The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating for small businesses around the world. From loss of business entirely, to finding ways to shift to e-commerce rapidly, entrepreneurs in South Africa are being forced to adapt fast. Many of us know and love small businesses here in Technopark, but how has the pandemic affected them and how can we support them during these trying times?


Retail Anxiety

Small businesses are facing challenges during this crisis that are complex and vital to overcome for South Africa’s future. At the end of April 2020, 48% of businesses surveyed by StatsSA indicated temporary closure or paused trading activity, while 8.6% had permanently ceased trading. Lockdown restrictions on sales and movement are the two main reasons why local businesses have been affected so widely.

The #CombatCovid SMME Survey engaged with small-business owners across South Africa to appraise the extent of the damage reaped upon their livelihood. 2,280 small-business owners took part in the survey, just before the government announced the Level-4 lockdown regulations. Here are some of the findings:

  • 89% of small businesses observed the negative financial impact of Covid-19 pandemic indicated by a notable decrease in monthly income.
  • 33% of them estimated a monthly decline of between 75%-100%.
  • 3/4 small-business owners (across various industries) indicated that their business will not survive prolonged lockdown restrictions beyond 1 July 2020.
  • Less than half of the business owners surveyed have applied for relief from government, banks or other financial institutions. Of those that have applied, 68% were unsuccessful in their applications.
  • Prolonged lockdown will force 71% to retrench.
  • 66% have had to reduce staff salaries.
  • More than 54% are making use of tech to work remotely and run their businesses.
  • 1 out of 3 SMME’s have changed their business model.

Governments are taking steps to minimize the negative impacts of Covid-19 on business operations and workers. Larger businesses have a better chance of surviving with more cash flow at their disposal, larger retainer clients and, in many instances, a very strong digital presence to help carry them through the lockdown.


Local is Lekker

Social distancing, lockdown regulations and a halted economy have all taken their toll on office buildings and business parks. With the work-from-home trend becoming a necessity more than a choice, business-parks have witnessed a major decrease in activity.

Recent surveys, that involved canvassing the opinions of several hundred people during level-4 lockdown, have shown that 86% of people want to go back to working in an office. While remote work was initially very popular, as time wore on, people realised there was a lack of work life balance. People reported feelings of isolation and difficulties in carrying out team tasks, and many missed their co-workers.

A lull in foot-traffic (and morning traffic) has taken a toll on the small businesses in Technopark who rely on retail support from tenants and locals. Some of the most popular services in Technopark, such as Aleph Biltong, Rocco & Riley, Follow the White Rabbit, TechnoGuide and Smulpaap, have seen very little action from tenants since opening their doors in early July.

Petrakis, the friendly face that greets you at Follow the White Rabbit explains that “it’s extremely challenging to maintain hope and persevere during these tough times”. According to Petrakis, the foot traffic for take-aways has decreased to a fraction of what it used to be. Limitations on space and the realities of social distancing have moreover had a huge impact on the influx of customers.

Nestled just behind this cafe is another cornerstone Technopark small business: Aleph Biltong. This nook is the go-to for fine, cured meat this side of Namibia, but the owners are seeing less than a fraction of their regular customers. All small service providers report the same unfortunate circumstances. More remote working, the closure of schools and less workers allowed in offices ultimately mean less business and money in the till.

Work Shack, the lively co-working office space in Datavoice House has been keeping a finger closely on the pulse of the Technopark community. After being allowed to operate after level-5 lockdown, Work Shack noticed an eager response from their communal network of existing members to return to work. Hygiene and cleaning protocols were increased and optimised to ensure the safety and peace of mind of members, along with screening measures and daily standing meetings to keep communications open and transparent.

Work Shack has been both a result and example of how a sense of community can foster trust and lasting relationships, especially in uncertain times like the present.


A Little Goes A Long Way

Supporting local businesses is vital in order to stimulate the economy. Apart from continuing to purchase their products/services, how can you go about supporting your locals, especially in Technopark?

Next time you think of where to get your hair cut, have lunch or purchase a take-away coffee, consider that your support means more than a transaction to our local service providers in Technopark.

It shows them that we care about them, so that they can care for us.

Something as small as buying a voucher, cook-at-home meals or merchandise from your favourite shops could make a big difference. If you are impressed with the effort a business goes to in order to ensure your safety, refer your friends and family to them or give them a positive review online.

If you are a small-business owner, there are useful support sources, including the South African Government website and the Stellenbosch Municipality website, that aim to aid business owners as well as serving as local forums where entrepreneurs can share updates and news. If you would like to make a difference to small businesses in your area, some helpful tips can be found here.

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