When President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement on 23 March this year of a countrywide lockdown for 21 days to stem the spread of COVID-19, South African small business owners were faced with a big decision – ‘pivot or die’.
For some business owners the decision was a clear one – pivot. Survival for many businesses hinged on quick, innovative thinking and pivoting their business models to respond to the changing landscape in a post-COVID-19 world.
SME South Africa looks at the 10 Best COVID-19 Business Model Pivots of the year.
1. Best Business Model Pivot – Bottles App
Until April this year, Bottles App was South Africa’s first and largest on-demand alcohol delivery app and services. The App was founded by Vincent Viviers and Enrico Ferigolli.
In mid-2018 Bottles App partnered with Pick n Pay to scale their on-demand alcohol delivery service business. This partnership would prove fortuitous for both companies. Two years later when the lockdown was announced and anticipating a possible ban in alcohol sales, Bottles shifted the business to become an on-demand grocery essentials app, offering same day delivery.
Their new service offers contactless same day delivery and has expanded to more than 90 Pick n Pay stores across Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town and Bloemfontein.
Since their pivot the company has seen great returns. Bottles App has had 160 000 plus new registered users on their app, followed by a 400% year-on-year growth in orders and 600% year on year growth in sales. They have more than doubled their monthly active users transacting on the app.
In October of 2020, Pick n Pay announced that it had concluded an agreement to buy the Bottles online grocery service, allowing the brand to build on the success it has built over the last few months.
2. Best New Product Offering – Granadilla Swim
Granadilla Swim is a swimwear and beach accessories brand. Initially their focus was on swim shorts made locally, soon they expanded to include bikinis, kiddies shorts and other beach products.
The founders, Joshua Meltz and Adam Duxbury, quickly recognised the negative impact the national shutdown would have on their business. Meltz told Business Insider that retail had come to a standstill and they knew that they needed to act fast to survive the pandemic and economic recession.
In response to this, and with the aim to generate sustainable revenue, they introduced a new product offering selling fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables, dairy and eggs, as well as pantry staples, drinks and snacks. They partnered with local farmers without an online presence and offered them an opportunity to sell their fresh produce through the Granadilla Swim online store.
This not only helped them stay afloat, but it also helped small businesses to get a steady income. The service has done so well that they launched a separate online store for the offering – Granadilla Eats.
3. Best Business Partnership – Sweep South
Sweep South, the online home cleaning services platform founded by couple Aisha Pandor and Alec Ribic in 2014, in August this year announced a partnership with Airbnb, the global home rental platform.
The announcement came during level two of lockdown which allowed the hospitality and tourism industry to open for business. The partnership came about because of an increased need for sanitisation and cleaning solutions.
The partnership works to ensure Airbnb hosts meet the requirements and standards of cleaning protocol for hosts in South Africa. In an interview with Venture Burn Aisha Pandor said that in addition to providing sanitisation and hospitality protocol training, their online platform had been upgraded with a dedicated option for Airbnb hosts. The partnership has resulted in additional work for Sweep South employees, many who were desperate to return to work.
4. Best Adaptation Strategy – Book iBhoni
Book iBhoni, a bike tour company, pivoted into a bike courier service shortly after the national lockdown.
Founded by Mpumelelo Mtintso, the tour company was well known for offering discounts to tourists on their Soweto Tours who donate books to local libraries. This was in an effort to encourage more people to read.
Mtintso told Yoco that with a little online learning and leveraging his current assets, he partnered with local small businesses to deliver their orders for a fee.
5. Best Expansion Pivot – Veldskoen
Veldskoen is brand of South African classic leather footwear that has won legions of fans across the globe, including celebrities, thanks to their innovative marketing strategies. When COVID-19 hit the company behind the brand, DORP (Digital Online Retail Products), made the decision to put to use the digital marketing expertise that had put the Veldskoen on the map to help other retail brands achieve similar success.
The team had three years prior to the launch of Veldskoen, launched a successful digital agency, COVID-19 encouraged them to revisit the business. The DORP team had always managed Veldskoen’s digital marketing and ecommerce platform.
They have successfully launched marketing campaigns for Sorbet, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Score Energy and Outdoor Warehouse during lockdown.
Nick Dreyer, in an interview with News 24, reported that the new digital agency accounted for 20% of the revenue generated in the business.
6. Best Online Strategy – Computicket
Computicket is a ticket seller in South Africa with a focus on concerts and live events. COVID-19 had the company looking at other ways to generate revenue.
Once the lockdown was announced Computicket began selling virtual food vouchers. Customers could purchase Shoprite virtual vouchers at a Computicket and redeem them at any Shoprite, Checkers and USave supermarkets. Computicket sold over 200,000 virtual vouchers valued at over R50 million.
In addition to food vouchers, they also launched live streaming concerts streamed on YouTube.
7. Best Social Media Strategy – Beauty on TApp
Beauty on TApp launched in 2015 as a mobile app connecting beauty lovers with salons, service providers and product distributors. A year later their ecommerce store, Shop Beauty on TApp, was launched selling beauty, jewellery and lifestyle products.
The business was founded by Mathebe Molise who stumbled upon the idea after a friend, who was getting married in Cape Town, struggled to find a makeup artist. It has since then become a one-stop shop for beauty and lifestyle products.
Molise shared with SME South Africa that despite the negative impact of COVID-19 on the economy, sales on Beauty on TApp have increased. This can largely be attributed to increased demand for hair products and information due to hair salons closures during the lockdown, as well as increased use of ecommerce platforms.
“We offer more of an educational platform. It makes the store more attractive.“
She continues to say: “When people buy stuff, they buy what [they have heard us speak about], people rely on our channels to tell them what to use on their skin or hair because now they have to do their own hair,” she explains.
8. Best Digital Adoption Pivot – Dry Dock
Dry Dock is a boutique liquor store in Parkhurst, Johannesburg. They have been operating as a local community store selling wine, beer and spirits.
After two months of inactivity, in June when the country entered level 3 of lockdown and alcohol sales were permitted, the boutique liquor store fully digitised their offering by launching an online store.
They also began offering a curbside service. An initiative their customers loved as this meant that they did not have to leave their cars. Dry Dock told Business Insider South Africa that their biggest sale since alcohol sales were allowed was R30 000 worth of alcohol to one customer.
9. Best COVID-19 Safety Pivot – PropaClean
When Covid-19 hit the PropaClean team launched a platform offering courses that provide domestic helpers and in-house or contract cleaners the necessary tools and skills to create safe, clean spaces with a strong focus on COVID-19 protocols and requirements. Modules include everything from basic cleaning principles and choosing the right materials to use.
Propaclean is a division of Propati Cape Town, an online subscription platform with a variety of learning modules and learning resources for domestic workers and office cleaners. The platform makes essential information related to cleaning and general hygiene accessible to the relevant professionals at an affordable cost.
In August PropaClean entered a partnership with Airbnb that saw all hosts and their cleaning team members being able to access their course at a discounted rate, with specific modules focused on Airbnb’s enhanced cleaning protocol.
Shireen Onia of PropaClean says: “In addition they can continue to access the platform resources over the next 12 month to drive their own growth and learn new skills throughout the year.”
10. Best Aligned COVID-19 Pivot – Walk Fresh
Lethabo Mokoena started his business in February 2015 in Daveyton to help tackle unemployment in his community. In its early days they cleaned 120 sneakers a month. “We now clean that number in a week. Right now, we are averaging between 500 and 550 pairs a month. I currently have seven young people employed full-time,” he told SME South Africa in a 2019 interview.
Walk Fresh SA has several drop off points – including Braamfontein, Auckland Park, Randburg, Boksburg, Edenvale, Midrand, and Diepsloot.
Walk Fresh this year launched a new venture, Look Fresh, in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Look Fresh is a laundry and dry cleaning service that offers pick up and delivery services.