Supporting small businesses during COVID-19 and beyond

Entrepreneurs are the driving force that moves South Africa forward. This is something the Beier Group has always understood – along with the fact that enterprises big and small are mutually dependant on each other, and both vital to the country’s prosperity. This is why Beier has been so active in helping struggling small enterprises adapt and survive the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the country’s focus fixed firmly on economic recovery, we have an opportunity to reflect on how larger enterprises and supply chain leaders can help smaller businesses find resilience and success. Small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) are critical contributors to economic growth, employment and community life. As President Cyril Ramaphosa has emphasised, developing SMMEs is also a vital element of the country’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan – especially as they have been hardest hit by the coronavirus lockdowns.

While the South African government has implemented critical relief measures to help SMMEs withstand the impacts of the pandemic, the big business community also needs to play its part to support the many thousands of smaller companies at risk of distress and closure. Given its commitment to local production and expansion, the Beier Group has a long track record of developing domestic suppliers and entrepreneurs, and the past year has presented many challenges not only to the wellbeing of the entire group, but also to the survival of its network of SMME partners.  

“From the outset, we understood that the actions we took to shore up our business against this crisis would determine not only our own resilience, but also our ability to support our suppliers, distributors and other partners, whose wellbeing is intertwined with our own,” explains Beier Group CEO Wolfgang Beier. “Organisations don’t exist in a vacuum. The functioning of our industry is determined by a whole ecosystem of enterprises – and it was in our own best interest to do what we could to keep that ecosystem running.”

With its rich 90-year history, Beier has thrived as a company precisely by understanding the need to respond to times of crisis with innovation and agility. With the support of its SMME network, the group has been able to adapt its manufacturing operations, reorganise its supply chains and ramp up production in response to the shifting needs created by the pandemic. This included localising previously imported components that were critical to its production processes.  

“Identifying market needs, as well as opportunities to localise our supply chains even further amid coronavirus disruptions, meant not only that we could continue operating, but also that we could help new and existing SMME partners stay afloat – and with that, help preserve jobs at this incredibly difficult time,” adds Wolfgang Beier. 

With masks quickly emerging as critical accessories in preventing coronavirus transmission, Beier saw itself perfectly positioned to help the country meet this demand. Its BBF Safety Group member company, the largest head-to-toe personal protective equipment manufacturer in Africa, was able to scale up its mask production capabilities by over 1,600 percent, and to localise previously imported components. The group’s SMME partners played an instrumental role in this. (Read more about Beier’s efforts to help South Africa ‘mask up’ here.)

“With Beier’s support, we were able to act quickly to establish a smooth-running network of SMMEs and adapt our capabilities to bring together all the components required to produce masks on a large scale,” explains Beier SMME supplier Kevin Naidoo. “It meant we could supply the market with an important product, and it allowed people to remain employed and make an income. At a time like this, that is a very positive thing.” 

For some of Beier’s SMME partners, the increased capacity demanded by this process actually translated into growth for their business, resulting in additional hires and the acquisition of new machinery that will remain an asset well beyond this pandemic. 

“This responsiveness and ability to diversify to meet new demand goals … those are qualities that we hold firm, and that we try to pass on to all the SMMEs we support and mentor,” notes Wolfgang Beier. “The lessons of innovation, flexibility and agility that have come out of this pandemic are important now and into the future.”   

As South Africa continues along the challenging road of economic recovery, its success depends on entrepreneurs supporting one another. This is why Beier remains committed to developing the potential of small businesses and connecting them to the skills, resources and tools they need to grow.