Covid-19’s impact on small biz

In his Twitter bio, businessman Lebogang Mokubela describes himself as a serial entrepreneur and a man on a mission to build the “Bidvest” of the township. This is because his company, Lemok Group, is based in Soshanguve in Pretoria. The group offers a variety of businesses, such as digital marketing, township-focused brand activations and its own smartphone.

At a time when Covid-19 has already affected businesses and markets badly, Mokubela is proving to be a quintessential entrepreneur who aims to solve problems that consumers may have, while seeing opportunities in the midst of  the chaos.

Mokubela saw an opening to start a hand sanitiser business during the pandemic in order to compensate for the loss of income suffered by his company with regard to sales of Lemok’s Libra smartphones.

The Libra was launched in December last year, but the sale of these phones had to be put on hold as Lemok stopped receiving shipments during the third week of January, after China closed its economy in order to tackle the virus.

This immediately put a strain on Mokubela’s business. “Consider also that we are a new brand. We haven’t had stock for the past two months, which means we aren’t selling and we are losing income,” he said.

“The sanitiser business was launched with a two-fold view. Firstly, we wanted to generate revenue while we worked on getting our phones produced locally; and secondly, we understood that mobile phones carry the most germs and most people do not think about cleaning their phones. The sanitiser was positioned to help people clean both their hands and their devices.”

The idea of having a sanitiser that can clean your phone and hands came from an understanding that mobile phones — Lemok’s core business — carry the most germs.

Mokubela said research shows that phones have more germs than a toilet seat, hence the need to sanitise phones as well as hands.

The company’s target market are organisations and households that are looking for bulk orders of sanitiser.

Mokubela said his hand sanitiser business was doing well because of the shortage of stock and increased demand for the product from citizens, companies and the health department.

He has also seen an increase in demand for his 50ml and 100ml sanitisers, which are now out of stock. In addition, Mokubela supplies 5l and 1000l bottles, which are still available.

The company supplies the products primarily in Gauteng. People can place their orders using WhatsApp.

While Mokubela is offering products, other individuals have suffered because their skills are no longer needed —±albeit on a temporary basis — as businesses cut certain activities because of the havoc and uncertainty that has come with the virus, a move that was intensified by the national shutdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa this week. As a result, only a few companies will be operating.

Patrick Munkana, a media specialist and digital marketing consultant who builds websites and specialises in online advertisements, said he has seen a decline in business.

He has already lost up to 60% of his revenue. “Most of my clients have asked to pause their campaigns as they are cutting their budgets and don’t know how long their businesses will be affected by Covid-19,” he said.

He told the Mail & Guardian that while businesses are cancelling, he finds that he has to update his offering quickly in order to include services like web design as this is the time when most businesses should have a presence online. 

Munkana said working from home will not be easy during lockdown: “I have worked from home most of the time, but now I have my family around, so I need to manage my work and family time carefully.”

Mokubela believes that things will improve after Covid-19 subsides. His company is looking at limiting risks associated with manufacturing overseas by producing its Libra phones in South Africa.

Mokubela said the virus outbreak has proven that it is feasible to run a business with a remote team – something many business owners were not open to considering until they were forced into the situation. “So going forward, I see more and more companies applying this strategy, thus reducing the need for, and expense of, office space.”

Munkana agreed, saying companies would see that people could work from anywhere and still be productive. People were using platforms like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Zoom for their daily and weekly meetings, and this was working.

He  added that one of his friends in the recruitment industry told him that since the outbreak of Covid-19, companies had been conducting interviews online. “Imagine if this was the case going forward? People would save time and money in not attending these work interviews,” he said.

Tshegofatso Mathe is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the Mail & Guardian