While the Covid-19 pandemic could have been a massive blow for Industrial Kitchen Cleaning Solutions (IKCS), which installs, maintains and services extractor systems for the restaurant and industrial kitchens industry, the business quickly shifted its focus to continue generating an income and keep food on its employees’ tables.
In addition to designing and installing extractor systems for commercial kitchens, IKCS supplies spares and services the extractor systems every three to six months to prevent them from becoming health or fire hazards, as stipulated by food industry regulations. A smaller part of the business is full kitchen and restaurant deep cleaning and the supply of chemicals and sanitisation products.
IKCS owner Paul Lucas, says a week before lockdown the majority of IKCS clients decided to hold back on their servicing contracts as they would not be making money for the foreseeable future. “Following the president’s first speech, the work conducted by our cleaning and installation department came to an abrupt halt.
“Many of my employees have been with me for the 12 years I have been running the business and I could not bear to go to bed at night, knowing that they may not have food on their tables. I realised I needed to do everything in my power to adapt the business model and place emphasis on the cleaning side of the operation.”
The business employs four teams of six people, who install and maintain the systems, as well as six sales and administrative staff members. Everyone is now focused on the deep cleaning side of the operation, which originally accounted for 20% of the business.
“My sales representatives now focus on selling the sanitisation of kitchens and office parks, as well as the provision of hand sanitiser. While the competition is stiff, our unique selling point is that we have been doing this for more than 12 years and the cleaning agents and sanitisers we use – while a little more expensive – are superior products. The sanitisers, for example, are also much safer and gentler on the hands than many of the alternatives out there. I won’t jeopardise my relationships with my customers by selling them an inferior product,” explains Lucas.
The IKCS teams are adept at deep cleaning kitchens, meaning the business has in-house expertise and the relevant equipment to offer a high-quality solution and conduct the work efficiently and thoroughly.
Lucas says the new business model is supported by a renewed focus on digital marketing and tools. “While we have always had a presence on social media, we have always relied quite heavily on our sales people to market and sell our products. With lockdown restrictions in place, we’ve encouraged our sales people to work from home. We have a good digital marketing team that has helped us take our digital marketing to a new level on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram and we are now selling our products and services on these platforms too.”
He says it is fortuitous that the business invested in an online accounting system, QuickBooks Online, about a year ago. “Unless you’re an accountant, manual accounting can be difficult. Not only has QuickBooks Online allowed us to streamline our systems and processes, it has helped us reduce costs significantly. And, of course, everything can be done remotely.”
Having invested in digitising the accounting system, he says a lot of time was freed up in order to be able to be agile and reactive. Beyond this, the cost reduction is invaluable.
Lucas encourages other entrepreneurs to find ways to keep their businesses ticking over. “No one has experienced something like Covid-19 before, whether they run a large or small business. Nobody is certain about the future and everybody is stressed. However, I urge all business owners to do their best to adapt and find ways to keep their operations afloat where possible.
“By no means am I currently making excessive amounts of money. The income that I am currently generating is purely to keep my employees in wages. After all, they are the backbone of my business. I am not willing to accept defeat. As the boss, it is my job to step up and take care of my people.”
Bridget du Toit, Head of Sales and Services for EasyBiz Technologies, says Paul Lucas is a perfect example of the type of business leaders that South Africa needs in a time of crisis.
Du Toit says that often the benefits of embracing digital technologies can be found in aspects of the business one would not ordinarily expect. “By having an online accounting system take the load, time and additional financial expense off a small business owner, there is more space to focus on running the crucial functions that make money. In this instance, being able to pivot so rapidly has literally kept people employed. It is about building resilience,” she says.