Small businesses are the lifeblood of Cayman, entities that offer a wide range of goods and services to locals and visitors, that keep Caymanians in employment and the local economy afloat. Many small businesses have been impacted hard by the pandemic, not always directly just because of a lack of tourists, but often indirectly, as well. The Caymanian Times is therefore reaching out to small business owners to see how they have fared through the pandemic, what has kept them ticking over, and what they are looking forward to in 2022.
Charlene Barnes, the owner of Focus Hair and Beauty, located in the Marquee Plaza off the West Bay Road, said her the balance of her clientele was probably 75% local and 25% visitor before the pandemic, so the lack of tourists on island has been a big dent to her income.
“We lost all our snowbirds,” she said. “They would come for a weekly massage or get their hair done, or a monthly facial. That was pretty much from November through to April.”
She had also seen a tail off of her regular local clientele as well.
“I think people, especially with children, who travel back and forth overseas regularly are spending more time overseas because of the sheer hassle of travelling these days. I have lost count of how many clients I have advised as to their colour details etc., so they can get their hair done abroad.”
That said, Charlene advised that the kindness of her clients has helped her to continue on in business throughout 2020 and 2021.
“So many of my clients bought gift vouchers. I’m not sure if they ever mean to use them, but they certainly helped keep my cash flow moving when things were really difficult,” she said. “My staff have also been amazing. They have been so loyal throughout these two years and determined that we keep the business going.”
“In addition, my landlord has been absolutely fantastic and without his kindness and support I would not still be here!” Charlene said.
Work permit and staffing woes have been a barrier to recovery for Charlene’s business.
“I had a beautician whose one-year work permit was up for renewal in 2020. At that stage I had no idea whether I would still be in business in three months’ time as we were in lock down and I was struggling to survive. I therefore wanted to put the girl’s permit in for a temporary three months; however, officials said absolutely not. It had to be a year or nothing, so I had to let her go,” she advised. “Flexibility then would have been massively helpful.”
The offer of business loans by government was also unhelpful, Charlene said, because of the fear she would not be able to repay the loan – with interest – should the pandemic take a turn for the worse and her business actually close its doors. However, other government financial assistance was extremely useful, although it was quite a lot of hard work getting the paperwork together, she advised.
Having just said goodbye to a loyal and long-serving employee, Karen, because of rollover, Charlene said she was trepidatious about the future of the business.
“Had Karen not left because of rollover, I would have said I was optimistic about the future, but I have had to find a replacement for the year that she is away.”
Replacing staff in normal times is hard enough, Charlene said.
“I would absolutely always choose a Caymanian hairstylist and beauty therapist if they were available and I am very pleased that the new cosmetology school is up and running and, in the future, this will be able to supply staff to businesses such as mine. However, I am still having to look overseas for staff,” she advised.
But with lengthy paperwork, vaccination and quarantine requirements, finding replacement staff from abroad will not be easy either
Since the borders have opened, she hasn’t seen a huge uptick in business.
“I think people are still scared to travel,” she said.
If she manages to get her staffing numbers up to where they need to be, Charlene believes that there is room for optimism for 2022.
“I just want things to be back where they were before the pandemic,” she confirmed. “We were doing very well, but at the moment I am having to work six days a week and I and my staff would all like a break! My staff have been so loyal and haven’t had any breaks or travelled anywhere in two years and neither have I, but they naturally want to see family this year, as do I. I hope the business will be able to withstand any time we take off this year, because we all really need it.”
Are you a small business owner? Would you like to share your experiences of keeping your business afloat during the pandemic? Email email@example.com
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