The interview was transcribed by students of Epoka University
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world. This interview was done in collaboration with Epoka University.
In this interview, we meet Gjon Kola, the manager of Leo De Verzay Caffe in Durres, Albania. He shared that the most serious challenge of the lockdown was the total closure of his business. That was due to imposed regulations and applied to all companies. The closure lasted for months and resulted in a crisis of the business. Once the government allowed the opening of bars under strict rules, there was a slight improvement but challenges remained. First of all, the number of customers fell by half and so did the profits. Secondly, a lot of perishable products expired over the months of closure. To recover this situation this business took quick and effective measures. They introduced daily disinfection of the premises. The tables were placed at a distance of 2.5 meters. The coffee service was done in paper cups. Slowly the situation is improving but not as it was before the lockdown period. The main objective of this café-bar is the happiness of its customers.
What do you do as a business? How long have you been doing it? Where are you based?
Gjon: As you mentioned before we are a café bar located in the suburbs of Durres. We opened two years ago since it was a necessity to have a bar near the Big Market of Durres, and this was our business strategies. In this area, there are no café bars that serve quality café. Our café is ground organic Italian café since we have a bigger culture of café consumption. Also, our café bar offers a family environment and a playground for little children.
Do you have employees? How many clients/customers do you normally have?
Gjon: Regarding employment, we have 7 employees in total. Each employee is qualified for a specific job. About the clients, before the lockdown, we had about 120 clients/per day, but that number reduced about 50% after the lockdown. So, we could say that pandemic really affected us.
What did you do on the business front during the lockdown?
Gjon: In the beginning, it was an unexpected situation for us, but we had to take precautions. First, we distance the tables 2.5 meters from each other. We started to serve the coffee in cardboard material and we set daily disinfection of the whole bar. This was only to secure the safety of our employees and customers.
What have you tried to stimulate the business and attract customers?
Gjon: Actually, we did not have to make major stimulation, since we know Albanians love their coffees and they can not start their daily routine without their coffee. To keep in touch with our customer we try to ensure that every client gets their coffee. We started distributing it from outside the bar and also shipping it to their home. Also, social media played an important role in advertising our business for the latest information. This really helped us to create a strong connection with our clients.
How is your business going now?
Gjon: Right now, the business is increasing but not the same as before the pandemic situation. This is not from the quality of our café but people are distancing themselves since COVID effected the socially and economically. We are trying to offer our clients the best quality that coffee can have, always at a reasonable price.
Do you know how your customers are doing now?
Gjon: Since this situation has affected us in the same way, some of our customers have notified us that they lost their jobs. Some of them sold their business since they were in debt. So it also has been a big challenge for all business to keep their sustainability in the market. On the other side, we have a business that has found the right strategies on how to handle this situation.
What is the outlook on the coming few months?
Gjon: In the upcoming months we aspect an improvement since the pandemic will reach a reduction in the number of cases, and the business will improve. We aspect that our customer will have the opportunity to join their café in our bar. This is expected in the late months of spring.
Name 3 things you need help with?
Gjon: The biggest help right now is marketing. We are also working on the expansion of the bar and a children playground. This would really help us.
About the Guest
Leo de Verzay café is located in the suburbs of Durres city. It has been operating in the field of coffee bars for two years. This business idea came as a consequence as there was no such business in this neighbourhood and residents were forced to travel several kilometres to drink their morning coffee. This area is full of many different businesses starting from institutions that are schools, banks or others. One of the reasons that helped our business grow every day and more was the price of coffee. Given the economic development of this area, offering a high-priced service was unprofitable and would result in a very small number of customers. So, what led us to the advantage are the considerable prices adapting to the opportunity and the requirements of our customers. Opening this business brought us mutual benefits. The speciality of this coffee bar lies in the composition of the café. Our café is ground organic Italian café since we have a bigger culture of coffee consumption. Offering a coffee, with the highest quality ingredients attracted a very large number of coffee consumers. Also, it offers different cocktails and other drinks. Everything started to get bigger, by reaching a large number of daily customers.
Leo de Verzay offers the right conditions to spend unforgettable moments with your friends and family. Also, one part of the environment is dedicated to young children where they can have fun. As for the employees, they are qualified for their respective position. In the service, we try to be as coherent and friendly as possible. Smile is one of the main elements of this service as it creates trust and satisfaction in our clients. Leo de Verzay is now back as a second home for our coffee consumers. Regarding online promotion, it is not very developed since it requires time and investment. Since we have short-term experience in the field of business, we have not yet managed to create the right level for a marketing department. In social media, we have short information regarding our business. The main objective of this café-bar is the happiness of our clients and to offer them unforgettable moments. Choosing the right cafe to help you to start a better day.