Karl Westvig, Chief Executive of Retail Capital.
Photo: Supplied
Karl Westvig, Chief Executive of Retail Capital. Photo: Supplied

What SMEs can do when the lights go out

By Karl Westvig Time of article published Dec 24, 2019

Share this article:

DURBAN - Operating as a small business can be difficult at the best of times, but Eskom’s sudden rolling blackouts has really thrown a spanner in the works for entrepreneurs who rely on power to trade. 

Consider the business that relies on cold storage; they risk losing all their stock if the power cuts out for too long and don’t have a backup generator, which is costly. Or the manufacturer who has a team who works with machinery to produce goods. No power means no work. This could affect turnaround times and client relationships who might not be empathic, not to mention the lost income incurred for paying staff who are rendered incapacitated. 

When we’re already under the whip due to the imminent festive season close, this added curve-ball is testing everyone’s patience. It’s key then that small businesses do everything they can to minimise Eskom’s impact. 

Here are six top tips from Retail Capital’s Chief Executive, Karl Westvig on what to do when the lights go out. 

Don't light up 

When making use of alternate power sources (generators, candles, gas, batteries), you always run the risk of exposing untrained personnel to potentially combustious situations.  Ensure that you train your staff on back-up solutions and store the fuel and flammables in responsible and safe spaces.

Size matters

Understanding your equipment loads are essential when deciding which high impact, low load equipment (POS machine, laptop, security doors, reception lights, etc.) should be provided for.  This in turn will determine the minimum size of your back-up energy solution.  It may also come as a surprise that the capital outlay to keep your business running as usual, is not as big as you thought.

Charge up

Are you only planning to power a few devices for the night or will you need a daily power source that you can trust for months at a time? Find out what will work best for your business between an inverter (with battery) and a generator. Consider the pros and cons of both.


Downloading a reliable load shedding app can go a long way to assisting you in your resource planning.  When there are high loads or long uptimes required, it would make business sense (and save a few bucks) to create overtime staff shifts and running non-critical processes and machinery (ovens, printers, fridges) in non-load shedding slots.

Switch off

When sudden load shedding occurs, it often so happens that one loses track of what equipment was switched on.  Keep a lock-down checklist of equipment that could be adversely affected by load spikes (fridges, TV’s, etc.) or result in fires (ovens, heating equipment, open elements, etc.).  Remember to switch off these equipment prior to an expected power outage, or soon after, to eliminate the risk of damage.


Once you have deployed your power saving strategy, educate your employees on which non-essential equipment should be unplugged from back-up or UPS power sources to conserve as much power as possible for the next round or for more critical appliances when the time comes. 

"The reality is that we live in very uncertain times and Eskom is just one instance of when things can go wrong. It is super important that a small business plan ahead for any eventualities – consider what the Western Cape had to do when Day Zero was approaching – and has insurance in place for any events that could seriously hamper their business’s productivity and affect it financially," concluded Westvig. 


Share this article:

Related Articles