How to cope with a shortfall in foreign labor amid COVID-19 - opinion

A business consultant from Lahav, a Bank Hapoalim business department manager, and two flower growers and plant nursery owners explain how to cope with the financial crisis.

Bank Hapoalim (photo credit: AVIV GOTTLIEB)
Bank Hapoalim
(photo credit: AVIV GOTTLIEB)
Ariel Ziv
The Direct Sales Infrastructure Paid Off
“My parents, Dovik and Gila, set up the flower farm in HaYogev in the Jezreel Valley, and in 2008 I joined them. We focus on growing roses and chrysanthemums for the domestic market. The first coronavirus lockdown caught us in the middle of our peak season—our land was full of flowers ahead of three holidays that take place one after the other: International Women’s Day, Arab Women’s Day and Passover. We decided not to throw away the flowers that had bloomed, but to donate them to the elderly, the needy, Magen David Adom workers and to hospitals, to raise spirits there.
“Our 20 employees, Israeli and Thai, continued to work through the first lockdown and after it, as we are considered a critical business. In our sector, you have to keep working the land all the time, otherwise it ‘dies’ and we would have no business to return to. We have a shop in the Moshav that occupies a space of 150m2, where we market our flowers around the north, but event halls and orders for flower arrangements—which are a significant part of our customer base—have still not returned, and that is leaving a large hole in our income.
“I understood long ago that the future is in online retail, so I set up a highly professional sales website and infrastructure for telephone marketing and deliveries. This meant that we came prepared for the crisis. Here I decided to market the flowers directly—we brought more employees, increased our range and also gave our customers an option to choose their own flower packages. At the same time, approximately 50% of the sales in this industry are in-person, and as far as this is concerned, we find ourselves in an uncertain situation. Over the next couple of months, we have Family Day, Valentine’s Day and International Women’s Day, and we don’t know what to do—whether to lay the foundations or whether we will still be in lockdown. Now, during the third lockdown, we are holding onto the rope in order to avoid falling into the water, but we’re tired and fatigued.”
The writer is the owner of the Ziv Roses Farm, Moshav HaYogev. Tel: 1700-704-442
Eran Solomon

The Edible Orchids Are Waiting for the Restaurants
“Our family farm was established in Shachar, a Moshav in Hevel Lakhish, by our father, Itzhak Solomon. He has since passed away, and today my brother Amit and I manage it. We have six and a half acres of greenhouses, where we grow orchids for decoration as well as for consumption. Many restaurants in Israel and abroad use edible varieties of orchids in their food and/or for decorating plates, and they account for 50% of our customers. The rest are potted orchids for the home or flowers for events and weddings. In addition, we have a plant nursery for direct sales in Azor, where we primarily work with private customers. The day before coronavirus landed here we employed Israeli workers alongside 12 Thai workers. Within a short space of time most of the latter had returned to their home countries and we were left with four. We had to take on new employees to replace them, but they never arrived because of the coronavirus and the closed borders.
“We continued to work through the first lockdown, because agriculture was considered a critical sector, but we regrettably had to furlough some of our Israeli workers. Our income in the Azor nursery suffered less of an impact, but we felt the decline in the nursery in the Moshav. When there are no weddings and no festivities, no conferences and no restaurants—there are no orders and no stream of work. We had to destroy a vast amount of orchids, and that was not easy.
“During the first lockdown, we set up a small delivery network which proved its worth and offered a solution for us and for our customers. Unfortunately, over time it dwindled in relevance, because restaurants and event halls are still closed. There was a short reprieve after the first lockdown, where restaurants in Israel and around the world reopened, but then the second lockdown came and everything ground to a halt. These days, during the third lockdown, I keep in touch with our customers, but there is not a whole lot we can do apart from to hope that the situation improves and places reopen.”
The writer is the owner of the Solomon Shachar and Azor nurseries. Tel: 054-4878202
Omer Hermoni
Increase Exposure and Access to Target Audiences
For the Ziv family’s nursery, I would recommend promoting the page on their website regarding “flower delivery by distribution area” on social media through paid promotion (push advertising) to a segmented audience for the area in question. Regarding the concerns surrounding the third lockdown extending into the important flower holidays—Family Day, Valentine’s Day and International Women’s Day—remember that these days will take place as usual, lockdown or not, and that there will always be customers for them. Therefore, it is important to calculate and compare the difference between losses arising from giving up in advance on potential income, to the losses incurred from low demand. For the Solomon family’s orchid nursery, I would recommend increasing exposure and access to the target audience. For example, to allow them to place orders and pay through all the websites and Facebook pages, some of which are currently limited to members only. It is also worth promoting a link to a catalogue that includes prices and home deliveries on all the websites and business pages. At the same time, they should advertise the orchids that are designated for meal decoration in groups of foodies, fans of reality cookery shows and the like.
The writer is a business consultant
Marlen Ashmuz
Dispelling the Uncertainty
Businesses in the agriculture industry work in a cloud of uncertainty even at the best of times. Coronavirus, restrictions on mass gatherings, the ban on large events as well as the recurring lockdowns have added another layer of difficulty to flower growers. In order to survive and keep their heads above the water, farmers have found creative alternative income sources, including by identifying new target audiences, online sales, setting up delivery networks and expanding the geographical area for their deliveries. At this stage, many business clients are still struggling with uncertainty regarding the future and are in a fight for survival. It is very important to be in touch with the bankers in your branch, who have a range of solutions, including the state-backed fund. That partnership helps us, the bankers, to adapt the financing solution to the needs of the individual client—according to their sector, their business activity and their current and forecast cash flow situation. It is vital to tailor a “financing suit” for the business to ensure its survival and even a return to growth.
The writer is the manager of the business department at the Afula branch of Bank Hapoalim