Small business owners tell us how they’re adapting during lockdown and what we can do to support them.

Gorjan Markovski - Academy Cinemas

This small arthouse cinema has launched an online film streaming service, Academy On Demand, to get through lockdown.

What’s the hardest part about owning/operating a small business during lockdown?

The uncertainty is definitely the hardest part. Businesses like cinemas can't operate under many of the alert levels, so not knowing how long our venue would be closed remains a stressful factor as we find new ways to operate online.

What's been the happiest moment running a small business during lockdown?

Our business had to really innovate in order to find a way to continue promoting cinema and maintain our relationship with our customer base. So when our Academy On Demand service took off with an amazing response from our community, that has to be our proudest moment.

Are you scared the business will have to shut down?

There is always that fear during such an uncertain situation as a pandemic.  The Academy family extends not only to our customers but also to our staff who we consider family. At present, we are generously supported by our owner and through the Government wage subsidy, and we are confident that with a little more of the community support we've seen so far, we will be able to emerge from this rough patch together.

Before we went into lockdown, how did you feel about being a small business owner?

We have had an incredibly successful year last year, so we were setting big goals and striving to grow our business. However, the few weeks before the lockdown was very difficult- it was clear business-as-usual would change, and not for just a short period either. We kept in close contact with our staff and owner to navigate that uncertainty, while sadly watching as attendance at our cinema started to dwindle. 

How do you feel now?

We feel very grateful for the continued support of our fans - many have emailed us to check how we are doing, and thousands are using our on-demand service to watch our usual range of classics, independent cinema and foreign films. 

How has running a business during lockdown changed you?

It has forced us to react quickly to events outside of our control - we were the first cinema in New Zealand to launch a streaming service after the lockdown and we worked hard in those first couple of weeks to ensure we still had that point of connection to our fans. 

What do you hope for the future?

We hope to emerge stronger from this crisis, with both our physical venue and new online service up and running successfully within our community; to alleviate the concerns of many who have emailed us, don't worry! Academy on Demand will continue even after we reopen our venue! 


Jackie Lee Morrison - The Pandemic Pack

Jackie runs Lashings, a small brownie bar in Wellington. When things started looking grim because of Covid-19, she formed The Pandemic Pack, a collective of 16 small Wellington hospo businesses. During level 4 none of them are able to trade, so they released the pay-as-you-feel Pandemic Pack Cookbook. At lower alert levels they will offer a collective home delivery service.

How did the idea for the Pandemic Pack Cookbook originate?

The Pandemic Pack started as a collaborative delivery service - small businesses can't afford the fees that existing delivery services charge (often taking a percentage and charging a large set-up fee), so I had come up with the idea to run delivery ourselves and work together to keep the costs down, by offering a system where you could order items from all of us per order. 

I reached out to a few businesses around me in Central Wellington, as we were really noticing that our customer base had dropped off since people had started working from home. 

We went from three businesses to 14 within 24 hours. We built a website and set everything up in three days, ready to launch the following week, but when the announcement came that we were moving to levels 3 and 4 within 48 hours it stopped us from being able to operate. 

At this point I pivoted the idea to a collaborative cookbook instead, and we ended up with 86 pages, 41 recipes and 16 businesses involved. We all stand behind the recipes as being achievable for home cooks, which was part of the criteria I asked for in recipes, the other being that your recipes should be the flavour of who you are as a business.

What has the reception to the cookbook been like?

I collated and edited the book in (again) three days and released it online as an e-cookbook on a "pay-what-you-can" basis, starting at $10. In just over a week we've sold over 4500 copies. 

The success of the book has been down to the hospitality community I'm so proud to be a part of, wanting to work together and support each other through this, and also people throughout New Zealand (and in fact, the world) wanting to help small local businesses survive this period of time. 

All the profits are being split between us equally - it isn't going to pay all of our ongoing overheads, but it is going a long way to helping us all ride out lockdown with little to no revenue otherwise. We've been absolutely blown away by the response - the community really rallied around us and we're loving seeing all their recreations from the book. 

The Pack have been so generous with their recipes and their time (we've done a few live-streamed events on Instagram and Facebook to cook-along with recipes from the book and ask questions of the different Pack partners), we've all repeatedly said to each other that we're so glad we have each other to lean on and support.

What’s the hardest part about owning/operating a small business during lockdown?

Margins are incredibly tight, especially in hospitality. Cash flow is always the biggest issue and managing staff cost - you need people to help you grow the business, but you can't necessarily afford it, it's a double-edged sword.

What's been the happiest moment running a small business during lockdown?

Seeing how our community have rallied around us, especially with the cookbook. People want to support their small businesses, and this has been proof of that. We all feel very humbled and valued. I strongly believe we are always better working together, than separately.

Are you scared the business will have to shut down?

Always, even before lockdown started. This has brought that fear to the forefront for many.

Before we went into lockdown, how did you feel about being a small business owner?

I love being a small business owner, it's amazing to be able to share something with people that you love to do and they love as well, but it's also an incredibly hard life. We all work 24/7 and sacrifice a lot to do this, but we do it because we love it, not because we're trying to make heaps of money (spoiler: there is no money in hospitality).

How do you feel now?

Hopeful for the future. Our industry does need to change, and this is the push we all needed to slow down, think and re-evaluate.

How has running a business during lockdown changed you?

I've had a lot more time to rest and think clearly, rather than on minimal sleep. This time is giving many business owners a chance to be creative and innovate, something we all struggle to do on a daily basis when you're too busy running the business to think about how you want to grow and evolve.

What do you hope for the future?

To see as many small businesses as possible come out of this, to continue to see that community support around local business, and for more balanced lives. When we're able to move down to level 3 and below, continue to support your locals by buying direct from them - that way the money goes straight back to them and we can all rebuild our economy together.


Su-Lin - Jai Thai Kickboxing

Jai Thai is a small muay thai kickboxing gym based in Wellington and Auckland. Gyms are obviously closed at level 4, so Jai has taken training online, offering free workout videos on Facebook.

What’s the hardest part about owning/operating a small business during lockdown?

Once we moved to level three, our income went down to zero, because all our memberships are suspended while we are not operational in the gym. So, within the two premises, we normally have 80 classes a week running seven days, right down to zero.

Even before we hit level four, we knew that there was a chance we're going to have to close the physical gym.

What has it been like moving the business online?

Even though we've been doing this for more than 10 years, going online has been something that made us a little bit nervous, whether it's because we're not so technically savvy, or a little bit shy. 

It's one thing going into a ring and fighting or teaching a class of 30 people, then facing a camera.

We asked our members what they actually wanted, if they want to see, you know, live videos that they want on programs that we could give to them online. And that's where we started to get the feedback and offer free content online.

How can people support your business?

Sending their support, you know, sending us their own videos or stories or letters. 

It's really important to give this support to the small businesses that are out there because otherwise we kind of lose a little bit of enthusiasm for the business thinking oh, you know, this is going to drag on and people are going to forget about us. 

A lot of people are going through financial hardships and job instability, so  the amount of money that they give us, I don’t think it will make a big difference in the long run.

But remind businesses, yes, we remember you, we are supporting you. It really motivates us to feel positive about stuff and use the time to also keep ourselves fit and healthy.


Karl Sheridan – Monster Valley

Monster Valley is an art gallery and creative agency on Karangahape Road in Auckland. Lockdown has been the hardest financial hit the business has gone through since launching nearly 10 years ago. To survive lockdown they’ve created a pay-as-you-feel t-shirt.

How has lockdown affected Monster Valley?

It's affected us dramatically. We did have months of art exhibitions, talks and shoots in our space and outside of our space which all got cancelled or postponed. So, it's affected us a lot and we're all just trying to survive at this point.

How can people support Monster Valley?

One of the things that I've done is a pay-what-you-want model for some t-shirts that we're going to get made. 

We've done anything from $10 up to $100, which opens access to all sorts of different financial situations for people. It's actually been quite interesting that it all sort of evens itself out, so you've had some people paying 100 and other people paying 10 and that's all fine. It's all support at either end of that scale.


Nikki Ralston – Urban Ashram 

Urban Ashram is a small yoga business with two studios in Auckland. They’ve created daily livestream classes for alert levels 3 and 4.

How has lockdown affected Urban Ashram? 

We noticed a drop in numbers in those couple of weeks prior to going to level four. And then once we had to close the studios, we knew that all our community was stressed, anxious, worried. 

I have online offerings with free videos that are up all the time. But then we also decided to go with live streams via Zoom. 

Every day there's about three classes that I'm broadcasting from my setup studio right here in the living room where our students are joining. We're practicing together and keeping the good vibes going over this time. 

And then on our Instagram page, we've got live streams up there for free and we've got a challenge going offering different kinds of wellness tips every day.

How can people support Urban Ashram?

I think it's important to support local businesses because we want them and we need them on the other side of this.

And that takes a group effort and everybody contributing so that we all rise out of this better, learning a whole lot about ourselves and learning that we can support each other.