1 Jul 2020

From lockdown to recovery - tracking a small business during Covid

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 1 July 2020
A closure sign is displayed on a shop in an empty street in Christchurch, New Zealand, on April 16, 2020.

Photo: Sanka Vidanagama/NurPhoto/AFP

Rachel Ah Kit shut up her shop late march along with the rest of the country’s businesses, not knowing when or if she'd ever come back.

The pandemic wiped out her Christchurch massage therapy business overnight.

"One hundred percent. There is no income, we're entirely dependent on clients walking in the door; the doors are closed so neither myself nor the other therapists have got any revenue coming in," she says.

The Detail's Sharon Brettkelly has been checking in with Rachel Ah Kit over the last three months. Today, we tell her story, of a small business in recovery.

It’s still precarious, she says, with delayed mortgage payments, other bills piling up, and a small team of massage therapists depending on her.

“People keep saying it’s the new normal but … you know, I hope everything’s going to be ok,” she says. “I have three other therapists that work here and the burden I carry is more about my responsibility to them.”

She shut down earlier than the rest of the country and she didn't rush to open when the country moved to Level 2. 

The government wage subsidy was her only income for seven weeks but she felt it was too risky to fling open her doors immediately. She spent a weekend calling her clients to let them know she’d be opening, but it wasn’t all good news.

“I did have a couple who were a little hesitant … I wasn’t trying to push them,” she says.

Ah Kit talks about starting from scratch with no bookings, and high levels of anxiety among the clients who did come back - the financial situation and hygiene concerns being chief among their worries.

With her face centimetres apart from clients, she felt more comfortable wearing a mask.

By the end of her first week bookings were at 65 percent of pre-lockdown levels, but even now they’re still not back to normal. She’s drip feeding bills and has praise for the IRD for the empathetic way it’s handled payments.

On today’s podcast Ah Kit also recalls her voluntary work for the SOS Business scheme set up to help New Zealand businesses survive until lockdown lifted. People bought vouchers to redeem after everything opened again. Ah Kit signed onto the scheme early and then did customer service work there to help out.  

“I was really lucky in the sense that I had something meaningful to do during lockdown,” she says.