As Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) adapt to the changing dynamics brought on by COVID-19, there has been a clarion call for consumers to support local businesses as they struggle to stay afloat. There are many advantages in supporting small and large local businesses and artisans including keeping people in your community employed, ensuring money is channelled back into the local economy, and saving foreign exchange.
In a bid to help locals during this difficult period and provide a platform via which they can earn additional income, agricultural economist Omardath Maharaj and his wife, Gaytree, introduced the Yard Market in Chase Village, Chaguanas, where they help people become innovative, promote and sell their products. The Yard Market provides small and emerging businesses who have had to refocus and adapt, with a space to showcase products which are home-made, hand-made, and locally driven.
Maharaj said as people were forced to remain at home and in isolation for the last couple of months, many started developing forgotten skills and exploring hidden talents in a bid to earn extra income.
Meanwhile, as part of its efforts to cushion T&T from the economic fall-out brought about by COVID-19, the Ministry of Finance established the Small and Medium Enterprises Stimulus Loan Programme.
According to the ministry’s website, it is a government-sponsored loan programme of up to $300 million (TT) to help micro, small and medium-sized businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
WHY BUY LOCAL
According to the wagneragency.com, the advantages of supporting local businesses includes:
1. Support your local economy–When you shop local, the money you spend cycles back into your community. This action supports businesses operating in your region and as a result, local businesses are able to continue employing residents within the community. When you buy local, you support the brands that make your community unique.
2. Access healthy, locally-grown produce–When you shop at the local farmer’s market for produce, you support the market itself and those who sell there. Farmers sign up to come to a market based on foot traffic and sales. Consequently, when customers make it worth their while, they continue to show up and offer healthy produce for the entire community to enjoy.
3. Get expert advice on demand–You can buy hobby supplies, DIY tools and more online, but who will be there to help you when you run into a problem? As a patron of locally made items and craft, you’ll have access to experts who can help you plan your project, select materials, and troubleshoot issues when they arise. Shopping locally also helps you build long beneficial relationships and expand your network locally.
4. Personalised experiences–When you shop locally, you can meet the person who actually produces the items or services you buy. From doing business at your local bank to buying custom made clothing or accessories, you can see, speak to and learn from the people who create the products you enjoy and buy. A friendly face and a real human instead of a robotic voice is an excellent reason to shop local.
5. Receive better service–When you need help with something, shopping local gives you an opportunity to speak to someone directly invested in the brand and the local community. You’ll be able to get someone quickly, without a lot of hassle and often speak directly to the owner or manager. Someone with the authority to help you right away. You’re not a faceless account number or order number to a local business, you’re a real, valued customer who is not easy to replace. This often results in much better customer service and attention to detail.
HOW TO GET FINANCING TO START UP
What is the SME Stimulus Loan Facility?
The Loan is a Government-guaranteed loan granted for a maximum of five years with a two-year moratorium on principal payments. The GORTT guarantees 75 per cent of the loan and no payment is required by the customer for two years. The interest on the SME Stimulus Loan will be paid by the GORTT and there are no handling fees on these facilities.
Who can apply?
Eligible Small and Medium Enterprises that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are invited to apply for the SME Stimulus Loan. Loans will be facilitated via participating Commercial Banks i.e. First Citizens Bank, Republic Bank, Scotiabank and RBC Royal Bank.
For assistance to promote and sell your locally produced items, contact Omardath Maharaj at 683-1173.
Local producer adjusting, reinventing
It did not matter if your business was nine years old or just two years old—when COVID-19 exploded, no one was spared.
Impacting all businesses, it forced some to close their doors permanently while others have been able to pivot and re-adjust operations to stay afloat.
According to Krystianne Wong of Terre Benie, which means Blessed Earth in French, it was either that or watch her main source of income dry up.
Wong, 35, joined hands with her mother, Kate, some ten years ago to begin the business which is now known for its unique range of home-made chutneys, jams, jellies, seasonings, relishes, pickles, and pepper sauce.
Operating a shop out of The Normandie which had done really good business right up to Carnival 2020, Wong said, “When the lockdown happened, everything shut down. My production came to a halt because it was not just my ability to produce that was interrupted, it was my ability to access everything that I needed to produce my products.”
Challenged in the initial months, March to June, as things ground to a halt, Wong said after observing how cautiously people were spending after the initial lockdown, she acted swiftly and decisively in order to survive.
During the last couple months, Wong said, “I have been going to pop-up events, getting my face and my brand out there again, but business has been relatively slow.”
Their success so far has been determined mainly by the use of local herbs and spices, the lack of preservatives, and whatever fresh fruits are in season.
Revealing the idea for the business began with her mother teaching kids to grow their own garden produce and using the ingredients to make various products, Wong said they initially began producing savoury offerings such as seasonings and sauces.
Wong said Kate began using whatever fruit was in season which sometimes included pommerac and papaya. They added more products over the years. Wong said, “Some of our products are seasonal as we produce within our means or what is available to us. We don’t use anything we cannot source locally.”
Revealing they have been supporting other local farmers from whom they source ingredients, she said she always encouraged them to use natural preservatives as opposed to chemicals and sprays.
Wong said, “We try, at least 80 per cent of the time, to buy from people who use more organic and nature-friendly chemicals.”
Hoping for an increase in sales in the period leading up to Christmas, Wong said with the announcement that there will be no Carnival next year, the next couple months would be more crucial for them.
Acknowledging many people had lost their jobs while others had suffered a loss in income, she said it was now a matter of “going with the flow and adjusting to suit, see how the market is going and if we have to adjust, we will have to do that and see if we can stay.”
Reassuring other small business owners that it was okay to stop and re-evaluate their operations before re-starting, Wong said, “I went from doing larger-scale production which I would typically do throughout the year to minimalising my production to suit the needs of my customers.
“It might be the best thing to do to save your business.”
To reach Terre Benie:
Email: [email protected]