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Save our soup: SOS initiative lends a helping hand

When it was announced that New Zealand would go into level four lockdown, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise projects general manager, David Downs, instantly thought about the hundreds of cafes and businesses that would suffer. Feeling as shocked and helpless as everyone else, Downs took it upon himself to set up ‘SOS Café’ website which has since gained a tremendous response.

SOS Café was designed to act as an agent for businesses, offering consumers vouchers or gift cards for their local café and restaurants which could be redeemed once leaving level four.

“If you used to buy a coffee and a muffin every day, then buy a voucher every day instead, or a whole lot, and give these cafes a fighting chance.

“Our local businesses add so much colour and culture to our suburbs, it’s now our turn to give back.”

The website’s process has been both timely and costly but has brought incredible results to the hospitality industry. Initially, Downs believed that many of the vendors on the site would be unable to reopen, however since entering level two there has been fewer than ten that can’t continue service. Downs and the team also don’t make any profit from the website, they are just happy to help the hospitality industry.

“We are happy to do it to help out, but please bear that in mind. We also have a group of volunteers on board, which is helping.

“Years ago, when I was young and foolish, I set up a bar, so I know how hard it is to run a hospo business and how reliant you are on customers.”

SOS Café has not only helped small businesses but has helped create a community, a place where the ‘buy local and support small business’ message is strong.

Downs says the response from both vendors and their customers has been incredible, with over 2500 businesses on the site and $1.5 million in sales, all of which goes straight to the business.  

“We have had some really level feedback too, the vendors tell us that as well as the money, the other thing they’ve really appreciated is the knowledge that their customers are supporting them through tough times.”

Whanganui café ‘The Citadel’ expressed its gratitude of the platform and specifically to Downs for all of his work.

“Thank you so much for establishing this initiative.  It epitomizes everything “kind”  during these unprecedented times. More than the dollars magically deposited, it is the sentiment and “buy in” from our loyal customers that you have enabled,” wrote the owner.

“It has made the difference  determining our businesses future. Next time you are home in Whanganui please visit us in Castlecliff and hopefully by then I can shake your hand!”

 Out of the 2500 businesses that have signed up to SOS Café, virtually all have sold something and over 1000 have earned more than $1000. New Plymouth’s Art Café, says although they are small, the initiative has made a significant difference to them.

“The money that has been generated over the lockdown period has paid my power bill over this time and that’s just another bill I don’t have to find the money for. Your hard work and generosity gives me hope, and that’s gold.”

Although set up as a reaction to the level four lockdown, Downs says he intends to keep the sight running for a few more months as it is creating real value. SOS Café now has a directory of small businesses around New Zealand and people are buying bulk gift cards to help their favourite cafes survive.

Downs advice for small business owners who are struggling post lockdown is to keep connected to their customers.

“Reach out to your customers, get on social media, and engage with them. It’s really obvious to us from the sales on the site which vendors connect with and understand their customers, which is really important in this new era.”

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