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Hands-On Approach: Small Business Is Coming To The Aid With Innovative Sanitizing Solutions

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The hygiene industry has received a shot in the arm with the recent pandemic. With emptying retail shelves, small business is also coming to the aid with innovative sanitizing ideas.

Retail stores in Johannesburg, as in most urban centers in the world currently, have run out of wet wipes and hand-sanitizers – the widely-recommended weapons to keep the coronavirus at bay.

With the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province on March 5, the pandemic has brought the country to high alert and a state of national disaster proclaimed by President Cyril Ramaphosa merely two weeks later, with 116 confirmed cases and counting (at the time of going to press).

Where there was plenty before news of the outbreak, exasperated customers are seeing ‘Out Of Stock or ‘Sold Out’’ signs in bold red letters on hand-sanitizer shelves at retail outlets and pharmacies. There is a long waiting list at dispensaries such as Clicks in Johannesburg.

At a store at The Marc, a fairly new retail mall in Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile, the manager echoes the sentiments of his counterparts in other malls in the area: “Three weeks ago, we were fully stocked, now, we are out of stock. This happened the week of the first coronavirus report in KwaZulu-Natal, when we had foreign nationals who bought hand-sanitizers more than the [locals] because of the [five-star] hotels in the area.”

About 21kms from Sandton in Roodepoort, another city in Johannesburg, Khensani Moleko, a 27-year-old account manager in the advertising industry, says she mall-hopped a whole weekend in search of hand-sanitizers.

“We went to multiple shops in the Roodepoort area and found nothing. However, we had sanitizers before the outbreak so we still have some left but it’s running out. I’ll be looking online,” says Moleko.

This is what consumers like Mufhenyi Mashamba, a Johannesburg-based interior designer, are doing too.

“On the websites, all sanitizers were out of stock, and they are usually priced between R20 and R30. When I checked the next day, people were auctioning hand-sanitizers [at ridiculous prices]. So now, I’m sitting here with no wipes and no sanitizers. I’m relying on personal hygiene and making sure I’m aware of my surroundings and that people have their hygiene in check,” says Mashaba. 

This is also an opportunity for private business and small entrepreneurs such as Ludwick Marishane, founder of Headbody Industries and inventor of DryBath Gel, an innovative gel that can be used as a water-less body wash.

“We are making an antiseptic version of the product and the idea is to provide it to businesses because facilities are no longer safe. We have also been approached by a few retailers interested in listing our product.”

The gel is currently sold online, and should find its way on to retail shelves by June next year, says Marishane.

He is not the only entrepreneur making money off the hygiene industry.

Whitey Chemicals, founded by Joanna Stewart in Johannesburg, is a chemical cleaning service and supplier. The company started with cleaning petrol stations; one of their products is used to remove oil from concrete and restore it to its original form. The company also supplies disinfectants and cleaning solutions for schools, businesses and homes. “When I started the business two months ago, we fully got into hand-sanitizers because of the increase in the chaos going on in the country. Sanitizers are in high demand and business has picked up rapidly, it’s the main focus currently,” says Stewart, who has been in the pharmaceutical industry for the last 15 years. She has a full-time staff of six but has had to employ another 15 as freelancers to keep up with the demand.

With emptying retail shelves, small business is coming to the rescue, whilst also cashing in on the timely opportunity.

Small Business

Ink Is In: Tattoos In The Time Of Covid

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Sibusiso Cele; image supplied

South African tattoo artist Sibusiso Cele on how he has been leaving an impression despite the pandemic.

‘Stay home, avoid contact’ is the prevailing motto of our times.

But, as it appears, not for South African freelance tattoo artist Sibusiso Cele, who has actually been receiving more requests for home visits at this time.

Tattoo art is hugely popular in Johannesburg, and since the reopening of tattoo parlors in level 3 of the national lockdown, artists admit to increased interest in people wanting to get themselves inked, some even reportedly wanting to capture the historic pandemic with a tattoo.   

“Personally, the lockdown has worked out in my favor in so many ways,” says Cele.

Known as ‘Inkboy Que’, Cele, now 24, was born in Johannesburg and raised in the Umlazi township in Durban, a coastal city in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, by his aunt who has been his greatest support. His older brother, Simphiwe, taught him to draw from a young age.

“Simphiwe played a huge role in the manifestation of my career. It is unfortunate that Simphiwe is now late and he can’t see my exceptional work thus far. Eventually, I put my all into drawing, to a point where I drew everything and anything in school; it was a passion,” recalls Cele.

“I already had a face tattoo and the corporate world regarded it as being unprofessional to have any visible tattoos.”

In 2013, with a good friend, Cele invested in his first tattoo kit. He traveled locally tattooing but worked mainly from his backroom at home in Umlazi. At the time, his family didn’t consider tattoo art a career, but he persisted.

“In 2015, I was admitted into Durban City College for an engineering course. It was an amazing opportunity to further my studies, however, it was affecting the family financially, also, I already had a face tattoo and the corporate world regarded it as being unprofessional to have any visible tattoos. That was more of a reason not to pursue that career, [so] during the third semester, I dropped out. Above everything at that time, I had invested so much into doing tattoos and the name ‘Inkboy’ was born,” says Cele.

Shortly after that, he moved to Mpumalanga where he had already created a clientele. In 2018, he joined the Soweto Ink family that helped mould his craft until early this year when he officially became an independent tattoo artist and traveled widely across provinces.

But with the coronavirus pandemic and South Africa closing borders and businesses, including tattoo parlors, and the country going into lockdown, Cele had to slow down on the travel. But that didn’t stop him from seeking opportunities locally.

“Firstly, I have financial control, I take my own decisions, and I am comfortable. Normally, I see one or two clients a day because of the traveling and setting up,” he says.

Before the lockdown, Cele mostly traveled to Durban and Mpumalanga, from his home in Johannesburg. His daily travel expenses to clients start at R900. But clients are considerate enough to meet him half-way; besides that, his tattooing rates start at R300, depending on size and detailing.

Cele says getting himself tested for Covid-19 is a big priority for him.

“I do it regularly. Actually, the last time I was tested was a few days ago and because my clients are mostly artists, their profession requires them to get tested too. Besides, I make sure I always wear my PPE for extra safety,” he says.

Since branching out on his own, Cele has been seeing professional growth and has worked with socialites and celebrities in the entertainment industry such as South African musicians ‘DJ Tira’ and Naak MusiQ among others.

Cele says he has learned a lot from the business and his art.

“I wouldn’t say I am making a lot of money but I am getting the hang of being financially stable and it comes with all the responsibility, but it’s a good thing, I’m getting used to this,” he smiles.

Clearly, leaving an impression is his specialty.

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Small Businesses Are Optimistic About The Future, Even As They Continue Navigating Covid-19

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As small businesses struggle to survive the economic havoc caused by Covid-19, new research shows that small business owners are optimistic about the future. Some 75% of small business owners agree that if a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic were to happen again, they’d be better prepared to handle it, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. 

Additionally, 52% of small businesses surveyed expect to recover to pre-Covid profitability in six months or less. This optimism is encouraging to Liz Supinski, SHRM’S director of research products, who says that Covid-19 has been a “big driver of innovation.” Many small businesses, spurred by the limitations imposed by the coronavirus, have invented new products, while one in three of those surveyed say they’ve found new ways to deliver services. “For the whole world of work, this has been a large, uncontrolled experiment in changing what work looks like,” Supinski says. “It’s opened the door to a lot of ideas that have been dismissed because change is hard. And if things are good enough, then why would you change?” 

According to SHRM, 43% of small business owners have pivoted their business models. One of those entrepreneurs is Denise Woodard, the founder of Partake Foods, an allergy-friendly, gluten-free, vegan cookie company. Since much of her New Jersey-based company’s marketing involved live demos and local events, Woodard has had to come up with new ways of promoting her brand digitally, includingpartnering with minority- and women-owned brands on a “Spot Us at Target” campaign and teaming up with The Blackbird Collective on Instagram Live and Facebook Live events. 

This sort of flexibility is something that Supinski expects to see from businesses of all sizes during this period of business recovery. Three fourths of small businesses are planning to change their policies in response to employees’ childcare needs, with 43% implementing or considering flexible hours or compressed schedules, and 31% offering full-time remote work. “Small businesses are in a unique position because often they’re able to be more flexible with workers than larger businesses. They don’t have the same kind of issues,” Supinski says. However, she adds that small businesses run on small margins, which makes it harder for many to offer this kind of help to employees. 

Not only has the coronavirus pandemic spurred innovation, but it’s also led to an uptick in reskilling and upskilling. SHRM found that 22% of small businesses have asked employees to learn new skills to support changes in their business. “There’s certainly a lot of opportunity here for businesses and workers to explore different ways of doing business and having a career and new ways that those two things can come together and change the way the world of work works,” Supinski says. “Opportunity out of adversity.” 

None of this is to say that small business owners aren’t without worries—53% report feeling somewhat or very concerned about the increased risk of lawsuits and liability while reopening amid Covid-19, as the cost of defending one can be burdensome. Despite these concerns, the way in which small businesses have been able to successfully pivot has made them optimistic about the future, and the support they’ve received from their local communities has only helped. “We’re seeing a lot of people put their money where their mouth is and really work hard to support local businesses during this time,” Supinski says. “You would hope that people would continue to appreciate those local businesses going forward.” 

Woodard has witnessed this increase in support from the community around her. The company first saw an uptick in sales in March, when consumers were stockpiling groceries due to the pandemic. One of few Black-owned nationally scaled businesses in the country, Partake Foods, saw another increase in sales in May, following the death of George Floyd. “Our business has really received a large outpouring of support from people wanting to support small-owned business, women-owned business, Black-owned business,” Woodard says. “I’m hopeful for the future of small business in America.”

Samantha Todd, Forbes Staff, Leadership Strategy

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How 3 Small Businesses Are Navigating Covid-19 In The Marketing Industry

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When Jay Wilkinson, founder and CEO of marketing, printing and website-development company Firespring, was 15 years old, he attended a leadership summer camp with his high school’s student council. While there, he learned about Stephen Grellet, a Quaker missionary whose words would change his life forever: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” It was this quote that motivated him to become an entrepreneur.

Since launching Firespring in 1992, Wilkinson has worked with clients in 50 states and 14 countries, growing his staff to 180 and revenue to $25 million in 2019. That’s not to say the Lincoln, Nebraska-based business hasn’t seen its fair share of struggles: In 2002, Wilkinson was fired as CEO by the investor-led board of directors after refusing to lay off employees amid the economic downturn that followed 9/11. But four months later, with the help of family and friends, he bought out the venture capitalists, and within two years, the business was profitable again. “We climbed out of it, and we survived,” Wilkinson says. “The culture that we have today was forged in the fire when we were just trying to save the company.”

That tenacity has proven essential in the current economic environment, not to mention it’s propelled Firespring onto Forbes’ annual Small Giants list. The 25 companies that make up the 2020 list all value greatness over fast growth and are weathering the coronavirus crisis in their own way. 

While much of corporate America has been affected by Covid-19, small businesses have been especially hard-hit, with 31% stopping operations as a result of the crisis, according to Facebook’s State of Small Business report. And in the marketing and advertising world, where global ad budgets are expected to drop 36% in the first half of the year and eight in ten marketers have delayed campaigns as a result of the pandemic, according to a report from the World Federation of Advertisers, many businesses are struggling to stay afloat. 

Firespring has seen an increase in demand for its quick activation marketing programs, such as creating digital fundraising campaigns, as well as virtual strategy sessions, of which it has done more than 200 over the past couple of months. It has also worked with clients to adjust their campaigns so that they are reflective of the times. “We’re very mindful of making sure that we are messaging everything with the Covid-19 restrictions in place so that we don’t come across as being tone-deaf and that our clients don’t, as well,” Wilkinson says. “It’s going to be critical for marketers moving forward and out of the pandemic to understand how different things are going to be, in terms of the way people connect with brands.”

The firm primarily serves purpose-driven organizations and nonprofits, which Wilkinson says are uniquely positioned to navigate the changing marketing landscape, as they always keep clients at the center of their work. But the pandemic has disrupted many nonprofits’ fundraising events, hurting them financially. In an effort to help its nonprofit clients during this challenging time, Firespring partnered with GivingTuesday, a nonprofit known for its advocacy of its namesake charitable holiday for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. The initiative, called Giving Tuesday Now, raised $3 million for nonprofits over the course of May. 

In Birmingham, Michigan, Brogan & Partners, another full-service marketing agency and 2020 Small Giant, has been supporting its surrounding community by working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to produce an ad spot promoting the wearing of face masks to flatten the coronavirus curve. Thanks to the ad and accompanying hashtag—#MiMaskChallenge—Brogan & Partners was able to get the word out to more than five million Michiganders, including celebrities such as musicianKid Rock. “I don’t want to make money off of Covid-19. That’s not my business,” says Ellyn Davidson, owner and CEO of Brogan & Partners. “I want to help and be part of the solution. As much as possible, we want to give back.”

An hour south, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Jim Hume, founder and principal of 2020 Small Giant marketing advertising agency Phire Group, has also been working with clients to craft their coronavirus messaging. He believes the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of trends such as authentic storytelling. “True authenticity includes vulnerability and putting yourself out there and just becoming more human as a brand,” Hume says. “Everything that we do has to be pointed toward making companies, organizations and brands more human, more accessible, more real.”

That authenticity, he says, is important in every aspect of Phire Group’s business, including how it communicates with clients. “It’s an important time to reach out to customers to let them know you’re there for them, but also to just be transparent with what’s happening,” Hume says. “Just let them know that you’re doing fine, you hope they’re doing fine, and you’re there for them.”

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