Although South African SMEs generate 39% of our national GDP and employ around between 50% and 60% of the workforce across all sectors, according to a July 2020 report by McKinsey & Company, these businesses are the least resilient during times of crisis.
Lockdown, load shedding and a contracting economy mean that our local SMEs are in trouble and need our support now more than ever before. According to the report, it is estimated that around 60% of SMMEs may close down before the Covid-19 crisis is over, which is alarming given that small and medium-sized enterprises are the engine of our economy.
Sectors that have been hardest hit include services, tourism, hospitality and retail. With the festive season upon us, larger retailers are going to try their level best to recoup their losses – often to the detriment of our local businesses.
SMEs play a vital role in creating employment and growth, and we need to do whatever we can to support our local business throughout the festive season and beyond. With online marketplaces becoming the norm, it is clear that many SMEs will depend heavily on these platforms to reach new markets and diversify their client bases.
As tough as the lockdown was for many businesses, it does appear to have been a catalyst for more widespread usage of online shopping – with many small businesses developing sophisticated online shopping capabilities within a matter of weeks to ensure they could continue trading during the lockdown. Aware of the devastating effects that an extended lockdown would have on small business, many South Africans made a concerted effort to support local business and, in doing so, discovered many hidden gems in the small business space.
As the festive season approaches, the first step we can take is to continue supporting those small businesses that supported us during the lockdown. The negative impact that shopping malls have on local economies is well-researched and, while mall shopping may appear easier and more convenient, it isn’t good for small businesses who are desperately trying to recover from the Covid-19 crisis.
That said, to assist small business with cash flow and to avoid last-minute mall shopping, consumers could consider beginning their Christmas shopping sooner rather than later. There are a huge array of craft markets and pop-up stores already in operation and starting your shopping early will ensure your rand is in circulation sooner. The more people who purchase from SMEs, the longer the money circulates in the small to medium business community, and better chance our local businesses have of surviving and thriving.
As citizens, there is no doubt that we can all play an active part in the recovery and growth of our economy and that starts with each of us appreciating the power of each rand that we spend. Where, how and when we choose to spend our money can have significant longer-term effects on local business. It is really just a matter of doing your research, finding local businesses that provide goods or services that meet your needs, and making a conscious effort to direct your rands towards homegrown and manufactured products.
Here are some ways that we can all support local businesses this Christmas season:
Pop-up shops: There is an abundance of pop-up gift stores already happening, so consider frequenting these to do your Christmas shopping in advance.
Food trucks: Food trucks have become increasingly popular although the industry is currently marred by unnecessary red-tape and bureaucracy when it comes to obtaining the necessary permits. Most food truck owners are merely trying to make an honest living and, in doing so, providing employment for others. Support your local food or coffee truck wherever possible and ensure that the community embraces their initiatives.
Craft breweries: The alcohol industry has taken a huge knock during the lockdown period and, in order for many small craft brewers to survive, they are going to depend on our assistance this festive season. Most of them provide for online shopping and delivery, so be sure to support your local beer, gin and winemakers.
Vouchers for services: As with the alcohol industry, the hair and beauty industries were heavily impacted by the lockdown. Support your local hairstylist, masseur or beauty therapist by buying vouchers for friends and loved ones for Christmas. It’s been a tough year for most people and a bit of pampering would no doubt be appreciated.
Local tourism: With limited international travel, most of us will be staying in South Africa this festive season, so consider using this time to explore our beautiful country. With our incredible weather, beaches, mountains and scenery, we are literally spoilt for choice when it comes to local travel options. Make a concerted effort to use local tour operators, small guest houses and B&Bs and local travel agents. Importantly, if you have a good experience, take the time to rate their service on the various online platforms such as TripAdvisor and share your good experiences on social media.
Small restaurants and coffee shops: While most chain restaurants would have been able to weather the Covid-19 storm, those small restaurants and coffee shops that have managed to survive desperately need our support. If you’re going out for a meal, make a concerted effort to support your local eateries rather than opting for large chain restaurants.
Online concerts and events: Entertainment is another hard-hit industry that could use our support, so consider buying tickets for online events and shows as Christmas presents for friends and loved ones.
When supporting your local businesses this Christmas season, bear in mind that the power of word-of-mouth referrals is enormous. Many businesses who simply do not have the capacity for marketing budgets rely on customers to spread the word about their products and services, specifically via social media. If you’ve had a good experience, received good service or purchased a quality product, take a few minutes to give the business a Google rating, share their business link on Facebook or Twitter, tag those friends or family members who you think would be interested, post a photo and tag the business, or just write an honest recommendation or rating on the relevant rating platform.