Car-boot market thrives during pandemic

Fast-moving products like food and strategic locations best for business

In Summary

• Small-scale traders say selling from the back of your car is less costly.

• However, they say it is a short-term plan to survive tough economic times.


Vendors along the Northern Bypass sell food items to motorists from the boots of their cars. Another way to survive the coronavirus
CAR-BOOT VENDORS: Vendors along the Northern Bypass sell food items to motorists from the boots of their cars. Another way to survive the coronavirus

On busy Seasons Road in Kasarani, John Mwangi parks his white Toyota Fielder, the boot wide open facing the road.

Inside are pieces of chicken packed in containers and covered with foil. A sign says a half chicken costs Sh200, a full chicken Sh400. 

In the middle of the boot is a big chopping block where Mwangi cuts chicken and wraps the pieces.



“I have a big farm where I raise chickens and I used to supply them to two restaurants in town. But they stopped all supplies after the coronavirus outbreak," he explains. 

He is also a civil servant in the Ministry of Education with time on his hands for the time being; he plans to return to his formal job.

Mwangi, 42, is one of many unemployed, underemployed or financially hurting people who set up shop from their car boots around the country hit by the coronavirus pandemic. He's been doing it for six weeks.

Sellers can be farmers and civil servants, like Mwangi, civil servants, taxi drivers, students, hairstylists, bartenders - anyone who needs money.

The car boot market is the new way to sell products and survive hard economic times.

Mwangi, who stays in Ruai Estate, said after his second client stopped ordering - restaurant were closed - he had nowhere to take his chicken. Demand is low in Ruai.


“There's a great disruption in the supply chain," he said. "I was forced to improve a survival mechanism."

He arrives every day at noon, closes by 6pm and makes deliveries on the way home He also delivers in the morning.

Mwangi alternates between selling the white meat and eggs, depending on what is available in excess.

“I'm a civil servant and I don't plan to quit my job, so when the economy opens up, I'll return to employment," he says laughing.

Robert Mutinda and his wife sell vegetables, tomatoes and mangoes from the back of their pick-up, which he parks on ACK Road in Mwiki.

“This place has so much human traffic in the evening, that is why I picked it,” he says.

He has been selling there for only three weeks but he's so impressed by his profits that he's not certain if he will return to his old job. He was a shop attendant selling household items.

“My boss closed shop because there were no returns so I decided to give this a try because my wife has a car. We make up to Sh1,500."

Mutinda, however, must pay a "small parking fee" to an electronics shop owner who lets him park outside his shop.

“Food is one of the few businesses that have not been badly affected by the pandemic. It is fast-moving and sometimes we sell to small traders who resell to their customers at a profit," he says.

Student Nancy Wangui from Garissa University says she was forced to sell food along Kiambu Road. The university was closed and her parents could no longer give her pocket money since they had lost their jobs.

She displays food on a plastic sheet on the ground.

“Selling food products here is a bit competitive because most customers prefer buying their products from someone who displays products in a car. We have to display them on the ground."

Nancy says it is not easy to compete for space with the other vendors since most of those with cars are like a family and know each other.

“Sometimes I feel discriminated against by the other vendors since they book space for each other and I don't get a perfect location," Nancy says.

Vendor Tabitha Mugure Kaigua owns a business in Ngara where she sells clothes  - little business these days - and has an M-Pesa shop. Now she also sells by the roadside.

“I have my own business but started selling food products here because my husband lost his job at Kenya Airways and we can't afford to manage our family due to lack of finances.

"We thought it was a good idea to start a new business so we can support the family together," she says.

Charles Macharia, an event organiser known as Charly Bla, who is also a mixologist-bartender, is selling food by the roadside because there's no other work for him now.

He says that he will continue with the car-boot business when the economy picks up since it's bringing in income.

The vendors have to pay Sh20 to residents every day to provide security and maintain hygiene in the area.

In order to get space, they have to get permission from area leaders.

(Edited by V. Graham)


WATCH: The latest videos from the Star