PAUSE REFLECT RESTART
How One Ghanaian Company is Staying Afloat in a Crisis
As businesses around the world navigate the economic effects of a global pandemic, KAEME is determined to remain resilient in pursuing its mission.
By Evelyn Seltier
Local and natural! Freda Obeng-Ampofo would have it no other way.
As long as the owner of Ghanaian cosmetics line KAEME can remember, she has been using shea butter and black soap (roasted cocoa pods, plantain bark and coconut oil) as her only two care products.
Interested in finding ways to kick it up a notch, teenage Freda started giving the products her own touch. With success!
People would stop her on the streets of Guatemala and France to ask how she managed to have such smooth skin. Over the years, her friends were excited about her cosmetics gifts for birthdays or weddings – and demanded more. Even though she had a steady job with the EU delegation in Accra, the idea of starting her own business persisted.
Ghana is one of the world’s biggest producers of shea butter and there are many popular brands in Africa.
I wondered how I could compete with other businesses. So I hired a brand strategist to develop the right concept to set mine apart.
This is how, in early 2016, Freda took her business KAEME online. She set up a website, used social media and produced a short video that got over 28,000 views in only 24 hours.
A few years later, a physical store followed in Accra, next to product placements in Lagos, Cotonou and Abidjan. Business was going well. Early in 2020, KAEME’s founder and chief mixer had her goals set for the year.
Things were good. But then…no one was prepared for COVID-19.
This is how the majority of small businesses – who create 70% of all jobs worldwide – feel.
I had to tell my staff to go home. Our business had lost approximately 95% of its revenues since the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Accra.
We had to close our store mid-March.
And there were issues with logistics.
Despite being a well-established online shop that should ideally withstand physical lockdowns, the shop owner was facing logistical problems.
We were not able to ship any orders as logistics providers shut down.
The lockdown meant practically zero sales for close to six weeks.
But Freda kept on paying her employees.
This was a tough decision we had to make at KAEME, but we feel it’s the right thing to do because our employees are our biggest assets. They are also like family. We invest in training them, so we would like them to stay with us as long as possible.
With COVID-19, deliveries from abroad were delayed.
The pandemic showed that importing materials is unsustainable in a crisis. KAEME had to put critical procurement decisions on hold after undertaking a thorough risk assessment.
Using local packaging was unfortunately not an option when first launching KAEME, but Freda knew going local was the right choice for the long-term. The lockdown confirmed this.
The 35-year-old would like to source her packaging material locally and sustainably. Options are collaborating with other local businesses, or even building a manufacturing factory through an association of cosmetics producers.
Finding local solutions would not only de-risk business but also add value to the whole production chain at home.
And that’s not all.
I’d be so happy if we could trade freely in the sub-continent. I could export my products to Benin, Nigeria, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire without facing multiple issues.
I am looking forward to the operationalization of the new African Continental Free Trade Area.
Having a strong online presence helped KAEME survive.
Early in July, after the government lifted restrictions in Accra, the number of COVID-19 cases rose again. KAEME has decided to take its time reopening its store and ensured protective health measures are in place.
The business only allows one salesperson and one customer in the store at a time, with hand washing and sanitizing protocols. Freda constantly reminds her staff to remain cautious.
Even though KAEME’s online sales have slumped, maintaining an active virtual presence has allowed the brand to engage customers.
Engaging with our customers online is very important to us.
We are doing so through Instagram Live, checking in with our customers on a regular basis, and just keeping in touch to let them know that we still care about them during these times.
What else has helped KAEME survive the lockdown?
For one, Freda referred to the 15-Point-Action Plan drafted by the International Trade Centre, which gives tips to small businesses on how to remain resilient in times of crisis. Additionally, Freda cited support from the Ghana Export Promotion Authority (GEPA) and the Ghana Food and Drugs Administration.
With the right networks and visibility, you can be resilient.
KAEME joined a community of entrepreneurs who are like-minded in producing local, high-quality products. Considering the logistical problems around COVID-19, the online platform THRIVE TOGETHER serves as an ideal one-stop shop where customers can buy from different brands by only using one channel, one delivery.
Adapting KAEME's business plan was another essential step.
We are looking at how we can diversify our products, working on different recipes and potentially partnering with big businesses, for example, by offering sanitizers in bulk.
For KAEME, surviving the lockdown meant finding opportunities to work with others and doing things differently.
The pandemic showed how resilient we can and should be.
It is indeed hard, hard work. But with the help of our partners and customers, small businesses can recover.
The new normal definitely looks different for KAEME.
Uncertainty and scenario planning will be the norm, not the exception, explains Freda, and it will involve more creative thinking to engage customers.
If you had spoken to me in May about offering Christmas sales, I would have answered differently. Our plan is constantly evolving and our customers can look forward to an enhanced version of KAEME very soon
Despite having lived in the United States, France, Hong Kong and the United Republic of Tanzania, Freda never forgot where her heart is – in Ghana.
And this is what KAEME stands for: The Ghanaian name means ‘remember me’, but for Freda it also stands for pure ingredients, healthy living, nostalgia and warm feelings.
May that feeling never cease!
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The International Trade Centre is the joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.
Copyright: International Trade Centre, unless otherwise indicated.