“When the lockdown was announced (at the end of March), we were just about to go into the peak time of the month when we do 40 percent of our sales over a few days,” says Reshan. All the stock that was bought for the peak week was wasted.
Reshan, a chemical engineer at Sasol, started his company Gangamaya Trading when he bought his first franchise, a Steers franchise, five years ago for his father Sewnarain, a retired sugar cane farmer, to run. Soon Reshan spotted new opportunities and drew in his brother Vishen and his niece Renae Gungadeen to help run the growing group of family-owned franchise outlets.
Reshan, who describes his role in Gangamaya Trading as opportunity spotter, initiator, coordinator, and, most recently, crisis manager, says he has managed to build up a system in which each store is run by a dedicated manager, with a centralised administrative office. It allows him to pursue his career at Sasol while staying involved in the company. “It is actually my dad and my brother who keeps the company running,” he says.
Their latest addition was a set of Fishaways and Milky Lane outlets at the Carnival Casino in Johannesburg, financed by BUSINESS/PARTNERS. It was a relatively risky investment that was about to turn out very well, says Reshan, but nowhere in their plans and assessments did an entire shutdown of the entertainment sector feature. Reshan says the situation seemed insurmountable at certain times since the lockdown. The worst of the burden was the thought that the livelihoods of the group’s 150 workers were at stake.
Yet somehow Reshan found that he managed to stay positive, which helped him find ways for the business to survive. He says it was partly due to his generally optimistic nature, and also because he had a steady income as a high-level manager at Sasol.
But he says nothing would have been possible were it not for the way in which the players in the industry came together. Landlords, financiers, government agencies and the franchisors all proved willing to support solutions, he says.
This allowed Reshan to open a Steers drive-through outlet at Carnival Casino which could trade through most of the lockdown and provided a much-needed sales boost while the casino was still in the doldrums.
Fortunately the casino complex already had the facilities for a drive-through, and the crisis allowed Reshan to fast-track an already existing plan of his to open a Steers in the spot. The landlords were keen, as all of Reshan’s outlets at the casino complex pay rent purely based on turnover.
BUSINES/PARTNERS helped the company by offering a moratorium on loan repayments and also offered emergency finance. Reshan is currently finalising BUSINESS/PARTNERS finance for the Steers Drive-through, which required a total investment of about R3.5 million.
Reshan says it is scary to commit to such an investment in a time like this, but the urgency of providing work for all the families that depend on his business was a big motivating factor. The risk is also made more bearable by the fact that the landlords, the franchisors, and financier all supported the project.
Since opening, the drive-through has been doing relatively well and is making a major contribution to the revival of the group’s turnover, which is currently at about 40 percent of what it was before the lockdown.
In order to save the entire group, Reshan has had to sell his first Steers outlet to a buyer who had been interested for a long time in buying it. As expected, he did not quite get the price he wanted for the restaurant, which is located in an excellent position, says Reshan, but it was a realistic price under the circumstances.
His company’s greatest achievement throughout the crisis is that not a single one of his workers has had to go without their wages.
For Reshan, probably the most important return on his investment is the unwavering positive atmosphere generated by the staff at the stores, even as they run at half their normal turnover. “They are such a wonderful group of people. I tell them if we can get through this, we can get through anything.”