Nairobi News


Pencil man’s dressing is as sharp as the goods he sells

The savvy businessman knows that to sell his products, he has to market them, which explains the adverts in newspapers, posters, banners and billboards advertising products and services.

Mr Edgar Otieno knows this, but since he cannot afford expensive adverts, he uses himself to market his products. Every day, Mr Otieno, 42, wears a suit and tie to work. You may be wondering what is outstanding about this; after all, don’t thousands of men wear suits and ties to work?

Well, Mr Otieno does not work in an office. He hawks pencils in the city centre, a job he has been doing for the past 17 years.

If you frequent the city centre, you must have seen the courteous man in a suit.


For 17 years, except for two-and-a-half years that he took a break to sell insurance policies, Mr Otieno, who comes from Butula, Busia County, has been in the business of selling pencils to motorists and ordinary Kenyans.

“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 explains.

In 2001, three years after arriving in Nairobi, a young Otieno chanced upon an advertisement by a company that was recruiting sales agents. He was 25 and optimistic of making it big in the city. The firm specialised in selling pencils and cutlery. He was recruited on commission.

“I was so good at it, that I was named best agent multiple times. When the company folded in 2005, I decided to continue with the job,” he says.

While refraining to talk about his marital status, Mr Otieno says he was brought up in a polygamous family. His father was a politician, and being a “middle-class” family, neat dressing was almost a routine.


Mr Otieno has mastered how traffic flows in the city centre. He says he takes home at least Sh1,000, daily, an amount that enables him to meet his bills and lead a comfortable lifestyle.

From his savings, he has managed to keep livestock back home and take himself to college (he has a diploma in social work).

“In 2012, I enrolled for a diploma in social work in hope of a better job, but nothing has come up yet,” he says, adding that he has politely declined a number of job offers.

“I’ve not received an offer that would pay more than what I earn in a day,” he told the Nation.

Although his dressing code is one of the factors that most potential customers find appealing about him, there are those who make misinformed opinions about him.


“Some think I’m an undercover policeman or a government spy,” he says.

Besides using his dressing to draw customers, Mr Otieno uses vernacular to draw the attention of his customers.

“I’ve made an effort to learn basic phrases of most languages spoken in Kenya. Years on the street have taught me that most Kenyans prefer to buy from their own, or from someone who speaks their language.

“Kenyans are still tribal,” he says.