Miguel Da Silva, MD at Retail Capital
Small businesses have been gearing up for the festive season, hoping it will amplify a rebound in sales as everyone looks ahead to a world post-Covid. However, a recent cluster outbreak in Tshwane and worrying numbers of new Covid-19 infections in Gauteng have already seen expert commentators on radio stations talk about possible alcohol restrictions and beach bans for when they wish to make their holiday pilgrimage.
Is it premature to be talking about alcohol and beach bans? Possibly, but each wave of infections has seen the government seemingly go against the best advice and force a range of SME and economy-stifling restrictions. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s position is far from enviable, having to balance economic concerns with the need to keep hospital beds free for those struck down by the disease.
Be that as it may, there are two possible outcomes for SMEs: either they will be able to operate in relatively free conditions and make the most of the holiday foot spend, or they will be operating in another lockdown which could come mid-season or just after the holidays. Either way, there are a few things they can do to make the best of the festive season.
Stock up – or down
If it is your first year operating during the holidays, lean on your network to get a sense of what demand has been like in previous years. Granted, it is difficult to estimate exactly what will transpire, but the last thing you want is to have demand and be unable to meet it. Modern customers are demanding and their experience matters.
On the other hand, if your business is in a sector that takes a dip when people leave inland areas for the coast, prepare accordingly and consider how you can change this pattern with online sales. Make sure you plan as thoroughly as you can to be prepared for the demand you will face.
Keep in mind that suppliers are also under pressure and the sooner you can bed these types of issues down, the better.
Make sure your message and marketing campaigns are visible. Digital marketing means that businesses can target and segment audiences so that they can talk to their target market directly. Investing in a sound digital marketing drive now could well pay dividends over the holiday period, and this ties neatly into the next tip. Consider small business funding to support your marketing efforts.
If you already have an online store, make sure that it is working as it should, especially during check out. Make sure the functionality is user-friendly and that your logistics team is ready and up to the task. Online sales could well be the difference between an average or a great festive season, and in the event that there are stricter lockdown restrictions, it could be your saviour. There is funding for businesses that can assist with the setup of an eCommerce store.
If you don’t have an online store yet, be sure to get the wheels moving for the next holiday period.
Have you considered extending your hours to be more available? Especially if you are located in high-tourist regions, friendlier opening hours would go a long way towards enticing customers. Remember, if you are running an eCommerce business, there are no operating hours and it must be available 24/7. This means having your support teams briefed and ready to deal with any technical issues as and when they happen.
Extra hands on deck
If you anticipate a notable uptick in foot traffic you’d do well to get extra hands on deck now. Even if this is providing holiday work for students, you’ll be grateful for the extra help. If the worst-case scenario plays out and there is a lockdown, these hands can go to work to help you pivot for deliveries, for example, or brainstorm digital ideas – after all, they are digital natives!
Take advantage of alternative lenders to help you buy more stock at discounted prices, and ensure you have enough cash flow on hand for rapid changes in demand. Beyond this, what goes up, often comes down, and so it would be a smart move to have cash in the bank to see you through your operating costs in January.
Opportunity mindset and scenario planning
Previous lockdowns have shown us beyond any shadow of a doubt that entrepreneurs with an opportunity mindset are able to spot gaps and make changes very quickly. We have seen restaurants morph into produce suppliers, and seen health spas and gyms morph into online experience hubs. Don’t be afraid of a potential lockdown. Instead, plan for various scenarios and plan how to take advantage of opportunities each scenario affords. Again, if this needs capital, work with your private lending partner to get small business funding ahead of time.