trunk Surprise”. Mi Amor, which in Spanish means “my love” is the perfect tagline considering they offer surprise packages meant to be delivered to loved ones.

“Yung mga sisters ko, sila yung may knowledge sa mga decorations so parang in-adopt ko nalang din ‘yun para in one plan na ganun, sama-sama kami. Sila yung nagde-decorate, ako lang yung nag-a-approve ng mga bookings (My sisters, they’re the ones with knowledge in decorations so I adopted that so that we have this joint plan we can work on together. They make the decorations, I approve the bookings),” she said.

The car trunk surprise caters to different occasions -- birthdays, anniversaries, proposals, bridal showers, or even a random day you decided you want to win back your ex-lover.

Tolentino said that preparing a car trunk surprise would usually take two to three days, depending on the theme of the client’s preference. They would have to print customized streamers, photos of the recipient to put on a clothesline, and a letter.

Buying the flowers and cake and other food would have to be done on the day of the delivery to guarantee freshness. Setting up the car trunk surprise would only take around an hour, she said.

But the most challenging part is looking for the recipient’s address, she said: “lalo na kung yung bahay nasa liblib (especially if the house is in a remote place).”

The car trunk surprise caters to different occasions -- birthdays, anniversaries, proposals, bridal showers, or even a random day you decided you want to win back your ex-lover. (Contributed photos)

Most accommodating

Although there is a bunch of other car trunk surprise businesses around, Tolentino considers theirs the most accommodating when it comes to customers’ requests. It also helps that it’s among the most affordable car trunk services around.

“What I can say is affordable siya (It’s affordable). Sa reviews, sinasabi nila mas madali kaming kausap ganun (In reviews, people say we’re easy to talk to),” she said.

The cheapest car trunk surprise package, Package A costs PHP1,499 inclusive of a theme of your choice, music to be played when the trunk is opened, balloons, five to 10 photos to be hung up, coated mallows, a special message card.

Package B, which costs PHP1,999, offers the same inclusions as Package A but with a box of banana cupcakes and a plush toy. Package C, which costs PHP2,499, also offers the same inclusions but with a choice of either two boxes of banana cupcakes or brownies, a small expensive toy, and a flower bouquet.

On top of the package is a delivery fee which will be computed based on distance, but clients who live within Biñán, Laguna don’t have to pay a single centavo since it’s where Tolentino and her sisters currently live.

To date, Mi Amor Car Trunk Surprise has surprised recipients from all over Region 4-A or Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon).

She said that her experience as a cruise line worker has trained her to be customer service driven such that she always makes it a point that her clients are given their money’s worth.

“Before kami nag-start, nag-observe din naman ako. I tried to inquire sa mga ganyan, then sometimes ay ‘hindi po puwede ma’am, may ganito, ganyan’ sabi ko baka puwede po medyo mababa yung price, ‘hindi rin po.’ Hindi accommodating masyado ‘to. I said iibahin ko siya sa way ko (Before we started with our business, I observed how others did it. I tried to inquire with other shops, then sometimes they’d say, ‘we can’t do that, ma’am because of this and that’ and I’d ask, maybe we can get a lower price, they’d say, ‘we can’t do that.’ They’re not that accommodating. So I said, I’ll take a different approach),” she said.

Tolentino’s quest to be more accommodating eventually paid off as clients have been leaving rave reviews on their official Facebook Page.

Three months after they launched their car trunk surprise business, Tolentino and her sisters opened a party supplies kiosk to cater to those who also wanted to have mini parties in their homes.

The "Mi Amor Surprise Me" party supplies kiosk was opened three months after the launch of their car trunk surprise business. (Contributed photo)

Tug at heartstrings

This Valentine’s Day, she said many potential clients have started inquiring their services. But she said she can only accept as much as three clients per day.

“Feb. 14 is para dito lang sa Biñan kasi super busy ko po. Hindi ko rin sila maipagda-drive kasi yung store namin is tatlo, pupuntahan ko every hour, tse-check ko kung ano na status so magiging busy din ako. Tatlo lang kukunin namin (We will only cater to those living within Biñan on Feb. 14 because I’d be super busy that day. I won’t be able to drive because we have three stores which I visit every hour to check. So we can only book about three clients),” she said.

For Tolentino, the best part about their business is getting to witness the happy look on recipients faces the very moment they receive the surprise.

“Iba yung feeling. Minsan nga naiiyak din kami lalo na kapag mga parents yung sinu-surprise ganun. Nakakadala yung emotions (It feels different. Sometimes we also feel like crying when clients surprise their parents. We get carried away with emotions),” she said.

She said most of their clients are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) or siblings who want to surprise their elderly parents.

“Kasi nga hindi na nakauwi. Mostly yung mga nagpapa-surprise 60th birthday, 18th ganun. Mga hindi na nakapag-party sa bahay (It’s because they can’t come home. Most of those who avail of our services are those who want a surprise for 60th birthdays or 18th birthdays. Those who can’t throw parties in their homes),” she said.

Until now, Tolentino says that she and her siblings find time to surprise their own parents given their knack for pulling off surprises.

“Mahirap nga lang sila isurprise kasi siyempre magkakasama kami sa bahay. Ngayong pandemic triny naming i-surprise sa resort (It’s difficult to pull off a surprise because we live in the same house. But this pandemic, we tried surprising them by taking them to a resort),” she added.

When cruise lines resume operations, Tolentino plans to get her job back and let her sisters manage their party supplies business.

“Yung sa car trunk, ‘yun ang hindi ko pa sure kung paano ko siya gagawin. Marunong din naman mag-drive yung mom ko so baka ituloy pa rin nila (As for the car trunk business, that’s what I’m not quite sure about doing. My mom knows how to drive, so they might keep doing it),” she said. (PNA)