I was in Rio Claro recently and had cause to talk to a small business owner. For the purpose of this article, I will call him by his initials CG.
CG owns and operates a food business, essentially selling grilled foods, but on Saturdays he also sells soup.
According to CG his best days of business are usually Fridays and Saturdays, but since the pandemic, in his estimation, things have significantly worsened.
According to the gentleman, prior to the pandemic, he sold on Saturdays 50 bowls of soup and 80 boxes of grilled food. These numbers he said have essentially been halved.
“Look at the state of the place at the moment. No one is coming to buy anything and this has been going on for almost a year now. When will the government realise that these measures are killing business? I am seriously considering looking for a job, if I can get one, because I have a family to take care of,” he said in frustration.
The small business owner has not sat by and allowed his investment to go under. He has taken measures that he hoped would help.
CG has tried to reduce his costs by laying off one of his two employees. He has started making breakfast, trying to open up a new revenue stream and still the business is under tremendous pressure. Luckily for him, he does not have to pay rent, since he operates out of a building he had constructed a decade ago on his family’s property.
“If I was renting the business would have to close for sure,” he lamented.
I am sure his story is not unique. In fact, some may argue, he is lucky not to have to pay a rent. But this story, while anecdotal, I suspect is being played out all over the country and is a reasonable measure of the kind of challenge that small businesses are facing in T&T.
Small and micro enterprises are the lifeblood of economies.
They are particularly important to local economies.
In areas like Rio Claro and Mayaro, other than the oil and gas companies and their service providers, most of the jobs are through small businesses.
According to an article in Forbes Magazine, there are 11 advantages that small businesses have over larger enterprises.
1. Custom approach: Small businesses can offer a more personalised and customised service.
2. Emphasis on disruptive innovation: Small businesses likely exist because larger companies are not serving customers effectively.
3. Flexibility and less bureaucracy: Small businesses can be more flexible in how they reward or recognise staff and how they deal with customers.
4. Creativity: Small businesses can win through creativity.
5. Level of care: Small businesses provide a level of care and involvement by name-brand people that most corporations aren’t structured or can’t afford to provide.
6. Adaptability: Business is all about people, and small businesses have the advantage of knowing each and every client really well.
7. Passion with purpose: Passion with a purpose ignites possibilities. Successful small businesses have no shortage of passion.
8. Active listening: Small businesses can differentiate themselves by providing a feedback loop that enables two-way communication.
9. Speed and agility: Decision making and implementation are much faster with small businesses.
10. One-on-one magic: The advantage that smaller businesses have over larger companies is their ability to connect one-on-one with their clients.
11. Intangible, unique benefits: By focusing on the broader benefits offering, small business owners can compete with larger companies.
It is the small businesses and their success or destruction that will determine how many people lose their jobs when this country emerges from the pandemic, likely in 2022.
Over the last week, many of the larger companies on the T&T Stock Exchange have been releasing their annual results for 2020 and while almost all, with the notable exception being National Flour Mills which almost tripled its profits, all had lower income and lower profits, they managed to stay in the black.
The numbers showed at least two things, that the larger entities remained resilient, even in a black swan event like a pandemic, and that the businesses were in the main being well managed.
No one can blame the government for the pandemic and, to some extent, it is true that the government’s actions have been successful in keeping us safe. Where this government has failed, and failed badly, is in the way it has balanced the need for lives and livelihoods.
One of the things the Rowley administration is good at is bending the truth and the use of smoke and mirrors to ensure the country buys into its narrative.
In the last year, it blamed the second wave on the opening of bars and refused to acknowledge that it was the general election that led to the second spike. We saw with our own eyes politicians and supporters from the red and yellow camps gathering in numbers that were well outside of the COVID-19 restrictions and some of them also contracting COVID-19, yet when asked if it was the election that led to the spike the officials consistently avoided the question, blaming it on bars instead.
The increase we are seeing again is no doubt due to the necessary activism that occurred around the unfortunate murder of Andrea Bharath and not due to any opening of businesses.
Restaurants and bars have been brought to their knees by the government’s measures and, in some cases, have been forced to serve alcohol off the books, as in the days of the US prohibition, because of a measure that makes no sense.
Where do we see in restaurants people drinking a glass of wine or two, or celebrating with their families and becoming so rowdy and out of control that it is likely to lead to super spreader events?
Even when the numbers were consistently low the government preferred to keep bars from having in-house customers, oblivious to how bars operate and why you need people in the business to make money.
We have to be fair to members of the business community who have taken all the measures asked to reopen safely. It is almost impossible to enter a business without a mask and sanitising and, in most cases, social distancing adhered to.
Citizens have adhered to the warnings. To a large measure, people have accepted the government’s urgings and acted responsibly. But the administration has failed them in many ways.
The reopening of the economy has not received the kind of focus needed to accommodate business and commerce. This I suspect comes from a place that still does not trust free enterprise and the debacle surrounding the procurement of vaccines speaks to that dated notion that a mixed economy is the way to go and not a commitment to free enterprise.
We are in a very dangerous position with this economy. We continue to borrow like there is no tomorrow and spend on non-productive sectors of the economy.
The government is emboldened by a weak opposition and a country resigned to its fate.
Tuesday’s arrival of the first set of AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX facility has been met with little or no enthusiasm as the population realises that this is but a drop in the bucket and while we are all happy some vaccines have arrived, it is clear that the government’s mishandling of this matter threatens to keep us much longer in this sense of paralysis.
The 33,600 vaccines will be enough to inoculate up to 16,800 nationals with each person receiving two shots. That will bring the total number to 17,800 vaccinated in a country of about 1.4 million. In other words, a total of just over one per cent of the country will be vaccinated.
For people like CG, this will not be enough and one wonders how many more businesses will be forced to give up before this pandemic is over.