Meet The KNUST Graduate Turning Agbogbloshie Into An “Amazon” Warehouse

Elselund Ewudzie-Sampson, popularly known on social media as “Adwoa Agbogbloshie” has a smile that melts the hearts of Agbogbloshie’s market women. Behind her warm smiles and affable gestures rests a big heart and mind bent on using innovation to make life better for Africa’s market women, and more convenient for the growing populace of career women who combine work with managing homes.

Elselund graduated from KNUST in 2015, after dutifully pursuing her undergraduate degree in Communication Design. She has an amazing story to tell, along with a powerful vision to cast. Let’s dive in!

How did you start the ideation process for Big Samps Market?

As a student graphic designer at KNUST, food packaging was the part of my studies that caught my attention the most. My explorations into that topic got me stumbling upon grocery delivery. I had not heard about anyone doing that in Ghana — that was in 2013. My parents thought the idea was cool, having observed the entrepreneurial spirit I always had as a child who would sell gari and other foodstuffs to my classmates since my primary school days.

I did a lot of research and conducted an in-depth study on Wholefoods Market. My big question was — “How can I translate this into the Ghanaian context?” That was when I decided to experiment.

How did you test out the idea as a student?

I created flyers and shared them with friends and classmates. They started placing orders for me to deliver groceries to them. I would go to the Ayigya market, purchase the groceries, clean them, package them, and deliver them on foot, walking over to hostels around the campus. I was in my final year, and had to combine that with my project work along with a freelance graphic designing business I had started on campus — it was a lot of stress.

That was how I faced my first failure. But that failure was what positioned me for a better comeback. I am glad I tested the idea before stepping out of school because the stakes are comparatively lower in school, but the lessons are essentially the same.

Tell us about your comeback.

My National Service was at a graphic designing agency, and I decided to revisit Big Samps towards the tail end of the year-long service. I began to post online, sharing digital flyers and making announcements, but no one was calling to place orders.

I began to develop some sort of timidity about the idea at some point, but I decided to swallow my fears and persist. I prayed about it and felt if this was something I really needed to do, I would have to commit it to God.

I had this idea at around 3 am one dawn to rather go to people and deliver items to them without them ordering. I analysed how neighbourhood hawkers operated — they would go to households and present them with the groceries they were carrying on their heads, and families would buy what they needed.

My brother opted to join me, and together, we would go from house to house at Tse-Addo, knocking on doors, ringing bells, banging gates, receiving pleasant receptions mixed with totally appalling ones. What we did differently was to let households know that they could let us know ahead of time if there were specific groceries they wanted on our next visit.

I did that till my term of National Service was over.

What happened after National Service?

My hopes were pretty high that I would be maintained at the agency as a full-time graphic designer, but that just didn’t work out. I stayed home for 2 months and spent a great part of that time furthering my research and reviewing my attempts at the idea.

I later got a job, but it wasn’t very flexible, so when I got an offer to work on shifts at GhOne, I jumped ship. I would wake up at dawn, around 3:30 am, go to the market, buy items and deliver them to customers before going to GHOne at 12 noon to work till about 10:30 pm. I oftentimes got back home close to midnight. That was another stressful phase.

I was on the verge of giving up when I met a gentleman who said to me “If you don’t do this now, you will regret it in 20 years.” I decided I was going to give my last shot to this idea and it would have to work no matter what. I went ahead and registered the business to make me take it more seriously. That was in 2017.

How did you grow after that?

I intensified my social media marketing efforts and noticed that the followership was growing and people were getting to know about Big Samps. The Agbogbloshie turning point came about when I was trying to market to a colleague and she asked: “Would you get the groceries for me like I would get them at Agbogbloshie?”

Agbogblo…WHAT???!!!

Here’s what you probably didn’t know about me. I had never lived in Accra before. My dad happens to be an itinerant pastor who had served in many different parts of Ghana but for Accra. I was relatively new to Accra, and was still getting acquainted with the city — I honestly used to be very scared of getting lost, so most of the places I would go to were easy to access parts of the city, like the Accra Mall, and a vegetable groceries shop around the 37 Military Hospital.

Due to the nature of the places I was purchasing groceries from, most people thought my services were for the elite and rich. I actually wanted this to be available and affordable for everyone.

Thank God for trotros — they are the perfect ideation incubators for any young Ghanaian entrepreneur. The light bulb sparked on that evening as I journeyed back home in a trotro. I went home and told my parents to call me Agbogbloshie. It was weird for someone to be called Agbogbloshie, but weird definitely sells and spreads fast.

We started emphasising “quality groceries at Agbogbloshie prices” in our tag-lines, and that was where growth really kicked in.

Are you uplifting the economic livelihoods of the market women in any way?

The network of market women we work with at Agbogbloshie now have a predictable certainty of a constant purchase of their groceries on a weekly basis, apart from the random walk-ins by people who come to the market. We have served over 1,000 households in Accra in the past 3 years, and most of these are regular orders that come on a weekly basis, improving market stability for these market women.

Imagine the family that needs tomatoes on Monday, but has nobody to go purchase them from the market until Saturday. What happens to those tomatoes that someone had a need for, and had the money for? They get rotten on the floors of Agbogbloshie. Big Samps is changing that.

It was particularly sad during the lockdown. Had it not been for us getting the license to operate as an essential service company, a lot more fresh vegetables and food items would have rotten away on the floors of Agbogbloshie. The moment we got our license, the market women had a certainty that they were going to have Big Samps come to buy from them. Strangely, a lot of them didn’t believe that Coronavirus was real. We had to educate them, provide them with face masks, show them videos, and update them with protocols that would enable them to keep safe.

On a regular and relational basis, we provide financial literacy for the market women, teaching them on saving, and equipping them to adapt to mobile money technologies.

Speak about your perspective on e-commerce technology in the Ghanaian context.

We thought we needed a website when we started. I thought I needed to have a website before I could even start the business. Nana Ama (who was my boss at GhOne) said, “Everybody is on WhatsApp, why don’t you use it?” So we asked people to order on WhatsApp — things changed when we took that step. People found it comfortable and relatable.

I remember there was a competitor back then who looked down on us because we were using WhatsApp. That business isn’t in existence anymore even though they had a website and an app back then. What I have come to learn over time is that social media as a platform for e-commerce works great in sub-Saharan Africa, at least in the Ghana that I know. I believe in technology and I know how important it is, but not having the money to build an app or website is no reason to refrain from operating if there are other options.

Now that we have the numbers and the following, we are building our app and e-commerce website, which is going to come soon. So everyone reading this — prepare for that!

You recently got a new space. Tell us about that.

The business was outgrowing the kitchen space we were operating from. Orders increased exponentially during the lockdown. Customers were asking for a place for pick-ups, so we used the capital we had raised for the website and app to invest in the space. The pick-up and office space brought us credibility and put us on the map.

But now, we have our space and everything needed for the app and website.

What have been some highlights on your journey?

It was a dream come true for me when I went to visit the Wholefoods Markets in Oklahoma. I was part of 700 young leaders from Africa who participated in the Mandela Washington Fellowship program. 32 of us were from Ghana. We went to colleges in the US and studied in various schools for about 2 months. I was in Oklahoma for my studies and training sessions. It was a great exposure that got me meeting other young African entrepreneurs.

I spent about 2 hours walking through the Wholefoods Market building, just observing, soaking the dream and envisioning how someday, Big Samps Market would have a space as large and well organized as that — I bought nothing for those 2 hours.

After the fellowship, I knew I could go for anything and go all out. I resigned from my fulltime job to focus on Big Samps.

What’s the future for Big Samps?

In 5 to 10 years, Big Samps would have to be a household name, and if anyone in Ghana needs groceries, they would immediately call Big Samps. We are bringing in farmers on board to enable them to get a constant market.

I want to give Ghanaian farmers hope, that Big Samps is coming with their trucks to buy from them on a regular basis. We want to support farmers and market women by bridging the gaps in the supply chains, through the use of technology in deliveries and pickups.

Above all, we want to conveniently provide families with good quality and healthy farm produce, at affordable rates.

Any final words?

One of my newfound favourite statements is “DON’T GIVE UP.” Having that as a newfound favourite is unusual because that statement is definitely a cliche, but there is nothing else we can say again. What else could you offer as a better variation?

Even if you are stressed and things are not going on as well as you want.. don’t give up. Always remember that no matter how good it looks on the outside, even if you are Jack Ma, entrepreneurship is hard. Don’t be deceived by the outward flashiness.

However, when you get to look back after some time, there will be a joy to feel in the progress you make — it is a matter of time. We grow in the process, but the process takes time. These are the things that keep me going.

When I look back at 3 years ago, Big Samps Market is not as it was back then, when I used to have fears and wonder how people would receive me when I go to deliver. Now people know there is a business that does this, and that for me is fulfilling.

Nominate someone for me to interview.

I nominate Live Greens Landscaping. He’s also doing an amazing job in the landscaping sector. I know it takes a lot to venture into it and knowing where he’s coming from, his growth has been impressive.