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How I’m handling the Covid-19 crisis

Rethink and rework future business plans
by Jakkie Olivier, CEO, RMI

“The automotive aftermarket was already under severe economic and financial pressure prior to the announcement of the coronavirus and subsequent lockdown. Car sales were stagnant and subdued, consumers had less disposal income, unemployment figures were on the increase, we were witnessing an unusually high number of business closures amongst small to medium size businesses, and consolidations were taking place even between larger businesses. Since the advent of the crisis, SA has been downgraded by Moody’s. This will no doubt deepen the impact on the retail aftermarket industry, along with the recession that SA is facing in the future. Add to this the impact of the current lockdown, the true effects of which will be felt only much later, and the automotive aftermarket has to face the unfortunate fact that we are in for real hardship and a very difficult time. We are likely to see more business closures during 2020, resulting in more job losses.

The question is, can workshop owners do anything to minimise these impacts? Clearly, business owners will have to rethink their business models, with specific reference to overhead expenses, debt control, diversification of products and services to the motoring public. The future of small business, including the automotive industry, will be largely dependent on how effective and promptly the SA government responds in providing the required incentives and protection to small businesses, initiatives to grow the economy and protecting jobs that will come mainly from small businesses in the future. This makes it more important than ever for individual businesses to unite under the RMI and MIWA brands to effectively lobby government for quick and effective interventions that financially secure and sustain the future of the automotive aftermarket.

My own response is to rethink and rework future business plans in our own businesses and organisations. Besides this, the best thing we can do right now to cope with the current pandemic (and possible similar situations in the future). We need to acknowledge that we are in for a rough ride and that the impact and rebuilding will not happen overnight. Remaining positive and keeping a cool head is imperative. From an RMI perspective, the main focus now is to guide our members with informative news flashes covering topics such as how to deal with employees and how to apply for and access government funding, as well as providing practical assistance and sharing critical information that drives the industry’s sustainability.”

Adopt a mindset of acceptance and try and stay focused
by Dewald Ranft, Chairman of MIWA

“This virus could not have hit SA at a worse time. We were facing an economic crisis even before the lockdown and, although many of us thought at the time that the situation could not get worse, it’s clear that we will continue to feel even greater economic pressure in the months to come. I think that, although some MIWA members may be able to absorb the effects of a 21-day lockdown, many more will be affected if the lockdown is extended. The situation is particularly difficult for small, one-man operations, and the chances of their survival are very slim. However, it is in times like this that true character shows. I believe that we, as South Africans, have overcome so many hurdles in the past that if we focus our energy and keep our mindset positive, we will overcome this too. We are true entrepreneurs, and where we are today in our businesses is testimony to that fact.

I think that the first step for business owners is to adopt a mindset of acceptance. The lockdown – and even the time it takes for us to recover from this period – will take character and a positive attitude. You also need to use all the information that MIWA has placed at your disposal, such as portals where members can apply for financial aid. Contact your landlord if possible to make arrangements for rental payments. Contact your bank manager to see how they can assist. I am lucky to have a bookkeeper who really looks after my best interests and was able to assist me by ensuring that we are geared for the worst, if this is what the situation comes to. If you are also fortunate enough to have access to such resources, ask your bookkeeper for assistance. I would also suggest that you download the TELEGRAM link from the MIWA website. It’s a useful source of up-to-date information that you will need to know during the lockdown.

From a personal perspective, I have to admit that I find it difficult to accept the fact that we are not able to trade, but I’ve had to come to terms with this. The one thing that I can suggest is to keep busy at home; do the tasks you’ve been putting off or never get round to doing. Get up at the usual time in the morning, get dressed, follow your normal routine and find something to keep you busy, even if it’s just for part of the day. I’m using my extra time to step back and analyse my business and day-to-day operations to see where I can make improvements using the technology we have available.

Spend time with your family, cook some delicious meals together, have a Netflix night – just use this time to rest, because we all need it. Most importantly, be safe. I will be seeing you on the other side.”

Put together ideas and plans to attract customers
by Madoda Sonwabo, MIWA Associational Representative

“We are really facing an extraordinary time of our lives. The outbreak of Covid-19, amongst other things, will have a negative influence on our local economic activities, but the global economy will also suffer drastically. It is clearly not business as usual, and our members might want to spend this time putting together ideas and plans to attract customers. I believe that customer service should be a big focus going forward. You might want to revisit your customer service approach and refine service related processes to provide seamless service that can be applied beyond this lockdown. For instance, you may wish to improve the reception area, something that can be done without incurring any cost. All it takes is rearranging the area to make it look neat and welcoming. You may also consider reorganizing the workshop. Think about storing tools and work materials in such a way that your workforce is able to identify, locate and quickly store these items without any hassles. This will avoid wasting valuable time and will enable the staff to work more efficiently, thus helping to reduce stress levels. A well-ordered workshop is the key to improvements in productivity.

You might want to reach out and show appreciation to your customers during the lockdown as a means to keep the relationship active; perhaps by sending personalised messages of encouragement, whether by email or telephone. Keep the message short and simple: “Best wishes for your family during this difficult time” is a perfect sentiment.

It is easier and more cost effective to keep the customers who are already loyal to you than to find new ones. This might, therefore, be an ideal time to offer exclusive offerings for loyal customers.

At the same time, it’s important to look at ways to expand your customer base. Can you offer something different or unique that will lure customers away from your competitors?

In the words of Winston Churchill, ‘Let’s not waste a good crisis’.”

Put lives before profit
by Teresa Spenser-Higgs, MIWA Border regional chairperson

“In my opinion, the best we can do at the moment is take one day at a time and draw comfort from the fact that we’re all in this together. We also need to do our duty by staying home. We have to put lives before profit.” 

Focus on what you can do to prepare your business going forward
by Riaan Botha, Regional Chairman of the Eastern Cape region, ARA

“All we can really do is ride this wave out. It doesn’t help to become anxious – panicking never achieved anything. We need to take help where we can, accepting the grace offered by economic packages and landlords. We also need to realise that, when things get back on track, we’ll still be behind. With this in mind, I’m focusing on what I can do to prepare my business. We’ve cancelled all events that were scheduled for the year; we’re sorting out our relationships with our bankers, and we’re focusing on what we need to get done before the end of the annum. One thing I know is that it doesn’t help to worry about things you have no control over – from there, it’s easy to go into a downward spiral that can sink you. I’m avoiding this by deepening my spiritual life and reflecting on who I am as a being. The reality is that when you’re constantly chasing after the next thing, you don’t have time to meditate and think, so that’s what I’m doing now. I’m staying away from the news and showing gratitude for the small things. Things will unfold as they will, so all we can do is look to the future.”

Staff remain a priority
by Johann de Bruyne, member of TEPA’s Northern Region

“We’ve done what we can to soften this blow. We let our people off early after paying them, so that we can safeguard their skills and experience, and maintaining their salaries is a priority for us. We’re doing as much as we can online and, where possible, our people are working remotely. We’ve released online training so that people can use this time to build on their skills, from writing letters to crafting emails. We have daily management meetings online and maintain contact with our staff through WhatsApp, so that we don’t feel quite so disbanded.”

Remain in the public eye by sharing RMI’s content and avail yourselves to virtual service
by Brione Schoeman, MIWA Associational Representative

“We have to remember that things will change and it’s not going to be like this forever. It’s good to see that members are abiding by the rules and have locked down and resigned themselves to the fact that the most important thing to do now is stay safe, stay closed and rest during this forced leave period.

Although businesses have gone into survival mode, it’s also important to think about the future.

I’ve seen some great examples on social media of businesses continuing to remain in the public eye by sharing RMI’s content, availing themselves for telephonic/online mechanical advice, sharing video tips about how to care for your vehicle during lock down (for example why – and how – you need to disconnect your car battery), sharing car hygiene tips, readying themselves now for when they’ll be able to open their doors again by advertising specials that customers will be able to take advantage of after the lockdown has been lifted, as well as what’ll be included, like free vehicle sterilisation, decontamination.

Businesses need to lean on their RMI membership now in order to be kept informed of up to date and accurate information, and in order to get help with obtaining and understanding the opportunities available to them, without being distracted by misinformation. It is vital that members thoroughly read every, single communication that’s emailed to them from the RMI, follow the MIWA Facebook page (@miwasarmi), download Telegram and join the MIWA SA group, and download the RMI Connect App.

Members must remember that they’re not sitting alone on an island, without support.”