Dubai's small business owners are getting onto social media community chatrooms to drum up some new leads. The virus has brought normal activity to a near standstill for many of them. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: With their shoppers stuck at home, Dubai’s small business owners are putting their self-taught marketing skills to good use on social media channels to get themselves heard. Online community support groups such as the “Dirham Stretcher” and “Female Fusion, Fearless in Business UAE” are where they hang out.

Dirham Stretcher admins are running a campaign - #WeGotThisDubai #WeSupportSmallBusinesses - that has some small business owners offer special deals. Sven Mostegl, who runs a bakery in Dubai Marina, is one such.

He is offering Dirham Stretcher group members 20 per cent off on everything in-store and on deliveries if they register on his Baker’s Kitchen website and apply for the Health Code.

“People in the community are now preferring to order from home,” said Mostegl. “That’s some good news for me.”

The Corovirus pandemic, and the social distancing it has spawned, has made it challenging for the baker. While weekends used to see footfalls of 300-350 people, now it’s hardly 100-150.

Survival ways

While business is down 40 per cent down at the restaurant and by 30 per cent at the retail arm, what has picked up is home delivery. Rents are still high at Dubai Marina, where the outlet is located, and letting go of staff is not an option.

There are some (cash) reserves to survive for the next two or three months

- Sven Mostegl of Baker’s Kitchen

“I can’t do that. Neither can I increase my prices.”

As a back-up plan, he plans to increase his home delivery service. “I am also planning to create new products and I do have a cost reduction plan. And there are some (cash) reserves to survive for the next two or three months.”

Reaching them online

Meanwhile, for Lizzy Sahin, CEO of Challenging Adventure, online community platforms are where she can still reach potential clients. Sahin’s business is particularly affected since it works with schools and corporates to encourage outdoor adventure activity.

She now uses the Female Fusion Group every Sunday for a “Show Off Sunday”, where business owners have the opportunity to talk about what they do. This has allowed entrepreneurs to tap some eyeballs and traffic for their services.

My staff visas may be cancelled if they end up staying out of the country for more than six months

- Lizzy Sahin of Challenging Adventure

Once schools closed after the virus outbreak, everything went much downhill for Sahin. “Even corporate bookings got cancelled - February and March are usually busy periods when on average we have 20 school groups booked. I have lost 40 per cent of my business.”

Sahin has asked staff to go back to their countries. Her quarterly VAT payments are due, office and home rents are imminent as well.

“And my staff visas may be cancelled if they end up staying out of the country for more than six months.”

Online comes at a cost

Ajith Shankara, who runs the Lotus Holistic Yoga Centre in Dubai Sports City, has started teaching yoga online... but for free. “It’s almost time to renew my license,” he said. “Costs for that come to about Dh25,000, including the local sponsor fees. On top of that there are studio and home rent and school fees.”

Many of his clients have offered to continue paying for the classes, but he says, “It’s not fair to ask.”

Dip into savings

Naoual Haddouch runs the Middle East and Asia franchisee of Earth Water, a bottled water brand from Netherlands. Clients include upscale hotels and restaurant.

The outbreak of the virus in China hit her business hard right from the outset. “Being in charge of these two regions, the pandemic has cost me quite a bit. I am only surviving because of my logistics partner RSA Logistics, which has agreed to continue to store and deliver the bottles. They have been patient with me even though I have exceeded all the credit they had given me.”

Now she has given up her office space and working from home. “I had to let go of my staff as well. I don’t have a contingency plan. I am just using up my savings.”