We opened grocery after Covid-19 shut our events planning business

Husband and wife Moses and Julie Chege sort fresh produce for sale at their Nakuru-based grocery shop. Until March the couple used to deal in flowers and other items used as decor, in an events’ planning business which fizzled out on the day President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the first case of Covid-19 and consequently cancelled all social gatherings. PHOTO | RACHEL KIBUI | MATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The events’ planning business fizzled out on the day President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the first case of Covid-19 and consequently cancelled all social gatherings.
  • One day, sitting under a tree at their home in Njoro, the couple discussed how they had harvested more pumpkins than they could not consume.
  • With an initial investment of about Sh30,000, part of which went on making shelves, the couple fully went into the grocery business.
  • Ann Kamau used to supply vegetables to various hotels in Nakuru. However, she was badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic after hotels closed.

Outside the shop in Nakuru town, three huge pumpkins of different colours sit on flower holders, waiting for buyers.

And inside the outlet, capsicum, onions, tomatoes, rice, vegetables and various fruits, among other groceries, line up the shelves, which until March used to display mainly flowers and other items used as decor at events.

But that was then. Today, husband and wife Moses and Julie Chege sell fresh produce, a survival strategy they adopted after the outbreak of the new coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

The events’ planning business fizzled out on the day President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the first case of Covid-19 and consequently cancelled all social gatherings.

“That day we were at Kabarak University setting up tents for an event and immediately the announcement reached the client, he asked us to leave,” recalls Chege as he arranges avocados on the shelves.

That, however, is not the only event they lost, says Julie. Between March and August, their firm — Ashleys Events Company — had 20 bookings valued at between Sh2 million and Sh3 million.

“Things unfolded very fast before our eyes. Initially, we felt devastated. We stayed at home for three weeks wondering what we could do as the future was uncertain,” says Julie.

One day, sitting under a tree at their home in Njoro, the couple discussed how they had harvested more pumpkins than they could not consume.

And that is how they ended up with the grocery business in the middle of the Nakuru town central business district, recalls Julie as her husband receives bunches of spinach and lettuce from a supplier.

Julie Chege serves a customer at her grocery shop in Nakuru. The couple currently has at least five farmers who supply them with fresh produce while others bring rice, honey, peanut butter and other commodities. PHOTO | RACHEL KIBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“We knew that if we do not change, we would lose our livelihood. We settled on the grocery business because we already had pumpkins and some spinach to sell,” she offers.

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The couple started by opening the shop and displaying pumpkins on flower holders. “We sold 20 pieces, making Sh10,000 in days. We started when there were rumours about lockdowns and people were stockpiling food,” says Chege, noting customers asked for other produce besides the pumpkins.

With an initial investment of about Sh30,000, part of which went on making shelves, the couple fully went into the grocery business.

“From our avocado tree, which we often used for shade and shared fruits with friends, we harvested the produce and sold at the grocery at Sh20 each.”

“Currently, we have at least five farmers who supply fresh produce to us while there are others who bring rice, honey, peanut butter and other commodities. We are still looking for more suppliers especially those who deal with cereals,” says Julie.

Ann Kamau used to supply vegetables to various hotels in Nakuru. However, she was badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic after hotels closed.

“I was referred by a friend to Julie, and she has since been taking my produce, mostly spinach, amaranth leaves and lettuce,” says Ann, adding that all is not lost. Similarly, Jeff Mugo supplies the couple Mwea pishori rice, some 90kg every week as the business picks up.

The couple also sell their produce outside Nakuru and market it on Facebook. “Most of our clients are people who work in banks, car yards, boutiques and other businesses in town. Things have worked in our favour somehow because the county government moved the main market to Afraha station, away from town, making our shop strategic for those who don’t want to go that far,” Julie says.

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