Key business lessons from a Kenyan retailer selling from an open cart

By our News Team | 2023

How closing his unprofitable small food stalls and opting for a hawker’s cart proved a game changer for an informal trader.

From Kenya’s vibrant informal trading sector comes a story of an inspiring vendor who is living an important philosophy for retailers of any size: always be innovative and quick to adapt to market and customer needs.

John Koome, Regional Sales Manager at Twiga Foods, the B2B marketplace platform that sources produce directly from farmers and delivers it to retailers, tells of an unnamed Twiga customer who operated two small informal food stalls (known as ‘vibandas’).

Informal Retailing

Photo courtesy of John Koome

Twiga used to deliver one crate of tomatoes for each shop daily. However, the business struggled and the customer found he couldn’t keep up with the fixed costs of rent and wages.

So he closed the stalls and bought a two-wheeled open cart, known locally as a ‘mkokoteni’. This proved a game changer for his business. 

Tomato sales have now more than doubled

Previously, he sold a total of two crates of tomatoes daily at the two shops. But now, using the mkokoteni, he sells an average of five 22kg crates daily. 

The margins for fresh produce are good, and the informal retailer now makes over Kes 2,000 daily (US$14) in profit from just his tomatoes, which equates to Kes 60,000 (US$420) monthly.

What’s the magic of having a mkokoteni, rather than two street stalls? Koome explains:

  • By using the cart, he doesn’t wait for customers to come to his shop, but instead goes to the customer, which results in higher footfall. In other words, he is a hawker.
  • End consumers perceive fruits and vegetables sold from mkokoteni as always fresher and cheaper, compared to products sold in street stall (known as ‘kibanda’ or ‘vibandas’, with the former being the plural of the latter).
  • Using the mkokoteni allows the informal retailer to stock fast-moving products with low value and high margins, since he no longer has fixed customers.

“I remember asking him, ‘how many crates of tomatoes do you sell on a bad day?’ His answer was ‘I no longer have a bad day, unless I want to have one’,” says Koome.

“Key takeaways from this inspiring vendor: Always be innovative and quick to adapt to market and customer needs!”

You can read John Koome’s original social media post here.

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    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
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    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
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