How two small businesses in Cairo survived COVID-19
How two small businesses in Cairo survived COVID-19
Known as Bebo, Bebawy Abdelmeseeh is a hardworking hairstylist and owner of Seniorita Beauty Salon, located in Cairo’s bustling El Daher district. Seven years ago, Bebo decided to leave a beauty salon in Madinet Nasr to rent a boutique in El Daher and start his own business.
Most of the women in the area, young and old, know Bebo. They either visited him for a haircut, asked him for a new hair color, or at the very least heard from him. His decent character has been his main source of marketing for years, not to mention his talent as a hairstylist.
In 2020, many people in Egypt and beyond suffered in different ways as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed more than 16,000 lives nationwide, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Human Rights. population. Many employees lost their jobs as companies cut spending. Business owners themselves have suffered more than many employees, between figuring out how to pay wages and keeping their businesses alive.
Some companies were also more vulnerable than others due to a reliance on consumer behavior. While many operations suspended and others closed permanently, a number of small businesses still struggle to operate, bearing in mind the risk of closure with any new wave of COVID-19.
For Mina Youssef, founder and owner of Aghsan Stationery, a new wave of COVID-19 accompanied by severe restrictions could threaten her main source of income.
“The pandemic has interrupted all my client work. As a stationery that also works in the printing press, we work mainly with pupils and since the schools closed, there has been no photocopying, typing or printing of documents, ”Mina told Egyptian Streets.
“We are typing court cases for lawyers, and the courts are also closed. We also work with churches for their events and trips where they personalize gifts and giveaways during conventions, all of those trips and events have been stopped and church services closed completely. Our main source of income was therefore completely gone.
Founded in 2017, Aghsan Stationery handles more than the standard sale of school and office supplies like any other stationery. The up-and-coming startup also specializes in document printing, scanning and photocopying, as well as banner roll ups, invitation cards, in addition to other client-based work such as design services. graphic and animated for Facebook pages.
Despite the impacts on her business, Mina said they temporarily closed their doors in 2020 to keep people safe.
“We shut down the stationery for two weeks as part of an initiative to raise awareness of the importance of staying safe at such a critical time, and urged everyone to do the same to curb the spread of the virus. But the salaries of my employees were not affected, ”Mina said, adding that despite the financial impact on his business, he made sure that his staff would continue to collect his salaries because he understood that they had them. also their own family to support.
Hairdresser and business owner Bebo echoes Mina’s plight.
“When travel was banned, we couldn’t get most of our products overseas like we usually do, like hair dyes, so we were also delayed because we didn’t have enough products to use. work. People didn’t leave their homes either, churches and wedding halls were closed, so we would open the living room in the morning and just sit there with our arms folded, ”Bebo says, thinking back to a time when his entire workplace was on. an indefinite break. .
“I used to give my employees half of their salary to work half the month, and the other half I left them on leave. So I would pay them a salary for the time they worked, because I didn’t want to let any of them go, ”he continues, greeting an old lady who was passing by.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Mina hoped to open another branch for Aghsan Stationery by 2020.
Back to school is usually the most important time of year for any stationery owner, with September and October being their peak months. For Aghsan Stationery, his first two seasons, back to school in 2017 and 2018, were encouraging. It was an era that pushed Mina and her staff forward as they introduced unique services like label printing and photos on labels and binders, services that no one else did. ‘offered throughout the El Daher neighborhood.
“When the government announced the continuation of online education, the start of the 2020 school year was a complete failure for us. All the goods we bought have stayed with us, some of them being sold as the school year progresses. It was a tough time and caused us cash flow problems because we had endless commitments, ”Mina recalls, sipping her hot cup of coffee.
“The start of the 2021 school year is risky. We bought some goods, the students are supposed to go to school, but the parents are skeptical about this school year, so they are still not too confident to buy all their supplies in case the schools close again due of another wave of COVID-19, ”he adds doubtfully. .
Mina still struggles to win back clients and the demand for her goods and services. Since stationery and printing services are not essential, unlike food and drink for example, people think twice before buying anything from stationery. Even customers and businesses who place bulk orders are hesitant about what items they buy and still prefer to buy less than they normally would because they worry about their spending. Customers who would come to buy a gift worth EGP 100 are now looking for something cheaper.
For Bebo, the number of customers visiting its salon has also declined. According to him, women often liked to go to the salon to get their hair done and have their hair done before going to a “masyaf” (a summer getaway). Many have visited this summer, but not in the same number as before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are still hesitant. I can say that we are back with an average of 50%, not 100%, but at least better than when the spread of COVID-19 was peak, ”concludes Bebo.
Mina was eager to research practical alternatives so that she could stay afloat in the midst of the pandemic.
“I started to grow my business using social media. Using sponsored ads on Facebook, we have advertised through our Facebook page that we offer typing services, graphic design services, etc. He said.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted Mina’s business, he has managed to cope with some success.
“We have launched an active website and delivery service,” says Mina, adding that instead of marketing their services through leaflets and brochures, Aghsan Stationery has launched a website for all of its services. Seeing that most people have become extremely dependent on delivery services and prefer to leave home only when necessary, they have also introduced a delivery service where customers can list the items they want to purchase through the website. , and the store will contact them to confirm the order and deliver it to them later.
Likewise, Bebo acknowledges that there was a time when it was forced to present its services in new ways that might be more convenient for its customers during this time.
“We posted on our Facebook page announcing that we are providing home care services to people during the pandemic, but there was no response, people were scared at the time, so it didn’t really work” , he explains.
The pandemic has prompted the Egyptian government to accelerate its digital transformation plan across multiple sectors, including real estate, tourism, education, commerce, among others. In 2020, Egypt introduced a new banking law to allow the launch of digital banks.
Bebo, who is grateful that the stricter 2020 lockdown is over, is hoping the fourth wave of COVID won’t force them to shut down again. Yet no matter how difficult it was, he still has faith in a better future.
“God never forgets his children,” he said, “So I’m sure everything will be fine. “
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