The Popular Ghanaian Journalist Turned Cement Dealer: Meet Bridget Otoo
Before she left her position as a Presenter on TV3’s Newday show, Bridget Otoo was inspired by stories she told about entrepreneurs and challenged herself that someday she too will own a business. Today she has a prestigious portfolio, moving from the world of electronic media into the world of self-driven entrepreneurship
“After resigning I came home and decided I had a lot of time so decided to try my hands on something new. I started with uber and car rentals and equipment but I noticed it wasn’t my thing so I quickly sold off the cars, ’she says. The equipment was fine but the transport bit was not her thing
The experience though not exciting taught Otoo a few lessons, especially how to work and manage different kinds of people.
Otoo’s teenage years at the Ghana Institute of Journalism endeared her to a lot of friends including Suzie who became one of her best friends. Suzie, a PR student immediately went into the sale of cement after school, a business she would later introduce Otoo to
“I was inspired by one of my best friends Suzie who attended GIJ and is into the cement business. She has lots of branches all over Kasoa and Botianor area so I asked her a lot of questions and she advised me on what to do”
But for Otoo, selling cement was not by choice, it was more of satisfying a need. The need to acclimatize to her new home
“I did it out of my circumstance. When I left TV3 I had no business being in town and I had to move. So I had a small house in a developing area and I needed something to keep me there so I spoke to Suzie about it and she taught me what to do and how to manage”
But her biggest challenge at the time was to raise the start-up capital
“I didn’t have the capital so it took me almost two years to mobilize some cash,” says Otoo
However, through the sale of her Uber cars, Otoo managed to put up a storey-building to house the cement
After raising 6000 cedi’s she was supported by a couple who believed in her dream and supplied her with the first 50 bags of cement
“I always wondered if I will be able to buy a truckload of cement. I didn’t know how the market was going to respond. The first three weeks people only came to make inquiries. Nobody bought anything and I have very big players and competitors here. They know the business and bring the cement in trucks while I was only bringing them in 50 bags,” recounts Otoo.
But soon after, sales began to pick up. She started selling as many as 10 to 20 bags in a week until one fine day when luck shone on her
“One day somebody ordered like 200 bags. I didn’t have the money so I took the money from the person and ordered 500 bags with the money and that’s how it kicked off and as soon as I brought in 500 people knew that we can buy more and deliver”
Today her business is growing by leaps and bounds and Ms. Otoo now sells between 2-3000bags of cement a week. For her, it’s been a lot of work, marketing and engagements, and understanding what customers want.
Ms. Otoo has always had a passion for giving a voice to the underprivileged. As a media icon, she worked for Media General in both radio and television and was particularly driven to tell stories that would make a difference.
Although Otoo had made it her mission to compete head to head with her other retail cement dealers in the community, she didn’t have any business experience to help her bring her vision to fruition. This proved to be one of her biggest challenges
“I never think like a woman. I know people are dismissive cos you are a woman but truth is that I don’t pay attention to it because you would respect me. It’s a business that involves dealing with contractors, masons, and homeowners. It’s the way you talk to people and they would respond positively,” says Otoo.
She was never really bothered about her status as a woman although it proved tough at the beginning.
“Being a woman means you have to be extra cautious. Sometimes it gets really challenging, we offload cement as late as 1,2,3 am and I have to drive in the night with the drivers to go to the store, open them up, make sure they offload, I count and we finish at 3,4am and you have to do all this,” she says.
Although she didn’t have solid business experience, Otoo says that her journalism skills have been a huge asset. “Journalism is about satisfying your curiosity for life. You’re constantly trying to understand life. That has served me well in business because I knew how to ask questions and how to find the answers,” she recounts.
Otoo is genuinely passionate about her business and says that it really does make a difference.
“People always feel there is someone else behind the business I run because they don’t expect a woman to be doing this job. The other challenge is the regular supply of cement. Sometimes it gets really tough. People pay money and expect that when they come they will get the cement and then they realize you’ve run out of stock although you have multiple distributors”
Otoo has studied her clients and knows they prefer to buy specific brands of cement and not just what’s available or cheap.
“I have four distributors who have been amazing so far. We sell Dangote, Ghacem and CIMAF. I am looking forward to starting Dzata cement when they also launch operations.
While Otto has never been motivated by the profit and loss columns, she acknowledges that a business without profit cannot sustain itself
“It is a profitable business and although the margins are not that huge you would have to sell more to make enough money. The more you sell, the more money you make”. In addition to selling cement, Ms. Otoo intends to expand her portfolio of products
“I want a situation where I will be a one-stop-shop for all building materials for people who want to build. I hope in the next two-three years we open more branches in other areas. Currently, we have only two branches. We will invest in iron rods and other building materials”. She explains
In addition to this, she also offers PR consultancy for a few organizations in East and North Africa. She is also a prolific reader and a lover of politics as well. “I am at my happiest when I am learning. I read a lot about business, brand building, marketing, and retail.