Why this man quit his banking job to sell pencils on the street

Otieno selling his pencils. Photo: Nation Media

“People buy with their eyes first. If you dress well, they will buy from you.” Those were the words of Kenyan man Edgar Otieno, who left his banking job to sell pencils on the street while looking sharp, dressed in suits.

He left many Kenyans in shock three years ago after photos of him in his suits hawking pencils went viral. Otieno was then in his early 40s and had left his corporate job at Barclays Bank to sell. 

“Some people wonder why I show up every morning sharply dressed yet my work involves chasing after customers and convincing them to buy pencils; in sales, people buy you first before they buy whatever you are selling,” he said, according to Tuko.co.ke. Having worked in sales and marketing some years back, Otieno knew that he had to look neat and sharp to attract customers to his products.

The former banker was just 25 years old when he left his Busia village to start working in Nairobi for a company that recruited sales agents for pencil and cutlery products. He was so good at selling that not long after his employment, he became the top-performing sales agent. And even though the company closed in 2005, that did not deter him from doing what he loves — selling. He loves the flexibility that comes with hawking, enabling him to have time to pursue other things that interest him, including furthering his education and farming. 

Through what he earned from hawking pencils, he was able to enroll for a diploma in social work while optimistic about getting a better job. The Kenyan businessman told Tuko.co.ke recently that on a good day, he makes at least KSh 1,000 (about $7) selling the Indian-made Nataraj pencils.

Many of his customers offered him sales and marketing jobs but he turned them down due to lower pay. Indeed, his dressing and skills in sales helped him succeed. And knowing that people would prefer to buy from someone who speaks their language, Otieno learned basic phrases of different languages in Kenya and that also helped in winning more customers.

“A pencil is often needed by all. Anybody I impress buys it, some even for their friends,” Otieno was quoted by The Standard. “In the city centre, people have purchasing power and there are many people. I hawk until 9 pm. Buying is contagious, others buy when they see others doing so.”

“I love his heart. One of us poached him for insurance, but he didn’t go for long. He preferred hawking,” one of his admirers Bancy Roba said.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023

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