Returning to normalcy as the COVID-19 crisis winds down in Israel

Businesses in Israel prepare and struggle as the country slowly opens up.

A man enters the main branch of Bank Hapoalim, Israel's biggest bank, in Tel Aviv, Israel July 18, 2016. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
A man enters the main branch of Bank Hapoalim, Israel's biggest bank, in Tel Aviv, Israel July 18, 2016.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
 Yossi Dan Gur
Surprises for Customers on Yom HaAtzmaut
“I opened my store three months ago, at the start of the third lockdown, together with my cousin Or. He has experience in this sector; he has a processing plant for in Ramat Gan for edible seeds and nuts—popular snacks in Israel—that he sells to stores and supermarkets. Our goal is to develop the store into a national chain. Of course we were concerned about the timing of the launch, but we have been through so many challenges in the past year that I have no fear left. We sell dried fruits and spice blends that we buy or prepare ourselves. Our specialty, however, is our high-quality caramelized seeds and nuts—pecan-oreo, pecan-halva (Israeli sesame-based confection), almond-malabi (a Middle Eastern milk pudding), hazelnuts with Ferrero Rocher and ground coconut, and more. I work by myself, and the kids sometimes come by to help.
“At first there was almost no footfall, but it was not necessarily to do with the lockdown—people had just adapted and were getting by on their own accord. Since the end of the third lockdown, however, people have started leaving the house, and sales have begun to increase, thank God. We have Facebook and Instagram pages, and we also ran a successful campaign on local radio, because we are in a central location—between Holon, Bat Yam and Rishon LeZion.
“The industry for seeds and nuts, spices and dried fruits does not really lend itself to deliveries, because people like to come and taste the products themselves. We are already looking to the future, and the goal is for us to prepare and grind the spices ourselves. At the same time, we are in advanced negotiations to set up a larger processing plant in the Petah Tikva area. The problem is that it takes us longer to receive the necessary permits than it does to set up the plant itself. In the meantime, business is improving in the store, and although it’s large and spacious, we are careful to make sure that customers are not crowded together and that they don’t touch the products with their bare hands, only with gloves. We have some exciting surprises lined up for Yom HaAtzmaut. I can’t give it away yet, I can only say that there will be new seeds and nuts and additional products that we were not allowed to sell over Passover and that now we can.”
The writer is the owner of Shuk HaPitzohim, 3 David Saharov St, Rishon LeZion (Stoochy Towers). Tel: 050-6791274
Yakir Schwartz
Difficult to Find Workers Because of the Furlough
My late father, Shalom, opened the meat restaurant just off HaMishtara Square—the traffic circle by the police station—on Road 4 in the early 90s, together with two partners. I joined the business after I finished my national military service, and today I am the manager. Our pièces de résistance are our famous turkey and lamb shawarmas, but we also have other exceptional meat dishes, salads and side orders that are freshly made every day.  Some years later, we opened an additional branch not far from the first one, also on Road 4. Before COVID-19, we employed over 40 staff—cooks, waiters, cashiers, cleaners and more.
“During the first lockdown we furloughed almost all of the workers, closed down the second branch—because we were unable to pay the double costs of keeping two sites open—and shifted to a concept of deliveries and take-away. The problem is that our restaurant is based on customers who come in to eat their shawarma during their lunch break, and not via take-away, so we saw a drop of 60%-70% in our turnover. After a month and a half, we went back to working under the restrictions, but when the second lockdown began, we had to close again. We have ended up furloughing and bringing back our workers three times so far. Ever since we reopened after the third lockdown, we have struggled to hire workers, because they would rather stay at home, receive their furlough payments and work in informal labor.
“Although we are not a high-end chef restaurant where a meal can run into the hundreds of Shekels, we are still feeling the impacts of the uncertainty and the economic situation; people are thinking twice before they buy a shawarma and a soft drink. I hope that our public figures start to get a grip and get our economy moving again, instead of engaging in petty squabbling. Small businesses are the engine of the economy. The grants we were given covered a small proportion of our expenses, but we don’t want them—we are good enough to work and make money for ourselves. Yom HaAtzmaut is almost here, and we are hoping for much better business than usual, but we will need a lot more national holidays before we can start to look ahead.
The writer is the co-owner of “Sami BaKikar – Israeli Grill”. HaMishtara Square, Hadera. 
Tel: 04-6211999
Dan Cristal
Present the Purchase as a Return to Normality
Both Yakir and Yossi describe the unenviable challenges of business owners returning to work and to the “new normal” reality. After all, these are difficult management dilemmas that call for adapting services and products to a new situation, new regulations and new consumer habits. That is true for every business, but even more so for those in the food industry.
At first glance, it seems they are taking all the right steps, so what else is left? To which my answer would be: reinforcing their digital presence, not only in terms of marketing and PR, but also to enable online orders. And furthermore—videos, videos, videos. There is nothing like a good video of a juicy slab of shawarma rotating on the spit as a magnet to attract customers through digital channels. That, along with showing off a bright and appealing salad bar, should get the stomach rumbling and bring customers through the door. The bottom line is this: they should present a decision to order from them not as a luxury, but rather as a part of a return to normality, of life returning to its course, because that is what people are seeking at the moment.
The writer is a business and management consultant and an expert in developing human capital
Galit Schuch
Adopt a Restart Model
COVID-19 rewrote the rules for business owners, and hammered home the need to react quickly, adapt, streamline and reassess. Many businesses were able to adjust to the new circumstances, to bring their unique selling point to the fore, to offer solutions that meet the needs and desires of the customer, and to find new ways to make their goods more accessible. In the newfound spirit of optimism as the market begins to come back to life, I believe that many of those businesses will be in a position to enjoy the fruits of their changes and efficiency measures, and that these will continue to serve them going forward.
In this period, marked by holidays celebrating freedom and independence, and to ensure financial independence, my suggestion to every business owner is to adopt a business model that is able to maintain and reinforce those skills we developed during the pandemic, such as an effective delivery service, online sales and efficiency measures that are constantly ready to respond to sudden changes and uncertainty. Furthermore, it is vital to keep planning and managing the cash flow, to ensure you have a solution for a rainy day, and to keep your bank advisor informed during the big moments, and this model for restarting should hopefully lead to even greater success.
The writer is the manager of the Hadera branch of Bank Hapoalim