Business as unusual: A look at how some local companies have adapted to survive COVID-19

Hardship can sometimes bring about positive change. Here are some ways that South African businesses have responded to the challenges the pandemic has brought.

The world as we know it has changed. This global pivot, thanks to COVID-19, has had a profound impact on every economy in the world, and South Africa is no exception. Stats SA found that 9 in 10 businesses had experienced reduced turnover since the start of lockdown, with small businesses affected the most.

It’s a worrying statistic given that, according to McKinsey & Company, small and medium-sized enterprises make up more than 98 percent of businesses, employ between 50 and 60 percent of the country’s workforce across all sectors, and contribute 39 percent of South Africa’s GDP.

But some brands have managed to stay afloat, through a combination of grit, creativity and luck. We’re inspired by businesses who think differently in order to serve the needs of their customers, so we wanted to celebrate some of these business heroes.

Restaurants that have tweaked their business model

When the lockdown hit, business owners had to react swiftly to the challenges and threats it posed. This was especially true for the restaurant and hospitality industry. But some didn’t stop feeding people – they just found a new way to do it.

Brik Cafe’s – “From our pantry to yours”

Like all restaurants and coffee shops, Brik, a small cafe in Rosebank, had to stop trading at the beginning of lockdown, and had to find a new way to serve their loyal customer base. They saw this as an opportunity to offer curated food boxes.

It's a service still going strong and you can order your choice of either the Brik box, Vegan box, Vegetarian box, Gluten free box or the Gift box!

Image Credit: Brik Cafe

Oranjezicht Farmers’ market – bringing their market to you

The Oranjezicht Farmers’ Market has always been a popular hangout spot in Cape Town over weekends. Under early lockdown regulations, they had to close. However, they still managed to make sure the fresh produce reached their customers.

Partnering with UCOOK, The Oranjezicht Farmers Market created ‘Your Market Box’, available to buy online. The boxes are filled with the freshest seasonally and ethically sourced ingredients from small batch South African farmers. There’s a variety of boxes to choose from, so do it for those who can’t (like us here in Jozi).

Image Credit: Your Market Box

Entrepreneurs working with what they have to capitalise on new opportunities

“Prioritizing innovation today is the key to unlocking post-crisis growth.” – McKinsey

If you take a step back and look at what companies are doing, you can see that, for some, the COVID-19 crisis has presented an opportunity. Many companies have taken the skills they already have and presented their offering in a completely different way.

Book iBhoni – changing tourism bicycles into delivery couriers

This Soweto-based bicycle tourism company usually offers township heritage tours on bicycles. Their team of five riders now use their bicycles for deliveries. The mini courier service charges R15 for 5km travelled in Soweto and R10 for 5km travelled in other parts of Johannesburg. Although the nimble team has seen a decrease in income, they’ve still managed to put food on the table.

Image Credit: Book iBhoni

SWEAT1000’s live online gym sessions

SWEAT1000 is a private gym known for it’s intense workouts and club-like studios. But since gyms have been closed since lockdown, this small company has had to find a new way to keep their loyal customers fit and moving. SWEAT1000 launched their new app and clients are now able to purchase packages for app workouts or join live classes online.

Image Credit: SWEAT1000

Trendy brands reinventing their business models

From Publik wine bar to fresh food deli

This vibey wine bar in both Cape Town and Johannesburg has transformed into a deli where you can find fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese and sweet treats. To have one of these boxes delivered, just pop them a text and you’ll be swimming in yumminess soon enough.

Image Credit: Publik Wine Bar

Dropping the Granadilla Swim Trunks for local produce

They’re known for their funky swimwear but have since decided to drop their drawers (albeit temporarily) and deliver groceries instead. The brand launched Granadilla Eats, partnering with local farmers and popular small businesses to deliver essential goods during the lockdown.

Retail labels identifying and responding to new opportunities

The production, sourcing and selling of masks

These are now mandatory in public spaces in South Africa, and you can probably never have too many – if you do, pass one onto someone who can’t afford to buy their own.

Many retailers in SA, from high-end designers like Tshepo Jeanmaker (custom jean designer), Isaiah Apparel (bespoke apparel), and Inga Atelier (leather accessories designer) to small businesses like Ciovita (sportswear brand), Ballo (sunglasses brand), Mia Melange (interior decor brand) and Mungo (homeware textile company) have adapted their offering to produce, source and sell masks.

Others using tech to service and lend a helping hand to others remotely

We believe that COVID-19 has taught people how beneficial autonomy is, and how it can benefit the smallest of businesses. This is a good time for companies to take a look at their capabilities and how they can extend them to help others.

Digemy – using the power of interactive websites to help others understand and protect against COVID-19

Digemy is an ed-tech platform that provides corporates with training that focuses on building and retaining knowledge among employees. In response to COVID-19, they have created a free online platform in the form of a game that helps people understand the virus and in turn protect themselves from it.

Image Credit: Digemy

Yoco’s small business directory for identifying businesses that need support

Although Yoco isn’t a small brand, they’ve become an advocate for many.

Small businesses have faced many challenges during lockdown and Yoco saw an opportunity to help them out. Yoco created a small business directory for small businesses in each province that need support. #SupportSmall has trended across the world in hope that we can help people ‒ even if it’s just a small amount.

Image Credit: Yoco

Redshift – connecting spaza shops with their customers

Redshift is known for building websites and they did just that during lockdown. They built what they’ve called a Local Store Connector to provide accessibility to spaza shops in the time of COVID-19. The platform helps connect spaza shops to their customers by allowing spaza shop owners to list their shops on the website and accept orders during lockdown. More than 1130 shops have been added to the site already.

Image Credit: Redshift

Whilst we’ve only featured a few, many other small businesses around the country are doing what they can to adapt and evolve to the new normal. South Africans have a very resilient nature – we have a way of coming together to support our neighbours.

At Naked, we’re fortunate enough to be carrying on as “normal”throughout this pandemic. We realise, however, that our Naked tribe might not be able to do the same. When lockdown was announced at the end of March, we recognised that the resulting reduction in travel would lower car insurance claims significantly. So, we immediately decided to increase our CoverPause saving from 50% to about 90% on the days that our clients aren’t driving. All they have to do is tap a button on the app to pause and unpause their cover.

While we’re proud of our efforts to help our clients, this pandemic is a reminder that we should always be finding ways to listen, adapt and evolve – even when things are back to some kind of normal.

If you know of any other small businesses who are adapting and evolving, please let us know via any of our social media platforms. We’d love to check them out!

PS. If you’re on the podcast train, The Naked Economy might interest you! We talk to some local brands who are proud of how things are being done behind the scenes. But if you want more quiet reading, here’s another blog where we suggest the kinds of businesses we should be supporting.