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Steering through corona roads

THE Zimbabwean motor industry needs strategies to steer through Covid-19. This week, we look at strategies that can assist the motor industry cope with this pandemic.It is paramount for business leaders in the motor industry to accept that this is not a business-as-usual event. Zimbabwe was already in a period of economic downturn. The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation.

Andrew Muzamhindo

We are dealing with a virus. No one knows how it will cease; some scientists are of the opinion this virus is mutating. Virologists are predicting that it might take close to a year to overcome it or to develop herd immunity. No one is certain about anything to do with this virus. All the same, businesses have to be proactive and make profit under this gloomy scenario.

I will advance guidelines that will assist, but they are not exhaustive. You must come up with a detailed analysis, scenario planning and solutions for your business.

Let us start off by looking the stakeholders. Make sure your employees are protected. This pandemic is draining emotionally and physically to employees and their families.

Your business must comply with Ministry of Health and World Health Organisation guidelines. Social distancing, temperature checks and testing must be put in place. Make sure your employees feel safe as they work.

Your shareholders need to know that their business is a safe entity to operate from. Imagine losing an employee to Covid-19 soon after opening. This will sound the death knell on your business as customers will shun your brand and workplace.

Customers must feel safe to be in your premises. By now you should have informed your customers that you are open for business. They need to know your trading hours. They must know that it is safe to come over. They must only come over if they really need to because they should be indoors protecting themselves. When they come, they must see safety in action as soon as they are about to enter your premises. From the security guard at the entrance into the building to the exit point, everyone and everything in your business must meet the Covid-19 safety precautions and standards.

The business must set up a Covid-19 response team made up of members from all departments preferably chaired by the CE. These members will be in charge of all protocol in the business that deal with Covid-19 strategies and responses in case there is a need to respond to a Covid-19 attack in the workplace. This team must set up business goals to be achieved during Covid-19. These are to be evaluated every week. It is a crisis team that is in charge of all scenarios that might play out during the pandemic. It can use Zoom video conferencing for its meetings.

This team also has a duty to report to the business on their departmental efforts to mitigate the effects of Covid-19.

By now the business must have learnt that nothing is constant and should always have a plan in place for pandemics. Simulations would be conducted with every scenario. Every member must know his role when there is such a crisis. That is what learning organisations do. When such an eventuality happens, they are ahead of other players. It would be surprising that dealerships like Toyota Zimbabwe might be on top of their game currently because of how the Japanese keep a hawkish eye on standards and safety on their dealerships worldwide. They must have a blueprint on coping with such pandemics.

The finance department has to update the business how Covid-19 has affected the business ratios and what financial stress it has caused to the business. They must have revised the business plans with the marketing department accordingly. They need to look at all the variables that influence income and expenses during Covid-19. They need to be aware of any triggers that might affect liquidity and how to deal with them.

The human resources department has to see to it that company skills are protected from the virus. They must see to it that the business has met the welfare of the employees in these trying times so that they can perform in these difficult times.

The supply-chain department has to make sure that stocking and stock levels take into account the effects of Covid-19. They need to know the exposures that Covid-19 has caused to the supply chain and how to deal with them. There might be need to ration supplies since China is behind in manufacturing of spares. Most car manufacturers by now must have a backlog as well. This impacts on orders that had been made by customers. They need to anticipate the spike in demand that is likely to happen after the pandemic. The supply chain must withstand the impact and effects of Covid-19 for the profitability of the business.
Sales and marketing must adapt to new ways of interacting with the customer. Some traditional media has so far been affected by Covid-19.

Social media usage seems to have grown during lockdown. It is important that you follow the customer and interact with them where they are. Know where your customer is spending their time currently. Understand their behaviour during Covid-19 and after it. Dealerships need to invest in new technologies that interact with their customers wherever they might be.

Does your sales and marketing team have WiFi at home? It is no longer a luxury. If not, assist them with data money or WiFi installations. Look at it as a work tool rather than a perk. They can work from home as long as they meet their targets.

This is the time to explore online sales as well. There is need for heavy online presence in this environment. Where dealerships used to invite clients for launches at their premises, they now can conduct online launches. The whole sale process can be completed without the customer coming to the showroom on line. Payments can be made online. The vehicle can be delivered to the owner as well. New consumer behaviour might not change that much and go back to pre-Covid-19 days.

When all is said and done, the business must be seen to be part of the community it operates in. It has to assist in fighting Covid-19 within the community. If the community sneezes the business will catch a cold. This is why some car manufacturers have gone into manufacturing of ventilators, masks and Covid-19-related equipment.It is a realisation that their businesses will be dead without the customer.

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