TOUGH TIMES

Small businesses bear brunt of coronavirus spread

Small businesses are sending home staff and closing down

In Summary

•Majority of small enterprises are having a hard time sustaining operations during this tumultuous time

•While more firms take to online platforms to boost sales some lesser-known establishments do not have this option

Linda Khamalishi, a food vendor at an office in Westlands, Nairobi on March 24, 2020/
Linda Khamalishi, a food vendor at an office in Westlands, Nairobi on March 24, 2020/
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

Linda Khamalishi has been providing breakfast snacks and lunch at Lion Place, Westlands since 2010.

Her business is however slowly grinding to a halt as the coronavirus continues to spread in the country.

Lost for viable options to sustain her food distribution business, she has decided to stop supplying food to the office block and instead stay home.

 
 
 

“From tomorrow (Wednesday) I won’t be coming in. It just doesn’t make any business sense anymore,” she told the Star with pain written on her face.

Linda says, since the government’s directive to reduce non-essential movement, most offices in the building are deserted leaving her with very few customers.

“Even after reducing the amount of food I make, people are more skeptic now to buy something they did not make themselves. No one wants this disease,” she says.

Much like many other small business owners across the country, Linda has also had to send her staff home, unpaid.

“I was left with one cook whose pay I had to cut from Sh500 to Sh300 daily, and now, even he has to go home,” she said.

Data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows small and medium enterprises constitute about 98 per cent of all the businesses in the country, employing about 14.9 million Kenyans.

SMEs account for more than 30 per cent of the country's GDP.

 
 

Linda is not the only one facing difficulties sustaining their business during this tumultuous time.

Empty seats at Bavaria Restaurant in Westlands, Nairobi yesterday/
Empty seats at Bavaria Restaurant in Westlands, Nairobi yesterday/
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

The empty seats at Bavaria Gardens, a bar and restaurant frequented by the middle class, can attest to this if they could tell the story.

The warmth and smile usually exhibited by the staff are gone for even the few left do no know their fate.

 

The establishment’s head of operations John Ireri says he has had to send a majority of his staff home, only keeping a handful to maintain the place.

“The few cooks left are at least making some food for takeaway, but with the directive to close bars, the orders are not enough to sustain the business,” he said.

He added that the only reason the few remaining staff are still coming to work is due to a contractual agreement with the online courier service firm- Glovo.

Speaking during the government’s routine update on the situation of the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said all entertainment areas will close at 7.30 pm until further notice to curb the spread of the virus.

While more firms take to online platforms to boost sales, Ireri says this may not provide a solution as some lesser-known establishments record very low sales.

A cashwash attendant at work in Westlands, Nairobi yesterday/
A cashwash attendant at work in Westlands, Nairobi yesterday/
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

A near-by carwash that largely depends on office workers and Bavaria customers echoed Ireri’s sentiments saying business “is bad”.

Detailed Car Wash manager Vincent Macharia told the star, with the bar at Bavaria closing, the small enterprise has lost more than 50 per cent of its clientele.

“We have only washed six cars from the time we opened to midday. Before the virus, we would have washed more than 50 cars over the same time. It has really has hit business,” he says.

However, while others opt to stay at home, Macharia fears that him and his boys will have nothing to eat. So despite the low sales, his workforce of six still shows up to work as usual.

“Mimi hawa mayouth wangu siwezi waacha hivyo, lazima tuingie job (I can’t leave my team like that, we have to show up to work), he says.

His sentiments are shared by barber John Ng'ash who told the Star he will continue to show up to work to make the little he can. 

"I really don't have an option," he says.

Ng'ash John of Bavaria Barbershop in Westlands, Nairobi yesterday
Ng'ash John of Bavaria Barbershop in Westlands, Nairobi yesterday
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

At the local kiosk down the street, Mulewa Zacharia remains optimistic despite the current situation.

She has been forced to reduce orders to meet sales which she says have dropped by more than a half since residents were asked to stay at home to minimise the spread of the disease.

“I’m not saying it is a good thing. But the fact that we haven’t had a lockdown means my family can still get something to live by,” she said.

One sentiment shared by all these business owners is the need for the government to step in for the little man. The one who lives hand to mouth in order for them to sustain the tough environment coupled with hike in fares and some commodity prices.

A customer at a kiosk in Westlands, Nairobi yesterday
A customer at a kiosk in Westlands, Nairobi yesterday
Image: ANDREW KASUKU