Friday July 18 2014

Suiting up to sell fruits

Abdul Wahab Mutebi looking dapper in his suit.

Abdul Wahab Mutebi looking dapper in his suit. He sells different fruits on a wooden wheel barrow on Ggaba Road in Kampala. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA 

By Roland D. Nasasira

On the roadside in Kansanga along Ggaba Road is a 28-year-old fruit vendor, Abdul Wahab Mutebi.
Born in Butambala, Mpigi District, Mutebi parks a wooden wheel barrow loaded with water melons, pineapples, yellow bananas and mangoes from which he makes a living.
He could be just another fruit vendor going about his business but for one striking thing about him. He is always wearing a suit, complete with a tie, topped up by a Muslim cap on his head. This is how he is always dressed, no matter the weather.
Given that his kind of work gives him leeway to dress as comfortably as he wants, it is obvious that his dress code of choice raises a few eyebrows in curiosity.
“I treat my job with utmost respect because some of my clients include Members of Parliament, ministers and other respectable people that use this road [Ggaba Road],” Mutebi says.
He adds, “When people observe that you are smartly dressed, they don’t hesitate to stop by and buy from you. They believe that what you sell is good and will always come back to you.”
Taking a look at the fruits he sells, Mutebi’s attention to appearance does not stop with what he wears. The fruits look fresh, clean and attractive, just like the attendant selling them.
Since 2006, when he quit his job as a Social Studies teacher, something he had done for a year, he decided to sell fruits. This was his mother’s trade as well.
“When I was younger, I would always help out my mother in the evening after school to sell fruits,” Mutebi recalls.
On graduating with a diploma in education in 2006, Mutebi continued with the fruits business while teaching during the day.
“I started with capital of Shs25,000,” he says. In the same year, he realised that fruits yielded more rewarding, financially, than teaching.
“In the morning, I go to the Nakasero, Nakawa, Ggaba and Kabalagala markets to buy stock,” Mutebi says.
He has been at this job for eight years. And you can see it in the number of people who pass by to chit chat or just say hello.
“This is how steadily I’ve been able to build a stable customer base over the years. As for the clients who may not have time to come and buy fruit themselves, they send boda bodas to buy for,” says Mutebi with a smile on his face.
He also adjusts his stock according to demand.
For instance during Ramadhan, Mutebi says, “I increase on my stock, targeting Muslims who buy fruits in preparation of breaking their fast,” he further says.

Every job has its challenges and Mutebi’s is not spared. He says that tough moments often come when the fruits are scarce on the market and yet he does not want to disappoint or compromise what he offers his customers.
He resorts to increasing prices just like his suppliers do. It does not go down well with his customers.
Another challenge is Kampala Capital City Authority that bars people from engaging in roadside vending.
“They run after us and sometimes carry you away with your entire business. We are protected by the mercy of Allah,” he says.
During high demand seasons like Ramadhan, Mutebi earns between Shs150,000 and Shs200,000 a day and between Shs70,000 and Shs120,000 a day when the demand is low.
On the day this reporter met him, a mango cost Shs1,000 and a cluster of yellow bananas cost between Shs5,000 to Shs7,000. Water melons cost between Shs3,000 to Shs4,000 while a pineapple costs Shs2,500.
Sometimes, fruits rot before they are bought, however, he says he never gives up.

“If a supplier at Nakasero or Nakawa is out of stock, you must be flexible and ready enough to go to other markets to make sure that you have something to offer to your customers. If they pass by your workplace and observe that you don’t have what they need, you automatically lose them to the next person,” Mutebi retorts.
He also says: “You have got to be clean because if you sell fruits when you are dirty, you may not attract many customers as you would want but equally respect people’s food and sell it when it’s clean enough. Good customer care is also very important.”
Mutebi has an assistant, William Nduggwa, a Senior Two dropout, who he lives with and pays Shs3,000 every day. “After my parents passed on in 2006, my grandmother pushed me to senior two and when she experienced financial hardships, I couldn’t continue with school,” Nduggwa says.
For now, Mutebi is content with the business he does. “It is from this business that I support my wife with whom I have three children though they have not yet started going to school.”