Gugu: People can actually see that things are actually bad. And they understand that it is not our fault and it is also not their fault. So, at this point in time we’ve not had that discussion, but I am trusting God to help me to actually deal with that in a way that is constructive and makes sense for both parties. It is a very difficult conversation. And you also actually wanna trust God that He’s actually gonna provide.
Blaque: Welcome back to The Gospel Coalition Africa Podcast. my name is Blaque, I’m the host. Thank you so much for joining us if you are joining us for the first time. If you have been following us, thank you so much for all the support. Especially in these crazy and trying times as we just try and keep up to date with what’s happening with COVID-19. And today we also have a guest who is a business owner and she will explain to us what she does. And hopefully we can get into the conversation just about the economic effects of COVID-19. On the other line is Mama Gule. How are you doing Ma?
Gugu: I’m good thanks and you?
Good, good, good. For those who don’t know you, can you please tell us who you are. A bit about your family and home life?
Gugu: OK. I’m Gugu Gule. I’m married to Jerry Gule. We are members of Christ Church Midrand. We’ve been married now for going on 38 years.
Gugu: And God has blessed us. It’s gonna be 38 years in July.
Gugu: We have 3 kids and our family believes in Christ. That Christ is the one who came to save us. So that is the core of our home and we believe that should be the anchor of every home. Because we are here, in this life, for a reason. And God has put us here for a reason. And yes, everything that is above us and is us is all in His hands.
Blaque: Well that is really special and very powerful. Especially in the times that we are living in, where Jesus becomes ‘the other thing for other people’. And you never find – or hardly find – people who would speak about Him being the centre of their lives.
How did you meet Jesus? If you could briefly walk us through that.
Gugu: OK I… My family was Lutheran. So from the time I could open my eyes I was going to a Lutheran church. And later my parents moved to Swaziland, from Durban, and we went to an Evangelical school. That’s where I first heard the Gospel, the true Gospel. And I actually ran away from it! I thought, you know, this Christianity is for older people. It’s going to hold me up! Yah, when I am older, maybe when I’m 25, then I can accept Him. Because then I will be older. But that was not God’s plan.
Because when I was at university I had a friend that was a believer. And she would – in ways that are not offensive – just introduce me to the Gospel. And we would just chat about that. Of course that still wasn’t for me! Until I was involved in an incident in a neighbouring town where an older cousin physically abused me. And I came back to campus. I felt despondent – I didn’t know what to do. And for the first time I actually prayed to the Lord. And all the exposure that I’d had – the works that had been done by different people – in terms of exposing me to the word of God, I knew that God was there. And that He could take care of me and that I could commit my life to Him. Even as I was going through that kind of persecution.
Gugu: So, since that time I have been a believer. My ethos is firm in Him. Yes, I am not a perfect person. I make errors like anybody else. We are sinners by nature. But the difference is that what changed in me was that when I then saw that maybe I’ve sinned, I could realise that I’ve sinned and I can go to Christ and say to him “I’m sorry. I’ve messed up. Please give me another chance.”
Blaque: Wow – that’s a powerful testimony. So praise the Lord that even in the midst of confusion, and in the midst of persecution as you mentioned, He still works to draw those He loves. So praise Him indeed.
Blaque: And in all your dealings, as you just mentioned, you are not a perfect person. You still make errors. But you are a busy woman! You run a business. Care to tell us about your business. What kind of business is it? And what do you do on a day to day basis?
Gugu: OK. So since 2005 I’ve been running a business called GG Boutique. Which is a fashion business that caters for plus sized women. Before then I was actually a statistician. I have a doctorate in demography, but due to persecution in Government I decided to do something that I have a passion for. But which will not make me rely on tenders up there in Government. Because I’ve seen that a lot of stuff was going wrong there.
Gugu: So, by God’s grace I’ve had this business since 2005 and we have custom-made clothes. So if you need something custom-made we do it. But we also have ready to wear clothes that we import from the US.
Gugu: And some things we make locally – whereas some are made externally. We are now based in Lynnwood Glen. And after having moved from shopping centre to shopping centre this is our final home! So from day to day, actually, we assist clients, we communicate with clients. We fit them clothing. And of course there is a lot of back end stuff that you have to do; admin and stuff. So, by the time you get to the client you’ve done all of that other strategic work, marketing work, and and and.
Blaque: Sure. How big is the business? Do you employ other people? Or is it just you running it?
Gugu: Yes. Normally I have 3 people that I employ. But it varies. From time to time – depending on the season. And just depending also on… You know it’s difficult sometimes to retain staff. So sometimes people are gone, but ideally we would like to have 3 people. One person helping me – in terms of being my PA – and then two people being at the shop floor.
Blaque: I see. Now we are obviously speaking about COVID-19 and the effects on small businesses and big businesses. Medium sized businesses. Everybody is getting hit.
So when the news about COVID19 came out – I just wanna know where you were at. What were your initial thoughts and feelings when you got the news of COVID19.
Gugu: So I talk about hearing about COVID19 when it started in China or COVID here in South Africa?
Blaque: When it started in China.
Gugu: OK. So when it started actually I don’t think that anybody knew… well I personally didn’t know that it would move from China so fast. I just thought that it was something perhaps that is in the distance. Maybe it will come to South Africa, maybe it will not come to South Africa. So I was like, kind of laid back about it. And as you see more people contracting the disease, more people dying, and then you start seeing that “Oh! One country now has a case!” Then you start to worry. Because, you know, then the whole world get’s jittery. And everybody started getting jittery – including ourselves. And you think of small business people.
Gugu: And just in terms of how it has affected my business and the industry at large. I mean as you said earlier, it’s affected small businesses and large businesses. But my view is that small businesses are going to be more casualties that big businesses. Because big businesses have reserves. They can dip into those reserves. We don’t have reserves as small business people. Then it gets difficult! Because the first thing that it affects is the sales.
And obviously because we are a contact business – we are… you know people come to us and we dress them. We recommend what they can wear. We take measurements of them. So they… that is contact. So because of the fear that has gripped the country – and has actually gripped the world – the sales in my business have gone down. The March sales. When I am talking gone down, we are not talking small decline. We are talking big decline. Why? Because the target market it’s more of those people that are more educated, they understand the issues about the virus. They want to self-preserve. And they don’t want to be coming here and be infected by a business person who they don’t know whether they have actually taken any precautions to protect their staff and to protect their customers.
And one of the things that then as a business owner hits you is “how am I going to pay the salaries of these people?” These people are working hard. The fact that the sales have gone down – it’s not their responsibility. But it’s also not something that is caused by me. So it’s something that worries you. I would be lying if I say that it does not worry you.
Because I don’t think that anybody who owns a business and they see negative effects – would just say “no. I’m fine.”
Gugu: But at the end of the day then you have to say “OK. So what can I do?” And by God’s grace – I will say it is by God’s grace – I moved from a location in the Brooklyn area and I moved the business to part of my house. And I will say it was God’s providence that.
Blaque: Ahh I see.
Gugu: Because right now I don’t have to worry about paying a R60.000 rent to somebody when my sales are going down. I still have to pay salaries. So that is God’s providence.
Gugu: And also around July we started an online store, which didn’t really pick up that much. But now people, because they don’t wanna come, we now have an opportunity to actually then grow that! And, you know, do more development in terms of making sure that it happens. And then also just say to people “don’t come at once. Those who come may come by appointment so that we can contain the sterilisation of the place. And make it a safer place to be.” Yes. So basically you have to think out of the box.
Gugu: And not like look at it as doom and gloom. I’ve just seen on TV now that the Minister for Small Business is saying something about Small Businesses – the rescue. I’m going to explore that because I don’t think anybody doesn’t need some assistance at this point in time.
Blaque: Sure. Now that’s amazing because that’s what a lot of people are actually struggling with. That as soon as their businesses, or their sales of the businesses, have been hit they struggle moving forward. Finding creative ways of how to continue doing business. But a lot of organisations are moving online. And I think this is a good time for us to even explore the areas of our businesses where we were lacking in. And we will kinda put in the momentum there. Whether it is marketing. Like you are saying. Whether it is focusing more on your online store. That when this does go down, that your online store skills will be beefed up for the future!
Blaque: How have the conversations been with the people that work for you? So obviously it’s not your fault. They know that. But at the same time they are probably looking at you like “hey! We need to eat!” So has it been awkward? Have you found it hard to have those conversations?
Gugu: OK. Not directly. But people can actually see that things are actually bad. And they understand that it is not our fault and it is also not their fault. So, at this point in time we’ve not had that discussion, but I am trusting God to help me to actually deal with that in a way that is constructive and makes sense for both parties. It is a very difficult conversation. And you also actually wanna trust God that He’s actually gonna provide. Because, you know, besides the people that I employ in the store you also have people that do support services like cleaning and whatever.
Gugu: And everybody… You know you are providing employment to people. And if you just said to people “no go home. I’m going to run this ship all alone.” What happens to all those people now that have gone home?
Blaque: Sure. And I mean that… the ripple effects are very, very tremendous. Because then their families get affected and the communities they live in. A lot of people do depend on wages and the money that they get. So it is indeed a big prayer to offer to God. To ask us to help us in these situations.
Blaque: You’ve alluded to the Lord a number of times. So as a Christian, how has your faith been challenged in these times?
Gugu: Yah. That’s a very good question! You know, as human beings, we tend to like… kind of like the Lord when things are good and then things are bad we don’t so much like the Lord!
Gugu: It becomes like an academic exercise. “Lord,” you have to think about it and you say… “OK let me do it. Lord – I need to do this. Lord please help me.” It’s not like automatic. So, you know, it’s rough. But you know what, I say that all of this happens… all of this that is happening, is not happening in a vacuum.
Gugu: It’s happening in the full view of God. He know about it. He knows about consequences. The Lord can provide in ways that we actually don’t understand. But He still does provide. It’s just one has to be more on their knees. Whilst at the same time using the intellect that God has given us. That you just don’t sit and fold your arms and say “no. God is going to do it.” So, you know, the advice that I would give other people – and which is what I am trying to do on my side – is to say “OK. Let’s think out of the box. Yes. The catastrophe is here. So what can we do differently? In order to deal with this situation that is nobody’s fault. Like we are looking at alternative strategies. What else can we do? Like I will give an example. We normally take the shop to our clients – those who do not… who are too busy to come to the store. So now, imagine, we try to initiate home visits. In this time of self isolation that strategy is not working anymore! So we then have to look at, “OK. How about you don’t stop shopping altogether. Let’s courier something to you – you try it on – if you like it you keep it. You pay. If you don’t like it you just courier it back.
Gugu: We are going to sanitise our things so that it get’s to you – the inside of the box anyway – so that it’s clean. You know you are safe to touch it. But that’s the thinking. You know you just think about that. And you think about “OK” instead of throwing your hands up say “OK.” Maybe this is a time to actually take care of all those other things that the business needs to be sorted out with.
Gugu: Because I am not having as many people coming through. So you think through your other strategies. Like now we are thinking of actually mailing things to people. You try to do the marketing. You try to grow the online business. And just get the groundwork. Because what we do know is that all of this will pass. We just don’t know when it will pass.
Gugu: And also just having the confidence in God. Saying that “God, this is all in your hands. Show me this.” Because other times God may just be saying “Ah this is your opportunity to shut down. I’ve been wanting you to actually do something else and you have not been listening to me.”
Gugu: So whichever way God answers, then one should have the ability to listen. If he says “you shut – and this is the door that I am opening for you” – then that would be the call. But you’d hope that it is not the case. Because of all these people that are relying on you.
Blaque: Sure. With that said, to somebody who is listening to this who is a business owner, I hope that they have been encouraged. And I think the takeaway is to keep our eyes on the Lord. He is the one who’s running everything. As much as you are the business owner. After all, He owns you and He is the one who brings the clients, who supplies the funds.
Gugu: So to trust Him. But at the same time be pro-active with the intellect that He’s given you. That you so eloquently said, and the wisdom that He’s already gifted you with. So that you can see creative ways and other ways that you haven’t explored.
Blaque: Anything else from your side as we close? Any last words that you’d want to say to those who have small businesses or just Christians in general?
Gugu: Christians in general – just in light of the COVID – folks, there is not need to empty the shelves. Let’s think for other people! We all know that we need hand sanitisers. Let’s just hold on. It’s not like the world is coming to an end! You know it’s not like… OK it’s not like it’s come to an end. But, you know, things will work out. Let’s just know that somebody else will need this much – just leave some for the next person to be able to buy. And it will all come to pass. Even the 1918 flu that killed so many people – it came to pass. Yes.
Blaque: Sure, no that’s good. Thank you so much Mama Gule. Really appreciate it. We are gonna be praying for you and your business. And we will be praying for all those who run small businesses as well.
Gugu: My pleasure, thank you.
Blaque: Thank you so much for spending time with us this afternoon. Thank you. Goodbye.
Well folks thank you so much for listening. That was our conversation with Ma Gugu Gule just on small businesses and the effects of COVID-19 on them. We hope that you were encouraged. Hope that you have found some advice and things to do practically as you wait in this season. We don’t know how long it’s gonna last for. But we know that God is in control. He is in charge. He is on the throne. And He is the one who is ruling and reigning and we should look upon Him and trust Him. For our provision, for our ideas, for our creativity and for the growth of our business. Even as it moves into different shapes and areas that we were not thinking of, or did not explore as much previously. We trust that God will work it out for the good of those who love Him. And so yeah, with that said, trust and believe in Him. And grace and peace to you and be praying to God to keep you in this time.
My name is Blaque Nubon that’s our episode on The Gospel Coalition Africa Podcast. Do check us out on all our social media and everywhere else that you can get a hold of Podcasts, videos and so on and so forth. Thank you so much, we will see you next time.