When given life’s proverbial lemons, Namchoice, a Namibian company and Team Namibia member, was not afraid to try its hand at making lemonade – or medical garments and linen in this case. The company normally manufactures and sells bedding, linen, curtains and embroidered articles to hotels, lodges, retail stores and homes, but with COVID-19’s devastating impact on the tourism and hospitality industries, Namchoice also began to feel the pinch. However, instead of allowing their activities to come to a standstill, the company turned to manufacturing medical materials such as hospital linen, scrubs, theatre gowns, theatre caps, masks and disposable protective coveralls, shoe covers and surgical gowns.

Managers at Namchoice, Linda Garises and Precious Gowases, anticipated the knock-on effects that the decline in tourism would have on businesses like theirs. Garises: “To protect the livelihoods of our employees we had to explore alternative options to ensure business continuity. We assessed our capabilities and resources and similarly looked at the current needs of the Namibian people. Being located in Swakopmund, we were acutely aware of the need for healthcare supplies as the coastal areas were initially the hardest hit by the pandemic. We found the idea to start producing medical garments and linen was not only viable, but would assist in meeting the growing demand for such supplies too. We also extended our offering to include disinfecting services in response to the emerging health and safety needs.”

Management at Namchoice believe that in times like these, businesses need to be agile and should not be afraid of change. Garises: “Even though we have shifted our production focus for the time being, we are still delivering on our mission to customise our products according to the specifications of our clients. We have simply tailored our products to meet the greater needs of our communities at this time. We have produced bedding for hospitals before so the shift to producing a greater variety of hospital linen and supplies was not very drastic.

“Many local organisations cite the poor quality of locally supplied items as the reason, among others, for not supporting local. To gain the confidence of our clients, we had to make samples of our new items and distribute them to prospective clients. We are grateful to those who came back with valuable input on how we could improve our products to meet their specifications and the industry standard. Now we are producing quality medical clothing just like with our bed linen.”

Given the difficulties many businesses are currently facing, Namchoice management encourage them to be open to exploring possibilities. Gowases: “Difficult times are times of new opportunities and we have learnt that in this ever-changing world, businesses should have strategies for continuous re-engineering. The strategies and trajectories of larger competitors can also be a source for learning for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“Now is the time for Namibians to have confidence in their local SMEs and support them by dismissing the stereotypical perception that “it’s only good if it’s from outside”. With a receptive attitude and trust in local businesses, we can help grow the Namibian economy. This economic growth can be fast-tracked with government policies that encourage growth at home as opposed to bringing in certain products from outside that can be produced in the country.”

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