By Pujanee Galappaththi
With Covid-19 forcing everyone into their homes, Sri Lanka itself has been forced to start down the road to a virtual economy, a change that was pending for many years. Isn’t it funny that in a world where business transactions take place via Instagram double taps, your business is pushed towards digitalisation because of a virus?
Local businesses had to step up and deal with the challenges that were thrown at them at the speed of light over the past month. We decided to speak to some local businesses that continued home deliveries and production during the curfew about what Covid-19 has taught them in terms of improving their business processes and productivity levels and how ready they are for any similar future occurrences.
Baulana Organic Vegetable Farm
The Baulana Organic Vegetable Farm has been handling delivery in Kandy and the Colombo District on a small scale. With the Covid-19 pandemic, they were forced to manage resources and labour within a short period of time and deliver products to cover costs.
While arranging transport to make the many deliveries from all over the country was a major obstacle for our folks at the Baulana Organic Vegetable Farm, the lack of a proper online ordering process made things more difficult during this time.
Managing Director Priyantha Niroshani Samarasinghe stated: “Moving forward, I plan on developing an online platform to place orders and will work on arranging better storage facilities for our produce. I believe this is a learning curve for all of us and we intend to do our best to thrive as much as possible in the given circumstances.”
Even with the challenges that come during such unprecedented times, Keells has been able to rapidly shift their business to a mostly digitally and e-commerce-driven one catering to approximately 300,000 households in total since the curfew was imposed. The initial stages were fraught with complications but after three weeks, the site is now capable of handling 10,000 orders a day, compared to the initial 1,000 a day. The range of products offered has also been expanded based on customer requests and suggestions, from 90 to 350-plus at the moment. They are serving over 400 major towns with close to 75,000 total online orders being delivered at the moment.
“Circumstances required the business to innovate and the business responded by bringing new innovations such as range expansions, queuing systems for the customers entering the site, product catalogues, and even a better payment gateway,” shared a spokesperson.
The operations are handled by the Keells team, who are also supported by volunteers from the John Keells Holdings (JKH) Group, personnel from the Air Force, newly recruited 400 +temporary team members, and 700 delivery personnel.
MA’s Kitchen has been carrying out home deliveries of grocery items within Colombo since the start of curfew. Amongst many challenges, like the difficulty to obtain vehicle passes and operating with a reduced number of staff members, MA’s Kitchen has managed to adapt to this situation rather well. They had not conducted delivery on their own before this, as they were partnering with PickMe and UberEats. We were told that they have come to realise the importance of having processes in place as they started to conduct deliveries on their own.
Vindhya Rodrigo of MA’s Kitchen told us: “We are extremely grateful that we have been getting orders from our customers, however, it has been a bit of challenge processing every email request that comes our way, as we are a little strained with staff right now. While acknowledging that the entire country is struggling to stand on its feet right now, we have to say that activity has reduced considerably due to the restraints in managing the workforce and getting passes at this time.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the main focus for Saaraketha Organics was exports, and they executed only about 100 online home delivery orders a week.
However, as curfew was imposed overnight, they were flooded with more than 2,500 orders to process and deliver, while being subjected to curfew restrictions and having to manage with a small team and one cooler truck.
With only half their team, Saaraketha had to adapt to operating remotely for the first time. They acted fast to recruit extra staff, implement new processes, and to source three-wheeler drivers who were out of work for their delivery, to obtain curfew passes, and much more. Since then, they have now started developing a delivery arm as well as ways for customers to track their orders, significantly improving customer experience.
The folks at Saaraketha told us: “While hoping that we don’t have to face something like this again, our processes have been upgraded so much that we are ready to face massive hikes in demand if it were to happen again. This experience has prompted us to review all our tech, systems, and processes to ensure that we can deliver a much smoother experience to our customers, no matter what the circumstance.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Lassana Flora was your friendly flower delivery service. However, this new situation prompted them to deliver fruits and vegetables to homes. The faced many challenges in the past month; Lassana Flora had been maintaining a customer complaint level of 0.25%, which rose to 4% during this time.
This was simply due to the fact that they were not equipped to handle a situation of this sort. They faced difficulties with their supply chains, in the maintenance of proper hygiene and safety standards among staff, and handling the overwhelming amount of orders that were flowing in.
Lassana Flora Chairman Lasantha Malavige said: “I believe that in situations like this, it is our responsibility as corporations to ensure the safety of our customers, and the only way to do this is to understand the situations and adapt as soon as possible. And this is exactly what we at Lassana Flora have done. In the past two weeks, we have expanded our supply chain, incorporated internal safety mechanisms for our staff, redesigned warehouses to suit our current requirements, strengthened our online orders system, strengthened quality measures, and hired more staff to handle the orders, and I am pleased to say that our customer complaint level has been restored to its normal rate.
Chinese Dragon Café
Taking a look at food delivery spots in Sri Lanka, our focus shifted to Chinese Dragon Café, which has been doing a pretty decent job for a long time. However, this is the first time they faced a crisis situation of this sort that required immediate action. In spite of their limited workforce due to the curfew, Chinese Dragon has continued to deliver to their faithful customers in the past month. They have been conducting regular training for their staff members regarding the safety mechanisms during this time. Moving forward, they are determined to maintain an engaging online ordering process and conduct regular safety training for their staff.
Chinese Dragon Managing Director Naishadh Udeshi said: “We are so honoured to be able to help those who are staying at home and support Sri Lanka’s recovery process. This is a very challenging time for all of us and we have lost about 60% of our sales. However, we will be doing our best to support the country to come out of this catastrophe as a stronger nation.”
Fleminco Group (Pvt.) Ltd. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Susantha Ramanayake shared that Fleminco’s main business operations were in the fields of event management, and given the advance bookings they received for 2020, they were looking forward to a very lucrative year ahead. However, with the sudden pandemic situation, everything stopped overnight. Their main challenges were trying to accommodate the clients who had events from 20 March onwards, while maintaining their staff’s wellbeing. With their existing staff and fleet of vehicles as well as marketing resources, they shifted to the delivery of essential items and groceries.
Having started on 1 April, they have partnered with supermarkets and local groceries and are now catering to over 900 customers so far.
Ramanayake said: “We had to pinpoint the main lesson we learned from this pandemic, which is to think of how to evolve in a highly volatile environment in order to sustain, and we believe we have adapted well.”
When dealing with livestock, maintaining the right temperature and feeding their birds is essential for Nelna in order to have good produce.
The majority of their sales were in the Western and Central Provinces, and with curfew in these areas, sales dropped by about 60% in the past month.
In addition, they also had to face great difficulties in maintaining safety measures and managing staff.
They started delivering their produce through orders placed via social media, and in the past week, they managed to increase profits to an acceptable level.
Nelna General Manager Kapila Hettiwatte said: “We have come to realise that the lack of an online ordering system has caused us a great deal of loss during this period of time and we are currently in the process of developing an app to enable ordering processes. While this process has currently been delayed due to budgetary reasons, we are determined to implement this in the near future.”
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash