The story of Edgar Otieno paints a picture of a determined and adventurous young man. Several years ago, Otieno shocked many when he left a well-paying corporate job to become a pencil hawker on the streets of Nairobi.
Having been employed by Barclays Bank (now ABSA), he submitted his resignation letter, believing that he could make a difference in the hawking industry.
In Kenya, street hawking is often associated with the unemployed and those deemed unemployable. However, Otieno saw it as an excellent opportunity to utilize his sales expertise.
Every morning, he would wake up, dress impeccably, and head to the streets, projecting the image of a corporate professional.
People who encountered Otieno couldn’t help but wonder why a man with a banking background would leave a lucrative job to sell pencils on the streets. Otieno had a simple explanation: “In sales, people buy the seller before buying the product.”
True to his words, Otieno’s immaculate dressing and ability to speak multiple languages attracted numerous clients. He realized that learning basic phrases in different Kenyan languages helped build rapport with potential customers. His efforts paid off, and he gained a loyal customer base.
Originally from Busia County, Edgar Otieno embarked on his sales career when he arrived in Nairobi.
He stumbled upon a company recruiting sales agents for pencil and cutlery products and quickly became the top-performing agent. Even after the company closed in 2005, Otieno’s passion for selling remained undeterred, leading him to start his own business.
In a previous interview, Otieno expressed his appreciation for hawking, citing the flexibility it provided. It allowed him to pursue other interests such as education and farming.
With his modest earnings, he enrolled in a diploma course in social work, hoping to secure better employment opportunities.
“In 2012, I enrolled for a diploma in social work, but I haven’t been able to find a job. I have turned down several job offers over the years because none offered better pay than what I earn in a day,” he explained.
Despite the misconceptions surrounding Otieno’s occupation, including some people believing he is an undercover detective disguising as a hawker, he continues to dress impeccably and sell pencils on the streets of Nairobi. City council enforcement officers even nicknamed him “Mwalimu” (Swahili for teacher), and occasionally, he is mistaken for a drug peddler by passersby.
“People judge by appearances. If you dress well, they will buy from you,” Otieno remarked.
For the past 15 years, Edgar Otieno has donned the attire of a headmaster, heading to town to sell pencils.
He sells a dozen pencils for Ksh 199, earning over Ksh 30,000 per month.
After paying Ksh 16,000 for rent in Nairobi’s Donholm estate, he uses the remainder of his earnings for personal expenses. Otieno attributes his success to the fact that pencils are in demand by various individuals, and his polished appearance and sales skills contribute to his sales.
While he intends to leave hawking behind, Otieno plans to pursue a career as a stationer, social worker, or corporate salesperson in the future. Initially, his relatives and friends made fun of him when he started selling pencils in Nairobi in 2002.
However, he now turns down numerous job offers from customers who offer him sales and marketing positions, but with lower pay.