While some businesses have not survived the economic devastation of the Coronavirus pandemic, there are many success stories of enterprises in South Africa’s most successful city centre that have not only survived but thrived.
Western Cape, South Africa (19 March 2021) – As the anniversary of South Africa’s inaugural lockdown looms, the theme coursing through the Cape Town Central City is that of agility. While some businesses have not survived the economic devastation of the Coronavirus pandemic, there are many success stories of enterprises in South Africa’s most successful city centre that have not only survived but thrived.
Over the past 12 months, resilient Central City businesses have proved their mettle, proactively adapting their business offerings to focus on the local audience and make the most of the opportunities available to them to ensure they remain viable in the long term.
Here, Tasso Evangelinos, CEO of the Cape Town Central Improvement District (CCID); Aisha Pandor, co-founder of tech start-up SweepSouth; Tamra Veley, founder and MD of public affairs and reputation management consultancy Corporate Image; and Liam Tomlin, well-known Cape Town restaurateur and chef who started Local at Heritage Square, share their stories across different sectors:
Frontline Essential Services
Evangelinos says the CCID – which works to maintain the Cape Town CBD with its partners, the City of Cape Town and SAPS – swiftly changed its operational strategy according to the number of people in the CBD and the lockdown level.
“The CCID’s three operational departments constantly re-evaluated the need and our response to it. For example, during level 5 lockdown, our Safety & Security department prioritised keeping the area crime-free but focussed on protecting people, properties and possessions. As a result, there was no spike in crime in what was then a deserted CBD.”
This created a stable, clean environment, says Evangelinos, enabling the NPOs stakeholders to continue running their businesses effectively in a secure CBD.
“Throughout the lockdown levels, we have managed to maintain a low level of crime across all crime categories, as well as keeping the Central City very clean.”
The CCID’s Social Development department collaborated with NGO partners to ensure homeless clients had access to daily food supplies and PPE.
“Our Communications department kicked into overdrive, ensured our stakeholders were in the loop by communicating reliable and up-to-date information daily across multiple digital and print channels. Between the months from March to December last year, we reached an audience of over 700 million people through more than 560 media clips, with an advertising value equivalent of over R17 million. We also wrote 11 newsflashes to over 15 000 stakeholders and produced 8 e-Newsletters for over 42 000 subscribers.”
The CCID also launched a four-month wide-reaching #ComeBackToTown campaign to rejuvenate the city centre economy.
“The campaign reminded officer workers, business owners, residents and visitors that the CBD was open for business and ready to welcome them back to enjoy what our downtown has to offer.”
The hospitality sector was one of the hardest-hit industries during the lockdown. Despite this, famed Cape Town restaurateur and chef Liam Tomlin managed to expand his business and product range, launching a market-type culinary space called Local at Heritage Square, which includes his new 55-seater Mediterranean restaurant, Mazza and a charcuterie bar, La Cantina. He also reinvented Chefs Warehouse in Bree Street, transforming it into Chefs Warehouse Pinchos & Wine Bar, which focuses on Spanish-style tapas.
Tomlin says he’s used the time to reassess his business, “We tightened up in areas and introduced new procedures and products. We used the time and space to focus on all areas of the business and improve on what we already do.”
He says that these new offerings will strengthen the brand over the long-term, “We won’t be as exposed as we have been in the past.” His advice to others is to cater to the local market, “Look after your local market. Buy local for your business when possible, so we can rebuild the economy together.”
In the first stages of the lockdown, SweepSouth, which uses a tech application to connect clients with pre-vetted cleaners, couldn’t operate on its core service business. This meant so-called SweepStars (the listed cleaners) weren’t able to work. Aisha Pandor and partners pivoted quickly.
“With the help of investors and customers, we set up a SweepStar Fund and raised over R12 million to help support domestic workers. We also expanded our offering to include outdoor help, such as gardeners and painters.”
SweepSouth also broadened the professional listings on its SweepSouth Connect platform to include freelance services, from web developers to tax and accountancy services and graphic designers.
She says, “Connect got AI enhancements, too, and now features an in-app in-house-built chat and bot capability that allows customers to connect directly with professionals. We also launched SweepSouth in Kenya and are looking at further moves across Africa. Additionally, we had previously launched a SweepSouth Shop; we doubled down on stock and variety, allowing 500 % growth for the shop during the two months of hard lockdown.”
Her advice to other business owners is to adopt an ‘infinite mindset’, “An important part of being a successful entrepreneur is to build a business with an infinite mindset, rather than a short-term outlook. And you must be agile and innovative – always looking out for new opportunities, in whatever form that may take. Fundamentally, business owners need to be realistic – employ pessimism in your planning and optimism in your outlook. And you need to act early and be prudent with your business.”
Tamra Veley says Corporate Image, a well-known Cape Town city centre communications consultancy, drew on the company’s core strength of thinking proactively.
“We weren’t waiting for clients to come to us; we came up with proactive suggestions and counsel for them. Agility and the ability to think forward are not necessarily mutually inclusive; You can be agile reactively. But being agile is kind of a sine qua non if you want to succeed in this kind of environment.”
Veley, who also serves on the CCID Board of Directors and is chair of the Cape Town Heritage Trust, also ramped up communication with clients, who are mainly large listed companies, and the team.
“Resilience and certainty are connected. If you tell people what’s going on and keep lines open and honest, then people have the ability to build resilience.” Her advice to others is to find new ways to do what they’re good at, “It’s not a question of changing your sense of innovation, but rather how you do things. A pandemic requires our deep thinkers to be able to see around corners. That’s what clients are expecting.”
She says the main lesson she took away was that if a team is kept together by strong leadership, it can work in any kind of environment, but working remotely is not a replacement for working in an office, “We may adopt a hybrid model going forward. I think working from home for an extended period is psychologically damaging. You don’t have the same degree of banter, levity and mentorship. It’s time to get back to work.”