Rolf Lamers of Kings International in Cape Town looks at the ways in which Covid-19 has affected his business and lessons for the future.
It’s amazing how quickly us humans re-invent ourselves. Only a few months ago we had never heard of Zoom, now most of us spend most of our days talking to people all over the world using the technology. Good job we do, we would all have been very lonely this year without it.
We have also all got used to the idea of working from home. I would never have expected that. But here I am, in my home office, looking at the ocean and carrying on my business just as well as if I were in the office. We have a timetable that we follow so everyone takes it in turns to go to the office once or twice a week to do the things we can’t do remotely, but somehow we have all worked out how to function more effectively from home.
Our younger generation seems to have a different attitude to technology. For example, we now have a Google Drive. We drop all our work on the drive, and everyone immediately has access to whatever they need. It works well and something we would never have done had we not been forced to by Covid-19.
We’ve been doing virtual surveys now since January. We were using Buzzmove but the company stopped trading. We now use Yembo which is remarkable technology. We don’t even need to take part in the survey: we just give the client a link, they walk around their house whenever they choose and download the information directly to us. Yembo even does the cubing. It saves us hours of driving and fuel and provides a beautiful list of the house contents and a video. I’m not sure I fully trust the cubing yet, but it gives us a good base to work from as long as we don’t depend on it too much. I’m sure, the more we work with it, the better results we will get. I wonder why we didn’t think of doing it before.
During lockdown we only had our storage income, which was around 10% of what we needed to survive. So, whereas in the past we might have been a bit picky about the jobs we chose to do, now we do everything and make sure we don’t lose anything. We also increased our prices by around 30%. By doing that we have been able to keep all our staff employed and nobody has had to take a pay cut.
I think we have an advantage as we are smaller than some companies, so we are leaner and don’t have the high overheads they do. We have also been able to save a lot on consumables (paper, coffee, pens, etc.) because people are not in the office. It all adds up over time. Of course, we had a hole in the funding, which we have had to fill from our own pockets, but we should get that back from future profits.
The result is that we have as much business now, if not more, than we had before lockdown. Most of the people have been repatriating to their home country so, when that flow stops, things could be different. But I was heartened to hear Derrick Young from BGRS talking to Philippa Robinson at the OMNI meeting when he said corporations will still need to have expatriates to run their overseas operations. Some people might be reluctant to travel but Covid is everywhere, so you are not safe anywhere. There have always been places in the world that were considered dangerous; that’s nothing new.
Sticking to what we know
But the market will be smaller in the future. We only do international moving so our plan is to specialise in what we do well and try not to get too distracted doing other things. The better we are, the bigger slice of the pie we will get. We will have opportunities to diversify, and some we may grasp, but we must never take our eye of our bread and butter business. It’s what will see us through.