His face lit up with joy when I approached him standing near his car outside Kemri Estate, off Mbagathi Road in Nairobi, and he welcomed me warmly, inviting me to buy his produce.
Inside the car boot were several bunches of traditional vegetables, some paw paws and empty egg trays.
It was about 7.30pm and John Wambua, a taxi driver, was hoping that he would sell the remaining produce before calling it a day.
“I sell mainly fresh traditional vegetables like amaranth, kunde and African black nightshade. I also add eggs and fruits to have variety. This is my base.”
Wambua, with his wife Juliana Mwende, who farm in Kilimambogo, near Thika, started trading in groceries from the car boot about three years ago, and are happy with the practice so far.
In a trend that has caught up with many farmers and traders, car boot trading has becoming the new way to sell farm produce across the country.
While some of those engaging in the trade are full-time farmers or traders, professionals having day-time jobs, a car to boot and engaging in farming as a side hustle have joined the fray.
Those who do not have cars hire one at between Sh5,000 and Sh6,500 a day.
“I farm on two acres, growing all the vegetables and fruits that I sell from the car boot. I also keep chickens that provide the eggs I sell,” said Wambua, adding he works during the week and travels to his farm over the weekend to pick the produce and supply in Nairobi.
CONVENIENCE IN MAKING DELIVERIES
Wambua, as many of those selling the produce from the car boot, switched to the practice after realising he would incur losses selling his commodities in county government markets, which are manned by brokers.
His car further gives him the convenience of delivering farm produce to customers in different locations.
“When you take your produce at Wakulima market, you have to surrender it to brokers who dictate prices, sell and give you what they believe you should get. I did this once and have never gone back. I start selling my produce at 2pm during the weekends and finish in the evening.”
At Wangige market in Kiambu County, we met George Kiragu sorting a variety of fruits in the boot of his van.
The retired banker from Maragua in Murang’a owns the vehicle from where he sells oranges and mangoes every day.
“I started the business in 2013 shortly before retirement, and have never stopped.”
Kiragu, who is in his early 60s, harvests the fruits from his six-acre farm in Maragua Ridge where he has over 300 fruit trees and transports the produce to Wangige market.
“I sell my fruits on wholesale for Sh15-Sh25 each while the vendors who I supply sell at Sh30-Sh40 each.”
James Kioko, who operates in Umoja, Dohnholm and Emabakasi estates in Nairobi’s Eastlands, has been selling green maize, vegetables and potatoes for the past two years from his truck.
With the vehicle, the trader said he is able to reach as many customers as possible in a day .
“The secret to making profit when selling from the car boot is to deal in fast-moving commodities like fresh produce, and then get a strategic spot in the estates where there is a huge human traffic,” he said, adding one could also sell to mama mbogas if they want their produce to move faster.
By personally selling his commodities to his customers, the trader says he is able to get good money, ending up with up to Sh15,000 a day.
“I buy maize at Sh11 and sells at Sh20. If I was to sell the produce in city markets, I would get a profit margin of not more than Sh5.”
To succeed in the business, he noted that one should know what to sell and where.
“Some groceries have high demand in one area and low demand in others, you need to do market research to know where to pitch tent and at how much to sell.”
He pays the county government Sh200 for a full track and Sh100 when the truck is half-full every day, just as the other traders in the open air market.
Charles Bett, who works with Kenya Tea Development Agency in the information technology department in Kerugoya, sells pineapples in Nairobi estates from the boot of his car.
“I started the business two years ago after realising that pineapples fetch good prices in Nairobi,” he said, adding he has tens of customers and also sells the produce from the roadside.
He grows the pineapples on two acres in Kericho, alongside tea, the dominant crop in the region.
“I have a list of clients in different estates in Nairobi, where my family stays. I supply them the fruits after every two weeks,” said Bett, who has employed two workers, who help him package the produce in polythene bags and write on them customers’ names for ease in delivery that he does every Saturday morning.
He sells a piece from Sh40 to Sh100 each, depending on their sizes.
But the benefits aside, car boot selling has its fair share of challenges.
“I always have issues with market vendors and mama mboga who see me as a threat to their businesses. Some sometimes confront me,” says Kiragu.
On several occasions, he has also been overcharged market and parking fees and has to contend with mango pests and diseases that destroy his fruits.
He is nonetheless happy that customers still flock his van for the fruits which he gets direct from the farm, and offers good prices.
“There is also a lot of competition because many people are entering into the business. So someone sometimes comes and takes the spot from where you sell and you cannot do anything about it,” said Kioko.
Erick Ogumo, the chairman of Society of Crop Agribusiness Advisers of Kenya, pointed out a number of factors that are driving car boot trade.
“First, this kind of business comes with convenience and there is also ready market in the city. You can travel to Kajiado then you find there are melons or vegetables there being sold cheaply. You will buy and transport them back to the city to sell,” explained Ogumo.
He added that many car owners, a good number who are also farming, are joining the fray to make extra income.
“They are looking for outlets for their produce at a good profit. Relying on salary alone has become difficult for many people, therefore, they have to engage in money generating businesses over the weekends.”
The expert said currently there are no laws governing car boot sale but pointed out selling of food would soon be tightly regulated.
“There is a law being formulated known as Food and Crop Act, which when it comes into force will regulate such trade. That Act might hinder sales of food commodities from the car boot,” Ogumo said.
- Be prepared to haggle with buyers.
- Be prepared for change of weather.
- Be prepared to sell anything , especially if you are a trader.
- Be prepared not to sell anything, that is going home empty-handed
- Be prepared to pay for parking and market fees.