THE COMEBACK: Pivoting Perspective: How SMEs Made it Through Covid-19

Published: 26 May 2020

The coronavirus has decimated thousands of small businesses in South Africa, preventing many from trading. When businesses do reopen, these SMEs may find it hard to find their footing as demand may have changed due to consumers’ altered financial positions, or needs. Against these trying times, it is then essential that small businesses review their resources, and if their market changes and they are able to do so, pivot their products to open up new commercial opportunities. 

An example of an SME doing just that is Jacques Cronje and Dean Dicks. They have joined their respective businesses – Minima Design, which creates accessible design products for the home, office or retail and commercial spaces and Coney Timbers, a local furniture manufacturer. Combining Jacques’s design capabilities and Dean’s sales and marketing skills as well as an existing businesses – he and a partner manufacturer face masks – they have developed Protective Screens, makers of Perspex and timber screens for installation in small and large offices – from attorneys to advertising agencies – as well as retail stores. This as every business that interacts with colleagues or customers, needs to provide protection in light of the pandemic. 

There are plenty of similar manufacturers in South Africa, but by and large the products that are seen at national retailers or pharmacies are according to Jacques flimsy; Protective Screens are better designed making them ideal for spaces that need to look professional. They can also be customised to fit any space. This as Jacques is also an architectural designer who understands how to design according to exact specifications. The range is also vast: there are 25 standard variations to ensure that their product can fit any space, plus they can customise. 

The new business was launched at the end of April, just days after Jacques’s and Dean’s initial discussions, proving just how quickly a fresh venture can take off. Initially Jacques produced the products in his garage, while his factory was closed. This was extremely beneficial as it forced him to go back to basics and use his hands again. The first couple of samples were produced, which were taken on a roadshow by Dean, leading to the business’s first orders. 

The pair were also able to combine their resources: Jacques’s tools could make the first prototypes, his software could design different specs and his architectural skillset allowed him to design to exact spaces. With his background in sales, Dean was able to drum up a database of prospects almost overnight, so when coupled with Jacques’s own contacts, the new business had a solid pipeline to engage with. 

They also both used their existing marketing channels to promote the products and website: minima activated its social media channels, as did Coney Timbers, newsletters were sent out to existing databases and pages for Protective Screens were made on both of their business’s websites, in addition to launching the new site exclusively for the product. Digital marketing is also being utilised to drive traffic to the site. 

To get the business off-the-ground, an initial investment of R50k was made to buy sheets of Perspex. This was combined with Jacques’s existing plywood – which he had in stock due to cancelled orders – to make samples. This was then taken to prospects, photographed and placed online. As orders have come in, the pair have reinvested income into materials. 

Of course, demand for the protective screens does have a shelf life, and his primary source of income working in the hospitality and retail sector by providing lights and furniture to new spaces has been put on pause. Not expecting these sectors to come online again anytime soon, Jacques is now looking at other products, specifically home office desks which have experienced a surge in demand recently. Together with Dean, he is also considering other office uses for Perspex as well as interiors. 

As for advice to give to other SMEs, Jacques’s is simple: stay positive and stay calm. He also believes it’s key to understand what resources are available and look at what else they could be used for. Continuously ask “What can I do with what I have?” The answer could birth an entirely new product or business opportunity that is now in demand. 

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