Awards 2000 The Crown Agents Foundation Award for Small Businesses

The Crown Agents Foundation Award for Small Businesses

Winner: Ceramica Tamakloe Ltd.

Ceramica Tamakloe Ltd.

Peter Tamakloe tells how the gift of a tie pin and the closure of Ghana's universities in 1983 set him on the way to create a business making decorative and garden pottery for the United States and tiles for the roofs of Accra. The closure of the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, where he was studying ceramics at the College of Art, led him to visit potteries in Britain including that set up by Michael Cardew who introduced contemporary pottery to Ghana 40 years before. A college instructor who knew Cardew gave him the tie pin as a gift for another friend, the publisher Peter Kindersley. Hearing that Peter Tamakloe wanted to start his own pottery in Ghana, Peter and Juliet Kindersley raised the money to buy him an electric kiln. He did not want to risk trying to build a kiln himself.

However, he returned to Ghana with a book of instructions, and the following year built a gas-fired kiln based on the book. Unfortunately, the kiln was still cold at the bottom when it was hot at the top, but later models got better and then better. Peter Tamakloe went on to build electric kilns, lining them with used refractory bricks from the Tema aluminium works. Other potters copied his work.

He and a relative used the kilns to make very cheap crockery for Ghana's tables, selling it as fast as they made it. However, they could not agree over ownership of the firm and broke up, which left Peter to start again without capital. He kept going by borrowing small sums from relatives and got help from an old college friend.

A key difficulty for him and other potters was that imported glazes were expensive. By chance he was asked in 1993 to undertake for Pier One in the United States an order worth $15,000 which another firm had rejected because the price was low. This order, the work of an international designer, was for unglazed pots with cane handles. The Tamakloe pottery delivered them on time and without making a loss. It got a better-paying $25,000 order the following year. Peter took a ten-day course with the Empretec business-development agency to learn more about running an enterprise.

In 1995 he was asked to build a gas kiln in Honduras and called at the New York gift show on the way. He realised there was a huge market for unglazed fruit bowls, candleholders, vases, incense burners and planters. He decorates them with Adinkra motifs expressing Ghanaian folklore. This, he says, is appealing to African Americans who like to identify with their roots.

He gave up making glazed crockery in favour of clay tiles. Over the past ten years, tiles have been the preferred roofing material in Accra, replacing asbestos. Most of them have been concrete, made with cement. Peter Tamakloe says that Ceramica believes the locally abundant clay should be used to reduce the need to import costly clinker for cementmaking and to continue the replacement of asbestos.

The switch to tiles hit Ceramica's turnover because making them was difficult, while the pottery export orders were not big enough to compensate for giving up crockery. An adviser from British Executive Service Overseas helped to get tile production up to 500 an hour but a plan to buy a brickworks fell through. The bank which was to lend the money feared it would not get its money back.

Peter Tamakloe, however, believed that, firing with sawdust from local sawmills, he could make tiles at only a fifth of the fuel cost of a government-owned brickworks. The first sawdust-blower he tried was too powerful, causing damage to the refractory bricks insulating the kiln. A smaller one proved adequate. Last year he decided to use the profit from a $178,000 pottery order from Pier One to buy a five-acre clay-bearing site at Mobole outside Accra. By January 2001, Ceramica Tamakloe will be making bricks, tiles and pottery at this site. It has saved money by buying equipment secondhand.

In the first eight months of the year 2000, Ceramica Tamakloe exported 20 containers of pots, worth $233,000 in all, to the United States and Europe. The pots come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, artistically decorated with metal, straw, cane, beads or shells. Peter Tamakloe is chief designer but he has worked with other designers, too. He intends to set up a design department; for customers keep asking "What's new?" He is also on a committee seeking to set up a Ghanaian design centre.

He says: "Having known the same Pier One buyer for seven years, we can predict what will appeal to him and what price will be competitive. One way is to look at the prices of similar products in the shops and see if we can compete with them. We have also had our designs tested by attending fairs in New York, Birmingham, Frankfurt and the Netherlands."

Ceramica Tamakloe has 38 full-time employees who receive at least twice the minimum wage and have benefited from an apprenticeship scheme. It has sub-contracted work to four other potters, two of them former employees. The firm is using two acres to grow corn, cassava and cowpeas for workers' meals.

It allows local people to use water from its claypits. Its power transformer will supply electricity for grinding corn. Peter Tamakloe has also promised to build a clinic; and he is keen to help with village planning to prevent what he calls "the usual mess of scattered buildings".

Ceramica Tamakloe Ltd, Box NT 99, New Town, Accra, Ghana
Tel: +233 21 500505 Fax: +233 21 501516