Kiwis spend over half a million to support local eateries and services with voucher scheme

The founder of an online voucher scheme that has now raised over half a million dollars for hospitality and service businesses around the country says it will continue to support businesses as it adapts to Alert Level 3.

David Downs, founder of SOS Business. Source: Supplied

The SOS Business scheme started three weeks ago as a place for businesses to sell vouchers online. People could purchase the vouchers from their favourite eateries to redeem once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Since then, total voucher sales and donations have reached over $550,000. They are set to benefit over 1700 small businesses.

Founder David Downs said he’d already been hearing from businesses following this afternoon’s announcements about how hospitality establishments can operate in a limited way under Alert Level 3. The Prime Minister said public-facing bars, cafes and restaurants will remain closed, while food delivery, drive-throughs, online shopping and click-and-collect shopping can begin.

“We’ll keep supporting these places as long as they need us, which is at least going to be until the end of Level 3 by the sounds of it,” Mr Downs said.

He said today’s announcement showed him how vital it was for people to keep supporting their local businesses by shopping normally.

“I’ve already had a couple of people call me today… and say, ‘Hey, look, we’re not going to be open, we’re really going to struggle. So, this [SOS Business] is helping us massively.’

“Being locked up for four weeks is one thing, but you know, now it’s a bit uncertain how long it might go. And these are places that can’t easily do takeaways and stuff.”

Mr Downs, who is running the scheme with a team of staff without taking profit, said the amount raised was beyond anything he expected. Because of his IT background, Mr Downs said he wanted to support businesses’ move to e-commerce as they try to keep some cash flow for ongoing costs like rent during the lockdown.

He said businesses, on average, were earning between hundreds to thousands of dollars through SOS Business.

“That’s substantial. That’ll pay their rent for a week or a couple of weeks,” he said.

“We thought we’d be helping sustain 10 or 15 cafes in my suburb. It just got bigger and bigger and bigger.”

One Auckland business has sold over $10,000 in vouchers.

Nigel Cottle, the manager of Crave Café, said the scheme reminded people they could still help local businesses even though they can’t go out to buy things.

Nigel Cottle, manager of Crave Café. Source: Supplied

“We didn’t have any e-commerce ability on our website, so we had no ability to sell vouchers ourselves,” he said.

Crave operates as a social enterprise and gives back its profits to the Morningside community. For the meantime, however, Mr Cottle said it was about keeping the business alive for the community in the future because it would take some time to change the way it does business to allow for a click-and-collect option.

“The only way we can do business from when we go to Level 3 is in a new way that we’ve never done before,” he said.

“So, we are gearing up for it, but there’s a cost involved.”

He said for some businesses, working out how to operate at Level 3 would be too difficult. But, it wasn't an option for Crave.

“We can't afford not to open. There's no money in the bank to hide," Mr Cottle said.

“We gave too much profit away [to the community]. We just didn’t anticipate this.

“As context, [the $10,000] is less than half of one week’s wage bill for us. So it’s awesome, but we’ve got to keep on pushing forward,” he said. 

But, he said SOS Business had given the business a bit of buffer while costs were adding up during lockdown. He’s also applied for the Government’s wage subsidy.

“Rent’s a really big cost when you have no income and you can’t trade.

“Our landlord’s been good and reduced rent by 50 per cent, which has been awesome. But it’s still 50 per cent of a whole lot.”

Mr Cottle said small businesses would benefit from a rent relief package from the Government, although he was thankful for their support so far.

“Those vouchers, they still matter. If you’re going to come to Crave in six months’ time… just pre-pay them, that will be of great help to us.”