COVID-19 RELATIONSHIPS

by Mugulusi Eddie – Street-Smart Entrepreneur

A lost love? How can so many precious memories flooded with emotion stem from a single question? On its own capable of bringing even grown men to the brink of tears, and many indeed have shed a tear or two. Someone somewhere on this planet we call earth is probably doing just that as you read this and it’s all from the reality of a broken relationship.

Adele, in one of her popular songs, ‘Someone like you’, captures this sentiment in a way that you can’t help but drown in sweet and bitter reminiscence. “Never mind, I’ll find someone like you. I wish nothing but the best for you too. Don’t forget me, I beg…” the song goes. This is just sad. There you are, heavily invested in someone special at the time that you do all within your power to make them happy; and indeed they are, at least for a while. However, like many things, due to one reason or another the once beautiful union in time descends to rocky ground. The rest is beautifully summed up by Adele.

With the emergence of COVID19, the global economy has been shaken from its very core and has since taken a downward trend (rocky ground). Many businesses have since shut down as a result of mandatory lockdowns and a good number may never recover (broken relationships), leaving business owners nothing but bitter-sweet memories of what once was (lost love).

My experience is one shared by many other business owners today and I’d like to put it into perspective. Days before March 20th, Fab Creations Ltd (a company I co-own with my brother), was manufacturing and distributing three of its flagship products to schools across numerous districts. Consumption in schools was by the thousands of units a week and yet literally overnight, this consumption plummeted to zero. We didn’t just slow down production, we literally hit the pause button. The machines stopped running, the delivery vehicles stopped moving and the effects (big & small) are being felt by both people and businesses that traded with us. Like new love-birds, we had ushered in the New Year with contagious enthusiasm, passion, renewed goals, dreams and unquestionable commitment. You can’t help but wonder, “How did things change so fast?”

To further paint a vivid picture of just how dire the situation is for small businesses in Kampala, let’s take a trip to the city center. For four years, I ran a bridal photography business (JPEG) on MM Plaza and gained some insight into how small businesses in Kampala’s arcades operate. MM had a diversity of business types including: makeup studios, boutiques, Jewelry shops, salons, manicure & pedicure shops, bridal shops among others. Rent on the 1st floor, where JPEG was, ranged from 800,000 – 1,800,000 and was payable by the 5th of each month. Apart from particular businesses, sales for many was never a daily assurance. I watched many boutiques and jewelry shops go for weeks without a single sale. Photography studios would run for more than a month without a paying event to ‘shoot’. As a matter of fact, a few times my business (being a seasonal one) along with others got shut down for delayed rent clearance. The vast majority of these businesses are not lucrative. They make enough to get by and they number in the thousands across Kampala employing a very big number of city dwellers.

Now think about what it really means for these types of businesses to get shut down for months. How do they pick up the pieces? The offices with millions in accrued rent. The bridal service providers with the current ban on wedding gatherings. How do the rest make sense of the general shrinking in consumer spending? As my heart aches for these business owners I can’t help but wonder whether the government truly understands the current and future impact of COVID19 on small businesses for some time to come.

I am reminded of George Michael’s song, ‘Endless Summer Nights’ and I believe in a business context, many business owners can relate to these lyrics. “Summer came and left without a warning. All at once I looked and you were gone. And now you’re looking back at me. Searching for a way we can be like we were before.” Times are indeed hard and many business owners are looking for clues as to when this nightmare will be over.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has however warned that COVID19 could end up becoming an endemic like HIV. It is possible that a vaccine may never be found. While on the same subject, an 18-month period has been stated as the closest time frame for the development of possible vaccine. Even then, scaling up its production to meet global demand will require another year or two according to experts. If you are a business owner, these words will certainly ‘pull a nerve’. The old days and ways seem to be gone. This is the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future and business may never be the same again.

Like Gotye and Kimbra sing in one of my favorite songs “Now you’re just somebody that I used to know”. Business owners ought to reflect on this new reality and make well thought out changes to their business model lest their businesses risk becoming something they used to know.

End of part 1

Next week I will share how we at Fab Creations are adapting to this new reality and how you as a business owner can too.

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