How to make the most of COVID-19 to expand your customer base – opinion

How to cope with the financial crisis – and even emerge from it stronger.

Bank Hapoalim (photo credit: AVIV GOTTLIEB)
Bank Hapoalim
(photo credit: AVIV GOTTLIEB)
Avichai Avner
People Are Investing in Their Gardens during the Lockdown
“My brother Roni and I opened the garden center at the entrance to the Givat Ram Botanical Garden in Jerusalem in 2007. It’s a vast garden center, offering the widest range of products possible—irrigation systems, outdoor and indoor plants, rockeries and soil. We work with approximately 200 gardeners, large institutions including the Jerusalem Municipality, the Knesset and the Bank of Israel, and private customers. On the eve of the COVID-19 outbreak, we had approximately 30 employees, but when the first lockdown came around I furloughed all of them bar two, because we had no idea what the future held.
“As things started moving, it became clear that the extended period of time at home meant that people’s need for greenery and their desire to tend their gardens was increasing, not to mention that they had a lot more free time. So we started bringing people back to work in deliveries. It was not easy—you can’t simply create a catalogue of plants and display it on your website. Plants are usually seasonal, and there is always a turnover of products. We worked alongside the sales team, communicating with clients over video calls, and we built ourselves up, one delivery after another. We had four taxis and two private vehicles going to the customers’ doors.
“In the break between the first and second lockdowns, we noticed a sharp increase in sales, partially because a lot of people had started to grow their own herbs and vegetables. That led to a drop in sales from gardeners, because a lot of people started to look after their gardens themselves. During that period, we sold more irrigation systems to private clients than at any time before. During the second lockdown, we had fewer orders. Customers were saying, ‘we’ll come back as soon as you reopen, because we want to see the plants ourselves’. We carried on with our large-scale gardening projects, including one with a large hotel chain by the Dead Sea, and we continue to try to reinvent ourselves in new and exciting ways.”
The writer is the owner of Cocktail Plants Inc.
Yehuda Burla 1, entrance to the Botanical Garden, Jerusalem. Tel: 052-2535964
Uriya Achitov
Private Customers Have Replaced Businesses
“I started ‘Shukrun’ in 2016 as an online store for delivery of high-quality fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, based in the Mahane Yehuda market. I buy most of the produce myself from wholesalers, and then we sort and package it here in the storage facility for delivery to clients. Before the coronavirus, most of the consumers were employees in offices and high-tech companies who would be given fresh fruits such as nectarines and peaches next to the espresso machines, and the rest were private customers. I would take the orders and do a morning delivery run to the offices and companies, followed by a second one in the afternoon to private homes.
“When the first lockdown began, all the office staff were told to work from home, and they disappeared from one day to the next. Luckily I began to be overwhelmed with orders from private customers who were locked down in their homes, and that made up for the shortfall in income. I had an advantage over the large retail chains with online delivery—while they were only able to commit to deliveries within two or three weeks because of the strain on their infrastructure, I was able to provide fresh, high-quality produce from one day to the next. The workload even meant that I had to take on three additional workers within a single week, because working with private customers is more complicated and challenging.
“During the second lockdown there was a flow of work and customers, but not to the same extent as during the first one. If you ask me, during the first lockdown people were scared of the virus and didn’t leave their homes, whereas now they’re only afraid of the fines. If before people tried to spare themselves having to go shopping in the supermarkets, now they see it as an opportunity to leave the house and get some fresh air. When I set up my business, the original idea was to reach private customers, but I didn’t have the time to invest in all the marketing and advertising. Now, due to the coronavirus, I’ve gone back to my original plan, and I’ve launched an upgraded website focused on home deliveries, because nobody can say when companies will go back to working from their offices.”
The writer is the owner of “Shukrun – Bringing the Market Home”, Jerusalem Tel: 054-5258144, shukrun.co.il
Omer Hermoni

Expanding and Diversifying Your Product Range
Both of these business owners have demonstrated impressive resilience and adaptability. They reacted quickly and effectively to the operational changes and shifts in client demand, and they deserve a lot of credit. They both also noted that there was a difference between the first and second lockdowns, and that they saw a drop in demand for their products the second time around. In my opinion, that is not just because the customers are less concerned about catching the virus and more about receiving a fine, but also due to financial concerns—that they simply will not have the means to pay if the economy fails to recover. That is why I would recommend to the owner of the garden center to emphasize the health and financial benefits of growing your own vegetables on the balcony. For the owner of the fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts delivery service, I would recommend continuing to leverage the fast and effective service he offers to customers in the surrounding area by diversifying the range of products he offers—pickles, baked goods or sweets, for example. That will enable him to sell more products to each customer, and maybe even expand his customer base.
The writer is a business consultant
Rachel Abdoosh
Adapt and Change to Suit the New Reality
Businesses that are able to overcome the current period are those that are able to react quickly and change to meet the new circumstances. They have to be creative and find ways to streamline and reduce costs on the one hand, yet reach new target audiences on the other. Potential solutions include evolving the core business of the company, integrating products that meet the needs of the current circumstances, transitioning to online sales and operating a delivery network. Another challenge that is important to address is the need for “financial breathing space”, which can be obtained by combining a reduction in the regular business expenses, trying to restructure potential debts with suppliers, delaying loan repayments, adopting a measured approach to ordering merchandise or raw materials and ensuring cash flow into the business—whether through personal capital or through bank financing programs to help through this period, such as state-backed loans or additional funding solutions that business banking departments are able to provide.
The writer is the manager of the Ramot Eshkol 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. Subject to the terms and conditions of the bank, inability to keep up with payments may incur charges on interest in arrears or repossession proceedings.



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