Pandemic tests small business mettle

(First published in the Sunday Biz Section, Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 26, 2020

by Myrna Rodriguez Co )SERDEF Media Bureau)

Against the backdrop of widespread socio-=economic disturbances wrought by the raging viral outbreak, small enterprises stand out as a most vulnerable sector.

Typically cash-strapped

[ed amd imdermanned,they are little

expected to have the resources to withstand the tsunami of market and operational aberrations resulting from covid-19 containment measures: Customers restricted from shopping for all but the most essential goods and services; workers sensibly staying or working from home; supply chains paralyzed or broken; malls and other retial establishments shut down; to mention a few.

Befuddled, owners and managers are caught flatfooted, with no precedents to guide them. With no sales to draw revenues from, they are hard pressed keeping up with

rental, payroll and amortization commitments.

Facebook, at the onset of the crisis, took note of  the vulnerability of SMEs and came out with a US $100 million-grants program for small businesses most affected by the crisis. 

In a similar move, the US Small Business Administration also opened its Economic Injury Disaster Loan program to help small players tide over the temporary setbacks.

In the Philippines, the government  has announced a wage subsidy measure for people working in small enterprises.

Holding a more optimistic view of small businesses’ ability to ride out the crisis is Melchor Morandarte, Vice President of the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (SERDEF) and owner-manager of Sir Mong’s Food Products.  He believes that the resilience of small businesses will pull them through.  They are close to their markets and thus are better able to connect with them in a lockdown, in spite of restrictions. “Finance-wise, we do not have as much loan exposure as bigger firms do.  Thus, it will be easier for us to bounce back when all these  blow over.” He, however, qualifies that SMES need government interventions in order to succeed in their recovery efforts.

their recovery effort.  .

Rory Rebustes, co-owner of Citrus Snap  Photography, is an example of a small entrepreneur hit haard by the crisis but has stayed above water.  “All shoots are on hold; collection is frozen.  And there’s no telling when all this will be over.”

However, she avoids stressing out by addressing the immediate concerns, like how to help employees cope.  “ Fortunately, we are a small team.  And so far we have managed to pay our workers their salary from our small stash. We have also tried to contribute to the effort to help front-liners and the community at large.”

Another coping mechanism for Rory is learning new skills while in lockdown.  Skills like digital marketing  and new approaches to the photography business.  She hopes new knowhow  will  help them bounce back faster.

Summer Reyes Cerullo, president of VRC Creative Events Management Group, thinks that events management is among the businesses  hardest hit by the pandemic. 

“Since mass gatherings are banned, we had to postpone or cancel events calendared for April. 

The business is paralyzed, she laments.  What we are offering is not a basic need.  Weddings can wait;  anniversary celebrations can be cancelled.”

Right now, we just have to keep our website and social media accounts active so people will know we are still here.

VRC maintains links with suppliers and associates.  Lifting each other up is the way for SMEs to go, she maintains.  “We have resumed promoting their products – not as much as to encourage soon-to-wed couples and others to book with us as to  help them gather ideas and direction for when the crisis is over.  We continue to market them.  We may not earn from this now but this may win for us “pogi” points , making us ‘top of the mind’  when things go back to normal.”.

The company has adopted the Department of Labor and Employment’s CAMP measures.  This is the COVID 19 Adjustment Measures Program.  Employees have been paid in full for March and have received half of their 13th month pay, in compliance with CAMP.

Here is the accumulated wish list of the three entrepreneur respondents in terms of institutional interventions:   space rental freeze for the months they do not operate;  penalty waiver for late loan payments;  lower interest rates; deferred taxaation; cash grants for the retail, hospitality and leisure businesses.   

Summer Reyes Carullo of VRC Creative Events

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