This too shall pass… but like a kidney stone

It’s just been a few months since the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus pandemic started. Since then, almost 12 million people were infected around the world and about 550,000 died. The story is on-going, with a vaccine nowhere in sight, this situation might get a lot worst considering how people “got used” to the situation, and if Bahrain is anything to go by, they have mostly thrown caution to the wind and resumed what they can of their normal lives.

This is really dangerous of course. People should wake up to the fact that a lot more will get infected and their casualness might very well cost them their lives.

I’m not going to talk about the health implication of the pandemic here. Please click this link to discover more in that regard and know how to protect yourself from COVID-19. What I’m interested in exploring here is the business implications of this disease. And in particular, how it affected my own businesses, and what I have learnt from the situation so far.

My businesses are Arabia Video, a video production company; Garden Affairs, a garden landscaping and garden accessories business and finally Arabia Learning Resources where we produce learning and educational content and books for various age groups and encourage reading in the Arab world.

They have all been affected deeply by the pandemic. We didn’t have any remote offering for any of the businesses and all depend on face-to-face interaction to get the business done. When we’re engaged to produce a video, we have to be on-location with a crew of several people as well as customer personnel to film what is required. Fortunately for AV I’ve invested a lot of energy to develop a good network of technicians and creatives that I can depend on when called. So the video production though impacted, the effects have been mitigated and we continue to produce content. We immediately developed a COVID-19 RESPONSE to ensure the continuance of our business and operations.

The garden landscaping business was especially badly hit because we have to be in people’s’ homes to execute a garden design and installation. And as we depend on gardeners and labourers to execute that design, many are not willing to invite us in for fear of contagion, even with the assurance that we have all been tested and do where full PPE. Fear trumps beauty and gardens can wait a season or two to be beautiful again.

ALR was launched just before the pandemic hit, with our first book delivered to the printers – in China – for the first run. We can’t print it here as it is a speaking book with integrated electronics. We couldn’t find any entity here that can produce our book: Hazawi Lawwal. The Chinese factory got shut as a precaution and the print run delayed for six months. We hope to receive the first shipment by the end of August so we can take advantage of schools opening (will they?) but that remains to be seen.

This is not the first time that my business suffered. And I’d say it won’t be the last either. However, I have never anticipated anything close to this situation. The shutdown is complete, money dried out, and the bank balances have been vaporised.

Yes we did receive financial support from Tamkeen’s Business Continuity program, but that hardly covered our rent. Let alone me personally receiving anything from them, small business owners don’t deserve their support it seems. Or, more correctly, we don’t make enough noise like other small groupings for our needs to be heard, and the Chamber of Commerce with its various committees are in deep slumber. So we just have to make do with what we have and wait for God’s mercy to descend. What I saw at one point was a light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be an oncoming train. And its whistle wasn’t working.

It’s not the end of the world.

This is a start of a new beginning.

To acclimatise to this “new normal” and hit the reset button, I’ve unfortunately had to take the sad decision to let employees go. I can’t go back to business as usual. I simply had to reinvent my businesses and myself once again, using what meagure I have.

So, while the whole world was shut down, only the Internet was buzzing. Suddenly the world woke up to its tremendous potential and started converting whatever part of their business to be online. After some research, I identified some opportunities and although their success will take time and competition this time is global rather than just local, it will take some time for my efforts to see fruition. But if the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, I know that the 2nd best time to do so was now. So up came the sleeves and I set to work.

The first couple of weeks I went through what I have accumulated in the office. We had much more than we required to run a production company. Instead of a couple of cameras, we have six; it was the same with various production equipment and accessories. We have bucket loads of professional camera batteries, chargers, lights, memory cards and many other useful and usable equipment. Some of which were thought lost while others required light servicing. I did what I could a rescued most. (I’ve now got some professional video cameras for sale so hit me up if you want any – you can have a look at some here.)

Once that was out of the way and the office cleaned up, I reset the edit studio completely and unearthed terabytes of disks full of content. These were our productions since 2006. I looked through the whole archive and extracted many hundreds of salable clips as stock footage to which I spent the next couple of months cleaning, indexing, describing and uploading to the leading five stock footage sites. With this operation completed, I now have the setup for recurring revenue, and as I intend to wipe out the archive disks, I have ample storage space for current and future projects without having to immediately invest in more hard disks.

I’ve all but given up on the landscaping business not just because of people’s understandable hesitation to have workers at their homes, but because pricing a project there depend on using cheap labour and I really don’t fancy paying my staff slave-labour wages. If and when I choose to do a landscape project, it will be done my way and it will deliver good value to both my customers as well as my staff. A win-win situation. Until then, I’m going to deal with novel garden accessories which I’m sources from various parts of the world. Uniqueness and cute are key drivers here. This is in progress and I hope to announce the arrival of the first shipments soon.

The last part of this business transformation is of course the book. We just received the first prototype and we’re thrilled with it. Limited target audience testing has been great and we hope that the first shipment will sell fast. Here’s a preview:

What do you think?

Our design philosophy for this is to place a tangible asset in children’s hands – our target market is for children between the age of 18 months to 4 years – and protect and preserve our culture in an innovative way, that takes children’s eyes away from smart devices and put them on books. We hope that with them cracking open a book like this, it will instill in them a life-long love of reading and discovery. We can’t wait for August to come to receive the first shipment. I’ll let you know once they are received and your support in spreading the word will be highly appreciated.

The story doesn’t end there. I’m developing another product now the first prototype of which has been uploaded. I’m consulting now with a mentor who has helped me sharpen it a bit and I’m enacting some changes that will make it a lot better. Stay tuned. I’ll announce this in the next couple of weeks too.

The hope is that I will enable a good revenue split of at least 30 – 40% coming from online deliveries where there has been none.

Crossing fingers!

Stay safe whatever you do.