Business professionals explain their coronavirus survival strategies

A business consultant, a Bank Hapoalim business department manager, and two business owners explain how to cope with the coronavirus financial crisis—and even emerge from it stronger.

An employee wearing a mask is seen at a restaurant without guests in Beijing's central business area, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, February 2, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/JASON LEE)
An employee wearing a mask is seen at a restaurant without guests in Beijing's central business area, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, February 2, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/JASON LEE)
Odeh Suhail
Dreaming of Tourists from Dubai and Morocco
“I’ve been in the sweets business for 37 years, since the age of 17. I was born into the Mukhtar family, which is famous in the industry. I learned the secrets of kanafeh, baklava, kadaif and other Middle Eastern sweets from leading experts in Israel and Turkey, as well as online from experts in Lebanon and Syria. Exactly a year ago, I opened a confectionery store in the heart of Nazareth together with my uncle Khattab and his children. We had enough time for two or three months of good progress, with a lot of orders and customers who loved our sweets, and then the coronavirus arrived and brought the first lockdown with it.
“Before COVID-19, we had 16 people working here, mostly members of the family and friends who came to help. We worked through the lockdowns, but we were forced to furlough some of them and cut the monthly working hours of others. Our private customers continue to arrive, but the real damage is done by the lack of events and weddings. Just to give you an idea, in our first two months we prepared sweets for some 50 weddings and events, including bringing our own oven for preparing kanafeh on the spot. Since then—almost zero orders. The lack of foreign tourism is hurting us, of course, but so too is the shortfall in domestic tourists, who used to come to the city from all over the country on Saturdays and now are not allowed because the city has been designated a ‘red zone’.
“We are watching as the peace treaties are signed with the Emirates and Bahrain and Morocco and it’s very disappointing that tourists from those countries are unable to come and eat with us yet, because we are sure they will appreciate our products. Nazareth generally is a very sad place at the moment, ahead of a likely third lockdown. I remember how 100 thousand people came here last Christmas for the celebrations and the parade—it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The city was so crowded that people parked their cars outside the nearby villages of Reineh and Yafa and walked to Nazareth city center on foot. I hope that next Christmas it will be like that again.”
The writer is the owner of “Khattab al-Mukhtar Sweets”, Haifa St, Nazareth. Tel: 054-6739449
Boulus Zohar
A Sad Christmas, Especially for the Children
“My father, Iskandar, set up our family business in the 1950s, importing and exporting souvenirs and tourist memorabilia. The company specialized in street and Christmas tree decorations. I kept the business going on that track until three years ago, when I understood that the entire sector was in decline. That was when we decided to pivot to evening dresses and wedding dresses. That way, during November-December, which is not the traditional wedding season in our community, we remove the dresses from our displays and focus only on Christmas souvenirs and decorations.
“Before the coronavirus we were satisfied with our progress. We visited exhibitions and brought over large amounts of stock from the USA and Spain ahead of the festive and wedding season, which begins in March. But then the first lockdown came around, and with it a wave of cancellations. Then, when it became clear that the event halls would be closed for a long time, many brides decided to hold a “simple” wedding, without the special dresses, and we are left with that stock in storage to the present day. True, we received money from the government in the first rounds of grants, but it was not enough—rent for 500m2 of commercial space in a prime location in Nazareth costs a lot of money. The limitations on more than three or four customers in the shop also impacted us, because all it takes is one bride to come in to choose her wedding dress together with her mother, her mother-in-law-to-be and her sister, and the shop is full.
“A month and a half ago, when we came out of the second lockdown, we managed to open the store for ten days before Nazareth was declared a ‘red city’, on November 15. We filled the store with Christmas souvenirs and decorations, as usual, but there are no tourists in Nazareth this year, no colors and no decorations. I’m especially sad for the children. They want a Christmas celebration with Santa Clause and a Christmas tree with festive decorations and family meals, and we have to think of alternative ways to keep them happy, especially with a third lockdown approaching. We all hope that next year will look different—better and quieter.”
The writer is the owner of PEPLO, evening and wedding dresses and Christmas decorations and souvenirs. 28 HaGalil St, Nazareth. Tel: 054-6467483
Shlomi Lahana
Creating a Virtual Tourism Experience
The fact that a city like Nazareth has been declared a COVID-19 ‘red zone’ and is unable to capitalize on its tourism potential during a peak season could bring businesses involved in marketing activities grinding to a halt. At the same time, the pandemic has not eliminated our need for experiences and inspiration. That is why all the big tourist destinations around the world have seen a significant increase in the number of virtual tours in museums, sites and alleyways. This is the time for tour guides in Nazareth to tell the stories of places of interest in the city, and the time for hotel and hostel owners to create “come and discover the city and stay here overnight” campaigns. And there is no better time to do it than during the festive season, because nowhere else in Israel is able to recreate the same environment and evoke the same sensations of Christmas as Nazareth. So to the people of Nazareth, I say—upload pictures and videos of the city in all its splendor, decked out in lights and bright colors,
because every business owner has a duty to do their bit in producing the spectacular experience that is tourism in Nazareth.
The writer is a marketing and business strategist and a lecturer in marketing at the College of Management.
Eerwa Hajhiyha Lawabina
Providing Rapid Solutions for Changing Needs
During the coronavirus, many business owners went from thriving to crisis almost overnight. This has further increased the need for them to keep their finger on the pulse and constantly be seeking opportunities to streamline, redirect and adapt their business to the new circumstances. That makes it important to offer solutions that dovetail with the existing circumstances, restrictions and shifts in consumer trends and demand, especially at a time like this. For example: opening an online store, developing new products and services and establishing partnerships. After all, in the end every crisis is also an opportunity. We can see how business owners that ask themselves “what does my client need right now?” and rapidly rise to the challenge of meeting that new demand are the ones that hold on and even increase their income. On that positive note, I would like to take this opportunity to offer all business owners a Merry Christmas, good health and a better year ahead.
The writer is the manager of the business department at the Nazareth Preferred Business Banking branch of Bank Hapoalim.
Poalim – with you in every decision
As the economy continues to grapple with the outbreak of COVID-19, Ma’ariv and Bank Hapoalim are running a special feature, sharing and following stories of businesses in different regions and sectors and offering insight and support in coping with the current crisis and uncertainty. Every week, we will share practical tools, as well as offering insight and guidance into opportunities for financial and business development and growth in this challenging environment. The information contained herein is accurate as of the day of publication, and should not be understood as an alternative to professional consulting services that take into account the specific circumstances of the individual and are tailored to meet their needs. The aforementioned should not be understood as an offer for credit, loan provision and/or deferred repayments, subject to the terms and conditions and approval of the bank. Inability to keep up with payments may incur charges on interest in arrears or repossession proceedings.