Opportunities abound in the changing and turbulent economy
By Chandrea Serebro
Pivot (v): rotating, as if on an axis – and the buzz word of 2020, a year that will go down in the annals of history as a time of sickness and fear, but also of hope and change. The whole world is reeling from the Coronavirus and the economic crisis that inevitably followed. The world looks in no way similar to the way it ever did. People have lost loved ones, businesses, and sometimes all hope. But out of the darkness there has been an inspiring move to the light, and, when faced with desperation and times of tribulation, people have reinvented themselves in inspiring and imaginative ways.
Bread and butter
Chana Miriam Opert – singer and songwriter, dedicated teacher, and experienced doula and birthing assistant, found herself in a very strange place indeed when COVID-19 took hold of the world. From being a busy mother of seven kids and domestic executive to their busy household, an empowered professional, and kind-hearted person and friend, suddenly she found herself unable to work. Schools closed, doulas were no longer allowed access to hospitals to assist women giving birth, recording studios took a backseat. Since February, Chana found herself missing the work that she loved, and the busyness that she thrived on.
Whichever Italian coined the phrase ‘Man cannot live on bread alone’ obviously hadn’t tasted Chana’s Italian friend’s sourdough bread; a friend who, like Chana, had found herself in a place of economic crisis and turned to baking, first as a hobby, and then as a business. “I tasted her bread and I really loved it, so much I wanted to make it, but never foresaw myself selling it. But my family believed that it was good enough for me to sell.” The seed of the idea had been planted, but it took the encouragement of a close family friend, “a very charitable person,” who had often implored Chana to make a business out of selling her delicious homemade challah.
For years, Chana had laughed off the idea, already juggling so much and running a busy household. But this time, Chana decided to give it a go, and naturally, her friend became her first customer. Only, when she called him up, he didn’t just want one loaf, he wanted 100 loaves, right from the very start. Chana knew she couldn’t make 100 loaves, and was thinking more along the lines of making four or five max, but her friend is a believer in people, a believer in the ability of people not only to transcend their own barriers, but to look outside of themselves toward others, to building bridges of unity and commonality, be it through challah, or even sourdough bread.
“He ordered R5 000 worth of sourdough bread, for me to give to people who I thought would enjoy it, and to give my new business a head start.” He gave her the time, money, and space to spread the word about her sourdough bread loaves, her gourmet baking ability, and anything else she might dare to dream. Since then, Chana has been met with success beyond the Atlantic seaboard and Jewish Cape Town, looking to move into Johannesburg.
“I called my business Pekarnya – Yana’s Bakery. Pronounced peh-KAR-niyah, with the emphasis on the second syllable of the word, it means ‘bakery’ in Russian. Why Russian? Because I am Russian. Born and bred in Moscow.”
“I feel amazing. I feel like I’ve unlocked something entirely new inside myself, something I never knew existed. Firstly, the baker in me. I never thought of myself as one. Secondly, the businesswoman I never knew was hiding within. For the first time in my life, I am doing something completely by myself, a business venture of my own. And it is thriving. It feels absolutely incredible. Obviously, I have the support of my family, my husband and children, and the two friends who gave me wings, without whom I wouldn’t be here. But ultimately, it is my baby.”
Baking, she says, is a “very expressive and artistic experience”. “I pride myself on my baked goods. The main product is artisanal sourdough bread. They take three days to prepare, prove, and then I score them, which is a sort of a signature of an artist. My chocolate and cinnamon buns are big and full of flavour.”
It hasn’t been all-too-easy though. “My most difficult challenge was the lack of fridge space for the first three weeks. Sourdough needs to be stored in the fridge overnight, and I only have one, albeit a large fridge. So, luckily, we are in the winter season, and I was able to store my sourdough in the plastic containers, covered up in plastic wrap just outside, on the braai. Until our very good friends, who were moving houses, gifted us their old fridge. On the flip side, the best part has been when my parents presented me with a brand new, state-of-the-art Delonghi oven to help me set up my budding business without impacting the nine mouths already being fed in the house. There is a great need for a good quality kosher bakery in my area. So my baking fulfils not only my need for self-expression, but also the kosher consumer’s needs.”
The business grew significantly in just four short weeks, from just giving two or three loaves to some friends, to sending my first R1 000 order out to Paarl. “The biggest take-home lesson for me was definitely the know-how of running a business, and the self-confidence it takes to do it. But I still have a lot to learn.”
Find Pekarnya on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Pekarnya-Yanas-Bakery-111730373923586 or contact Chana: firstname.lastname@example.org, 078 142 3658
When Bradley Davis walked into work on 19 March as a business-as-usual day at the office working as a car salesman, he was not to know that it would be his last day there. Given 24 hours to leave what was only a temporary contract, but which he relied on, Bradley found himself filled with mixed emotions. “I started as a car salesman in about 2008. There were times that I did exceedingly well. Customers were happy and I was happy as I thoroughly enjoyed my job. I was earning a decent living and felt worthy. Unfortunately over the last couple of years and due to the economic situation, selling cars became more difficult. I had not met my target for three months, and with the COVID-19 crisis, I was let go. I must confess that while I was in shock, I was not unhappy.”
It was not easy for Bradley to walk out of that office, knowing that he had no other alternatives and had to find a way to move on, to find something else to do to earn a living and to support his family financially and emotionally. With the encouragement of his wife, who pushed him to find something that would give him success and fulfilment at the same time as financial stability, Bradley turned inward to evaluate himself as a person and try and find a way to use his deep-seated desire to help other people to reinvent himself professionally. “I love helping people; it is something I have always done that is part of my nature. I work with the community policing forum. I have always tried to do my share. Now I asked myself: How can I help people during this COVID-19 pandemic? What can I do for people who might need help in this crisis?”
Out of this need to reinvent himself while doing something good for others, Ready, Set, Delivered was born. It’s a shopping and delivery service which began with him doing a few trips to the grocery store to pick up goods for delivery, and which has grown to a full-scale shopping service where everything can be delivered to your door.
“Ready, Set, Delivered began with me going to the shops, collecting the goods, and delivering them to people’s houses, for a fee. Of course, this meant I had to protect myself to the extreme – the gloves, the mask, the sanitising, the scrubbing down when I returned home at the end of the day – and safety became a core element to my business offering which people knew they could rely on.”
The collection and delivery basis not only grew to become a personal shopping service as well, but quickly graduated from groceries to all sorts of other things – appliances, sim cards – “you name it and I can do it”. I did not ever think that it would take off the way it has. I am so grateful to all those who have supported me, especially my family and the friends who went the extra mile to help me brand my business, especially my friend, Gila Glazer, who conceived of the name and helps me with marketing.”
The biggest challenge for Bradley was that his car began taking strain with all the miles and parcels, but then in what was a windfall for Ready, Set, Delivered, Bradley was granted an interest-free loan enabling him to buy a bakkie and brand it, which helped him spread his name and his service offering. All the while, Bradley thinks of new ways to help people as best as he can and conceived of a Half Price Wednesday (shopping fee and delivery rate slashed in half) for pensioners. “The highlight has been the interest in the business and all the compliments I receive, both in person and on social media and WhatsApp. It is a wonderful feeling to be so appreciated and so loved and respected. The successes are the satisfaction of the people when their shopping is done without any mistakes. I am so proud, happy, and grateful.”
Contact Bradley: 0828511764
“Before COVID, my life was normal to me. I loved being busy and stimulated. I was in meetings most days, and, when I wasn’t, I was on the phone with clients, busy with proposals, or in consultations. My inbox was always full and I couldn’t wait to reply and engage with everyone. Having my own business, there was no such thing as ‘working hours’. My brain never stops thinking of new ideas to add value to my business and clients, and it was something I did well.”
Jacqui Martheze always believed in moving with the times, and, as the founder of Lula Solutions over eight years ago, specialising in corporate training for directors, she knew how vital it is to always be doing whatever it takes to stay fresh and relevant in the business world. “As soon as COVID hit South Africa, in an already financially strained economy, my clients went into a complete panic and stopped engaging my services. Clients with existing retainer agreements immediately looked for loopholes to disengage and as they stopped paying, I had no option but to negotiate exit strategies, which left me with no secure income. As lockdown progressed, very soon I had no income at all.”
As entrepreneurs with their own businesses, both Jacqui and her husband foresaw that both the negative financial market and the skittish sentiment that was engulfing people would continue for many months to come and that it would take years to rebuild the destruction the pandemic rained on Jacqui’s business overnight. Jacqui very quickly realised that she would need to pivot and find a new idea.
“I have always been artistic and have painted tablecloths for myself and my mother throughout my life, and I thought that this was something I could focus on and see where it took me.” She started JM Designs, custom-making unique, hand-painted table coverings (all sizes made to order) using water-resistant material that is easy to wipe down and folds perfectly for all occasions. People fell in love from the start with Jacqui’s one-of-a-kind tablecloths, and JM Designs is growing. “Within the first month of starting, I sold out of all my stock twice, and have even had inquiries from overseas. To get into the overseas and export market has now become a dream of mine.”
“I had no time to feel sorry for myself or wallow in the situation that I found myself in because I’m not that kind of person. I always look at the glass half full. I looked towards the ‘new’ reality and thought about what I could do, focusing on my strengths, with the added bonus of bringing some colour and joy into people’s homes during this dark period.” Despite the difficult times, Jacqui believes that there has been much positivity which has come out of the challenges. “It is inspiring to see the resilience in people, and my kids have seen it in me and my husband as well. They have learned many lessons, but one is to never give up. Life never goes as planned and we need to adjust and learn to roll with the punches. They have also learned that positivity breeds positivity and although some days are more difficult than others, nothing stays the same.”
With virtually no start-up capital and challenges sourcing the correct materials, Jacqui also had to brush up on her social media and marketing skills. And she has seen “incredible support” from everyone, starting with her family to friends to followers on Facebook and community FB groups. “The community support has been incredible and given me a lot of inspiration to keep pushing, and hearing my kids say they cannot believe how hard I work has been so rewarding. And of course, selling my tablecloths and seeing them in everyone’s home looking exquisite has been a joy. It makes me feel so excited when I get such heartfelt messages from people enjoying my product, as every cloth painted is created with such positive energy and love.
Find JM Designs on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/JM-Designs-104556931280840/ or contact Jacqui: email@example.com
Fishing for success
Pam Leveton was a happily married housewife and mother of two kids, with a part-time job that she enjoyed and which kept her busy, and a love of cooking which she did in her spare time. Finding new places to go satiated her adventurous spirit, and Pam felt happy and satisfied with her life. Enter Corona, and overnight the life into which Pam had comfortably grown was pulled out from under her, impacting her and her family in so profound a way that life will never be the same for Pam or her kids again. “We went from being a close and connected family of four to being a family of three after my husband Steven died tragically as a direct result of the harsh impact that COVID-19 had on his business.”
Everything about the situation Pam now found herself in was so far removed from what she had always known. “Stability became instability; routine became a thing of the past. Time previously spent on family now belongs to merely surviving.” Reeling from the loss of her dear husband, Pam now realised that the family’s financial obligations fell on her, and she needed to act fast to stay afloat.
Realising the many implications of Steven’s death affects the daily lives of the entire Leveton family, and every day they are discovering new changes that they have to now make with this new reality. “Death is always hard. Losing a parent is tough at any age, but add suicide into the mix and it is easy to fall into the victimhood mentality. I am deeply proud of how my children have started to digest what has happened to us, and how they make an active decision not to walk that path, which in turn makes me cope better.”
Knowing that they would not survive if she didn’t find a way of finding herself an income that could support the family singlehandedly, Pam, together with her sister Hayley Haberer, conceived of a fish supply business, giving people quality offerings at competitive prices, starting out on WhatsApp and building her client base from there. “We found a supplier, built a list of menu items, and started rolling out the marketing.” The Fish and Food Co (which began as Fish Fish Fish) supplies restaurant-quality fish at competitive prices delivered directly to your door, and the new business was met with rave reviews. “The support from the community at large has been overwhelming. The response has exceeded our wildest expectation and we are thrilled to be able to contribute to healthier eating choices.”
“When tragedy strikes, you have a choice of how you want to respond to it. Believe it or not, in the darkness there is a choice. It is just a matter of who is around you and there for you to support your choices. I have family who have been truly selfless in their support and love that they have given me, especially from my sister Hayley and her husband, who opened their homes and their hearts unconditionally and who have helped me launch the business. Given the situation I found myself in, almost overnight, I needed all the love and support I could get and the essential positivity that can be sucked out of your life altogether if not for those around you, to help inject you with some hope. One can spend a lot of time going down a dark and cold rabbit hole, which is a scary, dark, and frightening place. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Understand clearly and honestly what your motivation is and the answer will come to you. My children are my motivation. Clear and simple.” And her new ‘baby’, The Fish and Food Co, Pam’s reinvention of herself, not only helped her to survive in the troubled times in which she found herself, but also to help herself, and her family, thrive.
Contact The Fish and Food Co: call Pam 083 556 7247 or Hayley 083 325 2274