Guangwen Liu started his sportwear business with one shop and a dream to expand his business to a chain of retail stores in Inner Mongolia. By partnering with Grassland Finance Limited, a financial service provider focused on micro and small businesses across China, he grew his business from eight stores to 43 in ten years. But his business success hit a major obstacle when the coronavirus outbreak escalated and lockdowns went into place, forcing his storefronts to close and cashflow to plummet. When his sales dried up, Guangwen needed to find a way to pay for his rent, staff, and loan repayments.

Without any foot traffic in his stores, Guangwen had to explore new sales and marketing channels to continue getting his products in front of consumers. With encouragement from Grassland and inspiration from the rising trend of using streaming to sell products, he quickly decided to hire an online streamer and employees began livestreaming product demonstrations from inside the stores to engage with customers remotely. Across China, livestreaming has gained huge popularity, thanks to new platforms like Taobao, TikTok, Kuaishou, and Huoshan. Guangwen’s business gradually build a firm footing on livestreaming platforms. Many businesses have joined their customers online and began using these popular livestreaming platforms to showcase their products and answer customer questions in real time. Even farmers are using livestreaming to promote and sell agriproducts in China, especially flowers and fruits, during the pandemic.

Grassland evolves to support small business clients

Many of Grassland’s small business clients have quickly adapted their businesses to solve for coronavirus-related challenges, from livestreaming products like Guangwen to opening online stores on e-commerce platforms. To help these clients succeed, Grassland itself also needed to adapt in order to support these small businesses in new ways. They began offering increased business advisory services to help their clients generate sales and rebuild their cashflow during China’s lockdown and reopening.

Limin Liu’s shops sell specialty foods and snacks in an airport in Inner Mongolia.

Grassland client Limin Liu owns several specialty food stores located at airports in Inner Mongolia. When airport traffic stopped at the beginning of the year, he was forced to close his stores and all staff stayed home for safety. With no ability to sell goods in airports without any travelers, Limin found himself with a sudden need to pursue multiple sales channels. For the first time, he is selling online. Grassland helped Limin transition to digital sales by connecting his business with local e-commerce platforms. As air travel slowly resumed in China, the Grassland team advised the business to attract customers back into stores by offering free masks with each purchase and services to assist senior travelers with filling out the new required health check forms. Store traffic improved with these new services.

While Grassland supports microentrepreneurs like Limin on an individual basis, they’re also considering the impact of the pandemic on broader client segments. Grassland conducted an analysis with the support of Accion to identify the best ways to serve their clients across different industries during this difficult time. As a result, they’ve implemented other measures to help their clients, like offering flexible loan repayment terms and restructuring, applying to waive COVID-19-induced delinquency from client’s credit record, and increasing digitalization of their products. Entrepreneurs are finding new ways to survive in our new normal, but they need support from their financial providers to succeed.

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2023 Annual Report