E-commerce in Senegal: Harvard-graduate spots gap for grocery deliveries
Online grocery shopping is fast becoming a trend in Senegal as people seek convenience amid their busy lives. Harvard University graduate, Edward de Fouchier, founded Club Tiossane, a start-up using digital solutions to deliver locally-sourced products to homes.
“Cities are becoming congested, making it harder to get around and shop, and people lead busy lives. In the new generation, women are working full-time; having younger relatives around to do chores is no longer possible. Families are becoming more nuclear. We want to be one of the solutions to these issues,” de Fouchier says.
After graduating from the university with a bachelor’s degree in history and literature, de Fouchier moved to Senegal in 2014. He started the business in 2017 by helping a supplier deliver milk and dairy products to customers. “In the beginning, I did deliveries with just one supplier, the dairy company.”
Growing the business
Club Tiossane increased its product categories when people requested fruit and vegetables, meat and poultry as well as pantry items. It set up its headquarters close to local agricultural producers, which act as suppliers.
“We started with about 50 different agricultural producers. Currently, we have up to 200 owing to demand. Before, quality meant imported. Now more people are looking for local products. If the price and quality are good, they are interested in buying. This is a big trend,” says de Fouchier.
The CEO initially used his own funds but the business required significant investment over the past two years and raised capital through angel investors and received assistance from the dairy company, now a minority shareholder of Club Tiossane.
The company also received grants from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Mastercard Foundation and GIZ, the German development agency.
According to de Fouchier, that capital was used to invest in better infrastructure: land to build a warehouse, cold storage facilities and new trucks. “We were also able to branch out from dairy to all grocery items. The combination of infrastructure, delivery system and technology has really helped our operations.”
Club Tiossane’s customers are the urban and middle class in big cities like the capital, Dakar. It also serves Thiès and M’bour in the western region of Senegal. De Fouchier describes these cities as busy, increasingly congested areas, reinforcing the need for online shopping.
E-commerce in Senegal is still in its infancy, with many different small-sized players exploring the opportunities in the undeveloped market. “However, our major competitor is the existing habits of people who still go to supermarkets, open markets and small neighbourhood shops to do their shopping.” He reveals the company invests in customer experience as the best way to create brand awareness; people will tell their friends about the service if it is good.
Human resources challenges
Growing the business by increasing product categories was difficult. As Club Tiossane progressed, demand soon outweighed capacity. There was also the challenge of its workforce. The company had a young team that needed to learn new skills, most notably logistics and managing over 400 stock-keeping units.
“We had to recruit more people to help us manage this. We are 60 in our team now. It is tough to hire workers who are the right fit for our needs as a developing company. We continue the learning curve to expand to different product areas.”
Technology is another major issue as the business is exclusively online. De Fouchier admits it is not easy to find local coders and developers who can work on the digital side of the business.
Despite its rapid expansion, Club Tiossane will remain focused on the Senegalese market for the next two years.
“We will concentrate on Senegal because there is ample opportunity here. For the next two years, we will develop our model. Our expansion will include going from purely home delivery as trailblazers to a multi-channel platform, serving retail clients such as supermarkets, fuel stations and small neighbourhood shops. Over the next year, we plan to increase revenue by three times using our strategy of adding more products like pantry items and growing the multi-channel.”
The company will also explore how to service Senegal’s informal sector, a large part of the country’s economy.