Revival: This series of essays curated by the National Cultural Foundation’s Literary Arts Officer, Karra Price, presents the thoughts and commentary of Barbadians immersed in various aspects of daily endeavor.
This essay examines the ways in which entrepreneurship has grappled with a changing economic landscape in the midst of a global pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic came like a whirlwind and severely damaged our small island of Barbados. It gave way to many changes, both negative and positive, some that will fade with time and some that will not. Thanks to COVID, tourism, a huge contributor to the Barbados economy, was virtually shut down overnight, highlighting the value of local consumers and the need for Barbadians to support each other.
Although the world is phasing out COVID restrictions and trying to move forward, it’s clear that life may never be the same again. As an entrepreneur, specifically an accessories fashion designer, I thought my accessories business, Ayola by Blessing Olaniyi, would be negatively affected by the pandemic due to the lockdowns and changes in people’s personal finances. Surprisingly it wasn’t! In fact, business and opportunities have grown and have laid the foundation for a more sustainable post-pandemic business.
Of course, it took a lot more than just sewing bags to grow the company during this period. Of the many lessons I learned, the most important was the importance of human connection, a factor that seems to be rapidly diminishing due to the increased use of technology.
However, I have learned that when used wisely, technology can be a great tool for building customer relationships. This lesson has been vital in helping dictate the ‘new normal’ of communication from both a business and personal standpoint and highlights the fact that while nothing replaces the joy of face-to-face human interaction, having a presence Online shopping is very important.
Another lesson learned was the meaning of the Bajan saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. This must have resonated with many other businesses as well, making us spin to find new and innovative ways to sell products and services online. For example, there was a rise in virtual marketplaces where customers had the opportunity to view and purchase a variety of products from the safety of their home. This proved to be an efficient model, as it was convenient and safe for both the buyer and the seller.
During the crisis, the focus of the business could no longer be the product and the final result, but had to shift significantly to the customer experience; how to serve the buyer, how to make sure they are heard, seen and fully satisfied. This concept has always been present in my business. After all, Ayola means “something that makes you happy” in Xhosa.
However, doing this online has become the New Normal. For Ayola, the success of this personal shopping experience can be expressed in two words: Customer Choice. This means allowing the customer to choose the fabrics, patterns, and other details for their bag, making each requested bag a unique, custom piece that they helped design, and perhaps most importantly, listening to customer feedback. to produce an improved finished product. This strategy has become a mainstay at the foundation of my business and continues, post-pandemic, one of the few positive side effects of COVID.
So what does entrepreneurship look like after the pandemic? How do I define the new New Normal as we return to in-person interactions? Well, in Barbados, our culture sets the tone for that change. Here we love to talk and interact; We love the sense of community, so a focus on maintaining personal relationships with customers is paramount, and in an environment free of restrictions, now presents a better opportunity for business growth. The transition to this new New Normal has been a slow process and has required careful planning and execution. The reopening of the island was executed in two phases for entrepreneurs like me.
First was the reopening of boutiques that allowed customers to reacquaint themselves with in-store shopping where they could see and touch the product in a safe space created while maintaining social distancing and other pandemic protocols. Then came the restoration of in-person events, bringing with it the opportunity of Pop Up markets. While many people remain cautious in this post-pandemic environment, others warmly welcome in-person interaction, and such events They play an important role in building community spirit as business owners connect one-on-one with customers and with each other.
Experience face-to-face consultations; seeing, in real time, the joy on customers’ faces when they discover “the perfect bag” or recognize how beautiful it will be to complement their favorite outfit is priceless.
This new New Normal consists of elements introduced during the pandemic, mainly the use of technology and virtual spaces, balanced with face-to-face events to achieve the best shopping experience. I’m taking full advantage of opportunities to collaborate with other small businesses, hosting and attending live events, and building ties with others in the fashion industry, all of which feel a bit strange after being apart for so long.
As I write this, the new New Normal has yet to be fully revealed, however I am fully embracing the bumpy ride towards its discovery. To safeguard the business, I am exploring possibilities for new sources of income while listening carefully to the ever-changing needs and wants of my clients. The recovery from the pandemic is ongoing and it will take some time as our minds readjust to the normal that now seems uneven and in some cases just plain wrong. Many still wonder, is it really over? It is safe? Will the pandemic repeat itself? As an entrepreneur, these questions are at the forefront of my mind and influence many of my decisions, especially those related to finances.
The entrepreneurial journey is long and slow, requiring commitment, determination and the ability to navigate unexpected obstacles. As for business, surviving the pandemic has been a true test of entrepreneurial skill, and as we emerge from the tunnel of isolation, the light I see is hope.
The pandemic effectively reminded us that we are all our brothers’ keepers. He helped resurrect the true Bajan community spirit of yore that once seemed all but dead. It is my hope that this spirit will continue to be celebrated in both our business and personal relationships, as it is what unites us and keeps us strong and resilient. It’s what makes us Bajans.