How We Made Lockdown Work For Us!

making business work

We are all constantly bombarded by the negative impact of the pandemic worldwide and the constant problems that is plaguing every single economy, including our own.  I wanted to have a talk with a small business owner like myself that has gone through the pandemic and came out the other side with flying colours!  And I found her.  What a truly inspirational woman.

Our interview lasted about an hour, and during this  time I got lost in what she had to say.  Looking back, I almost wanted to pop open a bottle of wine and talk for hours.  I wanted to know how she started, what she felt like when the news hit of the lock down and how she managed to keep her little business afloat .  In actual fact, how she even managed to grow in strength while so many seems to have lost the battle.

This is a blog interview with a difference.  I thought about using my own words to describe the conversation, but to do so would have taken the away the essence and her unique personality .  Sit back, relax and be inspired.  Know that your struggles are not unique and you most certainly are not alone.

Here is Jodi Schouw Smith from a little place called The Coffee Couch in Durban, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.  Enjoy!

A dream for 30 years

The Coffee Couch has been a dream for 30 years, but life happened.  I got married, had my daughter, worked in corporate and did a lot of travel.  I am also a real estate agent and even owned an IT company!

Initially my dream was to open an Old Age home, as a 24 hour day care.  And while doing the research on this, ‘coffee shop’ popped up and I just couldn’t let it go.  I resigned from my work and I moved everything I can use in the shop from my house.  No bank loan.  The only thing that was really expensive was the coffee machine, it was a no brainer.  I did a lot of research about coffee.  I’m not a fundi, but know quite a bit and that was important.  I get a special blend made just for The Coffee Couch from a local gentleman that has been roasting coffee for the last 40 years.  Another small business like mine.  I even grow vegetables at home for use in the shop!  I am also blessed with my amazing staff!  We have mutual respect and love for each other.  I have earned  their respect, and there is no boss here.

Do a happy jig

I believe not to colour within the lines, and so The Coffee Couch comes with a twist.  I take little chances at a time.  But do remember that there is no quick way to do it.  Everyone wants to have a coffee shop, but it’s not easy.  People now have become a bit more demanding on what type of food they eat.  So it’s vital to put people first.  Our food is what your granny used to cook in her kitchen.  Or what your mom would cook.  We wanted to go back to the old way food is prepared and we serve no processed food.  We try to be different than others in that respect.  And we’re small enough to cater to clients special requests.  If it’s not on the menu, you are welcome to ask and we will do our utmost to assist.

It all does sound glamorous, but it’s the same as running a corporate.  Your finance books have to be  managed, even if your profit is R2 on an item, you do a happy jig.  You haven’t lost money! The small bits make a difference.

You sell the sizzle, not the steak

You have to be prepared to go outside your comfort zone.  That is a big lesson from the pandemic even though I have always lived my life that way.  You have to constantly think of marketing and engaging with your clients.  My evenings are consumed with ideas on how to do things differently.  I sometimes feel like a journalist, just brimming with ideas!  People buy with their eyes.  You sell the sizzle, not the steak.  I had to tell people what our food tastes like, using social media.

Many people out there that are blessed to still have their permanent jobs and do not realize how hard it is for the small man; the small business.  Small businesses are the backbone of communities.

The Coffee Couch is small enough to accommodate almost every request a customer makes, because of the fact that we are small enough.  We never say NO, we can’t do that.  We may say, give us an hour or so to see if we can do it, and we always get back to our customers!  It’s an old habit of business, the basics of always getting back to a customer.  And always answer your phone!

While you are working, give it your all.  It does take time to build that customer relationship and trust.  I push myself daily, but I have also learned not to overthink things.

Well, this is going to be different

When the lock down was announced, it didn’t register at first.  But the way I was brought up together with my work experience, made me look at it and say ‘well, this is going to be different’.  The first thing I thought of was my staff.  I decided that there is no way that they will not be paid, this is not their fault.  They were paid their full salaries during the entire time we were closed.  I didn’t do it to score points. I did it because it was the right thing to do.  When I needed them and their trust, they were there.

And I did not have a back-up plan in terms of savings to do so, but God made a plan.  Somehow the money was there every month to pay them.  I am blessed!  I prayed a lot.  I also believe the world needed that time of healing.  Personally I thought, let’s see how this unfolds.  I used that time creatively and did a lot of sleeping.  I didn’t realize how exhausted I was.  And while stuck at home, my next thought was to go wild on imagination!  The shop was doing okay, but how can I do it better?  I used that time to do research, work on creative ideas, thinking out the box, pushing the envelope…just a whole gamut of emotions.  I had nothing else to do so why not?

During the lock down it made me push myself to think of Plan B if this ever happens again.  And I will definitely be more prepared just on a different level, and I am so excited because I  almost want to do it now.  It makes me so excited!  I feel more confident now, because it’s like I have been there and done that.  However, a lot of other companies won’t be able to say the same.

It was actually a very emotional time

During lock down mobility came to mind and I hit the ‘heat and eat’ concept.  The minute they said we may open, that very day I hit the ground in my car and started delivering food.  I was driving around delivering food during a set time every day.  You had a lot of tired moms, people tired of fast food type dishes, and we offered great homestyle cooked meals.  Heat and Eat.  It took off like wildfire!  So through the delivery stage I made new friends and new clients.

The next one was the drive through.  That also worked brilliantly.  Clients would phone or Whatsapp their order, pay via EFT and send POP with the time they would be collecting.  I kept record of all my customers and created Whatsapp groups in the form of broadcasts – no chats, just what we have on offer.  We started these groups with 25 customers.  We now have roundabout 700!  All purely because we complied by wearing the mask, hat, and protective clothing.  We wanted to focus on safety.  For us it was a no brainer.  We even had customers from Hillcrest buying for their elderly parents.  We did charge a minimal fee for delivery on the Bluff, but pensioners had no delivery charge.  It was just our way to try and give back to the community.  It was actually a very emotional time.

Small coffee shop with a big heart

Our slogan is ‘small coffee shop with a big heart’.  My mother taught me to treat all people with respect and kindness and that is exactly who I am.  I bring that to everything I do, including my business.  Not many people know this, but we also have a Hanging Coffee.  People can donate and if anyone in need comes asking for a cup of coffee, we take the money from there to give them a cup of coffee.  It’s a concept that comes from New York.  We don’t advertise it on social media as people can be very cynical.  If you know me however, you know they will get their coffee.  You never know what’s going to happen and you need to bless someone.

It’s all about how you look at things

We had another business park in front of our shop during the delivery and collection time of the lock down, but I didn’t mind.  It’s all about how you look at things.  Your perception.  It’s like the story of the guy with no shoes.  There was a guy that interviewed a salesman to open up a shoe shop in Kenya.  So he went and came back and said ‘Don’t bother.  Nobody there wears shoes’.  So they sent another guy, and he came back and said ‘OMG you have to open up a factory there, because nobody wears shoes!’  It’s all about how you look at things!

Of course there are times when there is no other way to look at things . Sometimes it simply is what it is. But in 80% of life, there IS another way to look at your current situation.  For example; instead of doing photos of food, I was doing photos of being compliant.  As soon as it became apparent that everyone is doing it, I switched it up again and started focusing on the actual food, not mentioning COVID at all.

As I mentioned, I did give myself a couple weeks to sulk and rest, but also picked myself up and pushed myself to just try and have fun.  Just simple, honest to goodness fun in a time when so many people were going through a very hard time losing their jobs.  When I was positive on my Facebook, I wasn’t just saying you should get on with it, but being supportive and giving suggestions.  Like a famous old story about belonging to a committee.  If you have a problem, bring your solution.  You should have a solution if you are complaining.  No matter how small, come with something.  It changes the dynamic of the whole meeting!

Your attitude affects your altitude

Life hasn’t been easy, but it’s all about attitude is gratitude.  Your attitude affects your altitude.  And I keep on going back to fun.  I believe I have quite a good sense of humour.  Nobody gets out of this alive.  We are all here to make the best of stuff…the stuff around us.  I am not airy fairy, I am responsible, but… live a little!  I am petrified of anything with wings, but I even feed birds.  And during lockdown I was upset because I needed to feed my birds.  It really is all about the small things in life.  I am very humble. I may not be wealthy, but I can look my clients in the eye and know that I have never done them in.  Quality up and prices low.

Find something that really drives you

Buy from small business.  Support your small business even if it’s just one coffee or a sandwich.  You make such a big difference.  You should help where you can, but these times have also again showed us the importance of charity starts at home.  And I don’t believe it makes you selfish at all.  Give and help where it’s called for.  If you have extra; support.  If you are in a position to buy take-aways or eat out, look at your smaller establishments.

Businesses have had to adjust according to our new reality.  Many are working with half their staff and will most likely continue to do so for some time until they can build their business back up.  Big businesses have taken a huge knock.  It is my sincere hope that the people that have lost their jobs; that it is during this time they are encouraged to become entrepreneurs.  People must not be scared at all.  Find what you are good at and you will never work a day in our life.  It sounds very cliché, but it’s the truth.  Find something that really drives you!  It doesn’t always come easy, but sit and really think about it.  It can come to you at any given moment.  I believe that when the spirit speaks, listen!  It works!

If you really want something, start small!  You don’t need to do everything big.  Using the Bluff as an example: we have a lot of bakers.  However, every single one of them has got their own signature; their own circle of influence, and every one of them is making a bit of money.  And it all boils down to networking, something that I am really passionate about.

Penny Wise.  Pound Foolish. 

You got to be smart.  Penny wise. Pound foolish.  You can’t skip when you are in business.  If you got a thing like cake decorating for example, but you need an expensive item that will make a perfect flower, get it!  You won’t be able to sell quality cakes if the decorating is not up to par.

And keep your prices low, but your profits high.  My father said:  your business has to be your wallet.  You should never be taking money out of your bank account.  All your expenses should come from your business.  35% of your turnover should be your salary.  It’s so important to pay yourself.  You are working for yourself and for your staff.  Nobody else is going to reward you for what you are doing, you have to reward yourself.

In your own business, you are in your own little world.  If you concentrate on your own world and you believe that is the best, it is.  Without a doubt.  The minute you start doubting yourself, take a day off.  Get back to yourself as you do give off what you feel. And remember to take a holiday!


Jodi is Secretary for the Bluff Business Women’s Network. Their next get together is on 10 November at The Coffee Couch at 7:30am.  Should you be interested, join their Facebook page and mark yourself as ‘going’ on the invite.  You get to network with like minded people.  See you there!

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