The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Daniele Busato
The Lockdown Economy, an international non-profit social-economic and educational initiative started by the Think Tank AlterContacts in May 2020. The objective is to help small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and reactivate the economy. The initiative has been registered by the United Nations as an Acceleration Action for the Sustainable Development Goals.
In this interview, we meet Albana Xhini, HR manager of Alba Fireplaces, a fireplace shop in Tirana, Albania. Alba shared that it wasn’t easy at first, with many challenges ahead, such as lockdown restrictions, financial issues and delays in shipments of fireplaces. Another challenge was connected to problems with delivering and setting up fireplaces in houses, due to social distancing and risks of contracting the virus. One year later, they are getting back on track through small government incentives, trying to make the most out of what was available.
What is your business about?
Albana: We are a business of fireplaces, with everything needed to build one to warm up an inside environment like or home or a workplace. Alba Fireplaces has been in the market for twenty years, with its main showroom in an industrial zone of the country. In our showroom, we mainly have family members as employees, plus five others. As for the customers, it depends on the days, but we have about 15–20 of them per day.
How did your business deal with the pandemic?
Albana: In the beginning, we had to close our shop, but after the situation started clearing up a little bit we got to work again with permission from the government. When we went into lockdown, we had to reduce the budget on traditional campaigns while targeting social media marketing because of its transparent pricing and significant gains even in difficult times.
How is your business going now, one year into the pandemic?
Albana: After adapting to the new regulations and distance with everyone, things are getting normal and people are getting used to this new situation. Our business is continuing with the work, even though our monthly costs for maintenance are higher because of the disinfection needed and all the Covid measurements and health insurance done every week for the employees.
How is the relationship with customers?
Albana: The most affected are the low-income customers, because of the high number of losses in job positions. But for the other customers, there wasn’t a huge difference compared to before the pandemic. There are many new buildings, which means many new opportunities for us. So it’s a mix of different income customers.
What are future plans for your business?
Albana: We predict that the world will get better, and we will have a small increase in monthly income. Hopefully, we won’t have to deal with another quarantine because that would be a terrible thing for business in Albania.
What are some things you need help with?
Albana: We need help from the government because the real wage should be higher. It is not enough for any of our employees. A safety protocol is needed as well for when we have to send fireplaces to clients houses. Lastly, we need funding for disinfection and hygiene measures against Covid. This should be provided by the government since our workers are in contact every day with so many people and it is quite a cost for us. We are in about five houses a day, so that’s a big risk.
Which of the business operations are most affected by the pandemic?
Albana: Almost everything, but workforce management and staffing especially because of the fear that overcame everyone in our business. Many of them have families and children. Even finances were strongly affected since we had absolutely no sales for several months. There was a delay in shipments from the countries we work with in Europe, such as Italy or France, and even from China.
How are you adapting to this new situation?
Albana: We have been taking care of our employees firstly, because they need to be and feel safe with their families, so we’ve done Covid checks and disinfections for all of them every week. As for finances, we thought that real wages weren’t enough but we made use of it by helping employees and maintaining their wages and health insurance. For the delayed shipments, we had to inform our clients about this.
About the Guest
Alba Fireplaces offers to you the best fireplaces that you always dreamed of. With almost 20 years of experience, they bring in Albania the best quality fireplaces from the biggest companies in the sector, since 2004. They cooperate with well-known firms like Arkiane, EDILKAMIN, Focus, M-design. In collaboration with architects and interior designers, they offer the best solutions, best prices and also the most important, give you the opportunity to pay in instalments. Years of experience and many years of professional service turned the company into one of the market leaders in terms of different types of chimneys.