At Kericho town's open-air market, there's always a beeline of customers at Lily Chepkemoi Sirma's groceries stand compared to the 1,000 surrounding ones.
The resilient trader, who is the market's chairperson, started her business in 1994 with a capital of Sh200. She recently made headlines after she was nominated to the Kericho County Assembly by the United Democratic Alliance party.
Enterprise spoke to the mother of five on entrepreneurship lessons from her 28-year hustle as a grocer.Know your products
Among the trader's fast-selling food items is her premium rice - Pishori, which she sources from neighbouring Tanzania.
In a month, Mrs Sirma sells an average of 20 sacks of rice to her customers.
She buys a 10kg sack of rice at Sh1,100 and sells the same for Sh1,200 making a profit of Sh100 per sack.
"My customers like buying rice from me because of the premium grade and because I also add a handful of rice upon each purchase," she told Enterprise.
Ms Sirma said though she makes an average of Sh8,000 profit monthly from the rice sale, the amount is lower than what she used to earn before the cost of commodities and transport shot up.
"In 2016 when I started buying and selling rice, I would buy a 10kg sack of Pishori rice at Sh700. The price has now shot to 1,100 and eaten into my profit margin," she said.Diversify
Sirma disclosed that her other main business at the market located near Kericho bus termini is beans.
In a month the trader sells around ten bags of beans weighing 100kg which she buys at Sh10,000 per sack.
"I sell a kilogramme of beans for Sh100 and earn Sh40 as profit. I make a profit of around Sh4,000 monthly from sale of beans," she said.
Whereas it's tomatoes that Sirma used to kick start her business, she has not abandoned selling them. She sells around 20 crates of tomatoes a month.
"I buy a crate of the farm produce at Sh2,000 and sell the same for Sh2,400 making a profit is Sh400. This means I make around Sh8,000 from tomatoes sale," she said
Sirma who started her business two decades ago with Sh200 selling tomatoes and onions now estimates her business to be worth Sh150,000.
"The business has grown to that amount through ploughing back a fraction of the profit into it," said Sirma.Join a chama
The Kericho open-air maker chairperson also attributed her business growth to her Chama contributions.
The merry-go-round fundraising initiative consists of 20 members who contribute Sh400 monthly to help each other.
"Whenever my turn to get Sh8,000 comes around, I use the money to restock my commodities, especially the fast-selling goods," she said.
But it has not been all rosy for Sirma since there are occasions she has to contend with losses especially when tomatoes and onions flood the market or rot.
"Whenever such situations occur I just bear with it and hope that things will turn around," she said.Start small
Sirma advised entrepreneurs who wish to venture into business to start with whatever amount of money they have and with a clear vision that the business will expand over time.
"One doesn't have to have a huge amount of money to start a groceries business. The most important thing is to have a vision, passion, and pride for the business no matter what it is. If you don't like it, you will not progress," she said.
Sirma added: "That is why though my focus now is now in the sale of rice and beans which is more profitable, I have never lost interest in the sale of tomatoes and onions. The only thing I stopped selling is vegetables because consumers require them to be sliced."
Sirma called on more men to join groceries business, adding that it is not a preserve for women.
"There is no business reserved for a particular gender. I am happy that Kericho town's open-air market is not a women-only affair, we also have a few men. We want more of them to join us," she said.Give back
Sirma who is now poised to join the Kericho County Assembly after Kericho Woman Representative Beatrice Kemei forwarded her name to UDA for nomination said her mission will be to improve her lot.
“We work under the sun and in harsh conditions. Whenever it rains, we can’t make any sales. Our children can even go to bed hungry. Therefore, my first mission will be to ensure that the County Government constructs a proper shade for them complete with sanitation facilities,” said Sirma.
The trader who comes from Kaptebeswet village in Ainamoi Constituency added that she would also fight for the establishment of a revolving fund to rescue the market traders from the hands of shylocks whom she claimed had shackled and enslaved them.
“What the traders require are places where they can borrow money with low-interest rates allowing them to invest in their business without the fear that someone will show up and confiscate their goods and wares or other properties without a warning,” she said.