The smiling face of eight-year-old Gabriela, still in her school uniform, reflects in the polished chrome of the blender. Her parents, Claudia and Gabriel, have shared that Gabriela likes doing sales but doesn’t like studying. Her parents insist she keeps studying, though. This business will be handed down to her some day. Her joy is apparent among the blenders, juicers, whole fruit and empty peels in the corner stall of the municipal market in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.
When I arrive at the fruit, juice and smoothie stand at 11:30 am, the majority of the daily activity is wrapping up. The sales at the end of the market day seem to be amongst the vendors, finally able to take a break for a sip of orange juice or a banana smoothie. Local Zapotecs buy and sell food, small household items, and clothing here seven days a week. Claudia explains that she arrives at the market by 6:30 am and by 1:30 pm, they will pack up and head home. She may rest a short while before she spends another hour preparing fruit for the next business day. And every day is a business day.
Claudia used to sell tortillas for her grandparents. Her stand outside the market structure was directly in front of Gabriel’s family juice stand. Gabriel’s oldest sister had started the business, passed it on to the second, then the third sister before it was handed down to Gabriel who had been hanging around the stall since he was eight. When Claudia switched from tortillas to juices, thirteen years ago, she said it was easy as she already had the customer service skills, and she just needed her husband to teach her how to make the smoothies. She smiled as she commented that she still enjoys working side by side with him.
Four years ago, Claudia heard about Fundación En Vía and the possibility to receive interest-free business loans. She used her first loans to buy a second set of blenders and juicers which allowed them to open a second stall within the market structure. This timing coincided market’s restructuring, with all prepared food vendors moving in-doors. They secured a good spot in the corner of the market. The additional location meant that Claudia ran one stall and Gabriel the other. As sales increased they were able to hired an assistant.
For the past two years they cut back to only one location inside the market and have prospered. Claudia proudly talks about the changes they have made to the business: new equipment, the new location indoors, tiling the stall (making it more attractive, easier to clean, and more hygienic). Most recently they made a purchase of a used truck to make the two weekly trips into the city center to buy fruit, whereas before they had to pay for two taxis for the hour long trip home. Gabriel also happily shared the home improvements they have made with the profits from the business: paying off the tin roof, enlarging the entrance to their home and installing a gate that will allow them to safely park the truck off the street, as well as installing their first and only bathroom.
The couple is quick to add that their progress has resulted in them being able to invest back into their community. The straws, plastic wares, bags, sugar, oatmeal, choco-milk are all items they could buy wholesale on their weekly trips to the city, but instead they buy locally. The plastic wares come from a young man who has a stall around the corner, and they get the other items from vendors in town. They admit they could save a few pesos buying wholesale but they would rather invest their profits here in Teotitlan. Similarly, the improvements to their business and home have provided work for a local contractor. The assistants they hired have also been from the community, and even their large investment in the used truck was a local one. Their intention is to generate work for others in town.
To achieve their success, Claudia describes that they set goals and dates by which they want to reach them. For example the purchase of the used truck: after making a sizeable down payment, with their interest-bearing loan from En Via, they were told they could have the truck and make payments. However, they worked hard and waited until it was fully paid before taking possession. Gabriel says that kept them motivated. The next business goal is to reopen a second juice stand in front of the market. Claudia tells me that her sister has been living in Tijuana for many years, and when they reopen the juice stall she can return to Oaxaca and they can offer to employ her. Once again they want their achievements to benefit others.