Business owners urged to adjust to survive

MANDEVILLE, Manchester — President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce Kenisha Dwyer-Powell and her predecessor Garfield Green have added their voices to those urging entrepreneurs to find new ways of operating in order for businesses to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dwyer-Powell told the Jamaica Observer by telephone last Friday that even after the pandemic has come and gone, significant adjustments to doing business will have to be sustained.

“Things have changed… none of us can say what life is going to be like tomorrow, after this [COVID-19] clears. But one thing I believe… is that the way we operate has to change. We have to innovate. We have to find ways of doing things differently, because if the business can’t find a way to change how they come to the market, then the market itself has already changed how it does business,” she said.

Dwyer-Powell is advising business owners: “If you want your business to be sustainable and to still be in business, you will definitely have to go back to the drawing board. Look back at your strategies, look at how things have changed and make the adjustments. Businesses who adjust are the businesses that are going to survive, and we can’t wait until this [virus] clears, because nobody knows when that will happen. We have to start now.”

Green, who is custos of Manchester, also emphasised the need for creativity and argued that this quality would be especially important for small business owners.

“The impact, I would think, affects the smaller businesses more because of their smaller reserves, and the need for some to close completely or reduce operations in keeping with some of the necessary COVID-19 mitigation measures. The impact continues to grow, and its effects will be felt for a long time — creating more challenges and pulling on the creativity of business owners,” Green said.

He argued that a disciplined approach will be essential, and that some business operators will need considerable support as the various COVID-19-related restrictions that have hamstrung economic activity over recent weeks are gradually relaxed.

“This will require discipline and personal responsibility of both suppliers and consumers. Businesses will need a lot of support to recover and stay afloat. I, therefore, suggest that business experts, coaches, trainers, and consultants reach out with advice. All of us should seek out and take up such opportunities to return to work, adjust to the new environment, and to stabilise,” Green said.

A key factor in the dramatic slowdown of economic activity was the sudden collapse of Jamaica’s multibillion-dollar tourist industry, twinned to the Government’s decision in March to temporarily block incoming passengers as part of the drive to slow the spread of the virus.

The fallout in tourism led to the closure of numerous hotels, attractions, and recreational spots — not only on the traditional visitor-rich north and west coasts but also on the less-frequented south coast.

Farmers who supply the tourism industry took a huge hit.

The closure of schools, bars, entertainment spots, and places of worship as the authorities moved to implement social/physical distancing, as well as a ban on gatherings, also had significant negative knock-on effects.

Yet, for all that, there are those who have developed economic niches as a direct result of COVID-19.

Dressmaker Angela Chambers, like many other small business owners, has changed course. She now makes and sells masks in Mandeville.

When the Observer visited the Scotiabank parking lot last Friday, Chambers displayed her varying styles of three-layer masks that were on sale.

“I started making them since COVID-19 came in. The three layers are cotton at the front and at the back, and there is a non-woven fibre filter in the centre to give protection. They are washable and reversable. This is where the business is at, because the dressmaking is slow right now, so this is how I now make a living. Even if persons don’t have the full money to buy the mask, I still give them it for what they have,” she said.

At another level, people are increasingly opting to use the drive-through automated banking machine (ABM) instead of the walk-in ABMs, to limit the need for physical distancing.

The influx of drive-through customers is almost constant throughout the day on Caledonia Road, where customers flock Kentucky Friend Chicken (KFC) and Burger King.

The Observer captured the overflow of traffic from both restaurants’ drive-through onto the main road.

“There is a lot of relearning happening… In the past, you had a situation where businesses were saying to clients [that] they were coming up with their own strategies, agendas, and pushing their products or solutions accordingly. Now with COVID-19 you almost have to go back to the market, find out how is it that the consumers are buying, to see what their preferences are. Online shopping and Internet banking are the ideal ways to go now, based on what is happening with COVID-19 and the guidelines, but not many persons are receptive to that, so you have to do a market research and SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats] analysis just focusing on your clients,” said Dwyer-Powell.

She revealed that at least two of the major pharmacies in Mandeville — Fontana and Haughton’s — have been offering curbside pickups to their customers.

“Fontana has given customers the option to WhatsApp their prescriptions and you just go in, pick up, and pay.

“Business is down, and no one is getting 100 per cent support in any area, so some businesses have locked down because there is just no way for them to operate, so that is what we are facing on one end… hotels such as Golf View that closed down two months now and is using the opportunity to renovate, but not a lot of businesses are able to do that. Mandeville Hotel has also closed [its] doors,” she said.

“Other businesses would have cut staff, or they are on a week-on, week-off system, so everybody is feeling it… Restaurants, too, even though people are probably buying more food, because if you pass KFC or Burger King [there are long lines], so smaller restaurants would have either laid off [staff] or cut down on their services,” Dwyer-Powell added.

Delivery services have been making use of the new business opportunities, including the Mandeville-based Doorway Express, that does islandwide deliveries.

Farmers in Manchester have also been getting assistance through a collaboration of the chamber of commerce and delivery company Nation Pride.

“Persons can [go online or] call in their orders, be it ground provision, and we’ll deliver it,” she said.

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