As one of South Africa’s leading technical services companies, Kilowatt, has had to quickly adapt their business to the new landscape brought on by COVID-19. Their Chief Operating Officer, Neil Zaayman, was kind enough to give us some insights on the bold decisions they made during the pandemic, and how he feels about the future. Thanks Neil!
"I believe our industry was hit the hardest during COVID, with events coming to a complete stop. Our ability to trade in our normal capacity was restricted, and pretty much prohibited for the entire 2020 and 2021 period.
We had no choice but to scale our business down as much as possible. Kilowatt survived by closing down three of our four warehouses, selling off our vehicle fleet and sadly retrenching 80% of our staff, and reducing operating costs to a minimum.
As most companies moved their business communication to online platforms, we changed our offering, turning our Cape Town warehouse and offices into live-streaming and recording studio spaces. We already had most of the equipment in our inventory, so minimal capital investment was required. Online webinars, live streams, product launches and interview recordings kept us alive for 2021.
Fortunately, before COVID we'd already started implementing flexi-hours and remote working, so when we were forced to work from home our systems were already in place. We will continue with this structure. We've also moved to more of an outsourced model on certain services, based purely on the frequency of requirement.
Negative pandemic repercussions can be seen in the financial impact it's had on everyone across the board. Most companies are still paying staff reduced salaries. We've lost a lot of industry skills to the Middle East and the UK, leaving us with a small freelance pool. And I think the industry will take longer to recover if we don't increase our prices to account for the higher operating costs, but I've noticed the opposite is happening.
Because there are less staff and fewer freelancers, there is less capacity. This was fine when the demand for live events was low, but with events returning we should see the industry having the upper hand, this will give us all the opportunity to adjust our pricing model, and attract talent back to the country.
On the plus side, now we're able to request 100% payment upfront. This is positive, as I believe one of the biggest pre-COVID challenges was late payment, and sometimes no payment, after an event was completed.
I'm pleased to say that our corporate clients have definitely seen the value in live-streaming and online webinars. However, there's clearly a want for in-person events. So the (even though I hate the word) 'Hybrid' model should be here to stay. I also think certain types of events won't return to in-person, like internal staff communication, or business results meetings. These will remain as online webinars.
The hardest challenge with customers now, is getting them to understand how our capacity and industry has changed. The events seem even more last-minute than ever, with reduced budgets - but with expectations similar to pre-COVID. If this continues, and we allow it, it will erode our industry.
We have been in a state of uncertainty for so long that we've gotten used to it. But the last two months have been positive with the return of in-person events. and our studios have been very good for us. In fact, it's something we'd like to continue with, and grow as a separate business."