High-tops in The Commercial Jungle: The Life of a Shoe Salesman
by Jim Burke, KF16, Nicaragua
Mercado Oriental spans 60 city blocks and is the largest in Central America. The market is a jungle of stalls, pushcarts, alleyways and low hanging clothes, fruits, and shoes. It’s a full sensory experience that is almost numbing in its frenetic energy. Flies on meats next to sexy new hair products, car parts and phone calls from the same vendor, sweet smells of fresh baked bread and shoe polish, this is where Marcial Salvador sells shoes.
Marcial and his wife Dona Reyna wake at 5 in the morning. They like getting up early so they can take their time have a cup of coffee and get to the market by 7 am. They live close to the market and it takes them 30 minutes on a bus.
Marcial began as a semi-mobile meat seller but for the last 34 years he has dedicated himself to selling shoes. From selling a limited supply of shoes from a makeshift stand in the street, he is now the proud owner of three ‘tramos’, official stalls in the market where he sells top quality shoes. Micro-loans have been a huge part of this transformation for Marcial. His wife and one of his daughter’s works with him selling shoes. In addition to selling shoes Dona Reyna also sells hair products and cheap jewelry from her own part of the stall.
The market is frantic but between sales they hang out and talk to their neighbors or buy snacks from peddlers who roam the market. Like a small neighborhood the sellers in Marcial’s area know each other well, they buy each other’s products, and joke and yell in lively conversations across and between stalls. A few of his neighbors are also AFODENIC borrowers! He eats lunch, usually rice, beans, plantain, and a bit of meat at one of the many nearby food stalls or if he is busy he has one of the many ‘runners’ deliver food to his stall for a small tip.
Marcial’s primary costs are the $450.00/month he pays in rent for his 3 stalls and the purchase of shoes for resale. He has used his loans to invest in a larger variety and higher quality of shoes. He currently sells 1st grade name brand shoes that range from new to semi-used. He buys shoes in bulk from ‘pacas’ or wholesalers. He is currently seeking a loan on Kiva to buy shoes and expand his business into clothes.
- His last loan of $ 1,175.00 was used to restock his inventory of high quality shoes. He hand selects the shoes he buys and experience has taught him what is in demand and what shoes yield the highest profit margins. He buys converse shoes at $12.00 (280.00 NIO) a pair and sells them for around $22.00 (500 NIO). He buys the very popular Nike brand shoes at $15.50 (350.00 NIO) which he sells for $30.00 (700 NIO). His profit margins are comparatively large at $10.00 and $14.50 per shoe. Kiva loans have enabled Marcelo to make larger initial investments that greatly improve his profit margins. Previously, with smaller loan sizes or only his savings he could not invest in such high quality products and was buying randomly selected 2nd and 3rdgrade shoes from the ‘pacas’.
On a bad day Marcial sells zero shoes. In the 30 minutes I was talking to him 3 different people came and looked at his shoes which meant only that they knocked over the carefully stacked pyramids of shoes. On his best days he sells 20 pairs of shoes. He is intent on the fact that it all averages out to a level he can largely project and depend on.
Marcial is constantly reinvesting in his business, his home, and a property he has bought for rice production outside of Managua. Often liquidity is an issue for Marcial and to avoid selling off his assets he uses loans from AFODENIC. Another challenge to his business is robbery and people escaping without paying. Marcial protects himself by banking his profits daily and never carrying large amounts of cash. He also shuts down his stalls around 4:00 to avoid being caught in the market at dusk (It gets dark here extremely early). There is no electricity in the market due to an electrical fire in 2008 that burned 1,500 stalls and an estimated 100 million dollars in products. The early closing time is a new challenge that limits the hours Marcial and his wife, Dona Reyna can run their business.
They return home around 5:00. Before church they eat a dinner which usually consists of rice, beans and a little bit of meat. Marcial and his family are devout Evangelical Christians and attend church 4 days a week. The only thing they are more passionate about is Daniel and the FSLN political party. Marcial and his wife loved to talk about their business and share their daily life with the Kiva community, that is of course if I could roll with their extremely pro Daniel, FSLN beliefs and pepper in frequent ‘gracias a dios/al senor’. Dona Reyna even sells Daniel Ortega and FSLN propaganda pamphlets and posters alongside her barrettes and hair ties.
Outside of their shoe business Marcial owns a small ‘finca’ or small farm in a suburb of Managua. He is partners with his brother who primarily takes care of the land. Marcial often goes to the farm to check up on things during the weekend and depending on the season Marcial splits his time between selling shoes in the market and tending to the farm. On his farm he cultivates rice and raises goats. He is extremely proud of his land and showed me pictures of the blindingly bright green rice paddies. He is able to harvest 2 cycles of rice a year and is content with that though many other growers who work full time harvest in 3 cycles a year. When he is at the farm his wife and daughter take over the sales at his stand.
At 60 years old Marcial is extremely proud of his accomplishments. He looks forward to passing on his shoe business and small farm to his children. He has utilized loans skillfully to transition his business, adapt to client demands and new challenges and continually grow his business and investments. Marcial has spent the majority of his life in the sprawling market and micro-loans have given him the power to continue improving his socioeconomic status and the future for his family. He loves his work and pointing around the market said, ‘I love being a part of this commercial jungle!’