My journey from single mom tomato hawker to owner of thriving business – Entrepreneur

 Plateau State University graduate Gladys Markus speaks with TEMITOPE ADETUNJI about how she bravely navigated adversity as a single mother, transitioning from street tomato hawker to establishing her own food store brand in Jos

Could you elaborate on your journey from tomato hawking to establishing your food brand?

My name is Gladys Markus. I am from Jos East Local Government Area of Plateau State. I am 27 and studied Accounting at Plateau State University, Bokkos, graduating in 2019.

Before starting my business in 2020, I was hawking tomatoes on the street. After the birth of my daughter, who was born out of wedlock, I progressed to selling masa (a snack food made from rice) at Tifa Garage to save money.

What position do you hold in your family?

I am the first daughter in the family.

What was the reaction of your parents, family, and friends when you became pregnant? Parents typically do not want their children to become pregnant out of wedlock. It was not an easy journey. Although my parents were somewhat disappointed, they supported me with what they could.

Were you still in school when you became pregnant?

Yes, I was still an undergraduate when I became pregnant and had a child out of wedlock. I used to be involved in modeling and beauty pageants because I was much prettier then. When I became pregnant, life became more challenging. I could no longer afford everything I needed due to my circumstances. Therefore, I needed to provide for my daughter. I started thinking about how to earn a living. Foodstuff was a major challenge in my area. It was a new layout, and people found it difficult to buy vegetables there. I started buying vegetables and other food items to sell. I felt it was a good decision for me. In 2020, as I was finishing my service year, I started my food business. I started small, but I am grateful for the growth and progress. I can now sell my foodstuff in tons, bags, and large quantities.

What did your parents and family friends say when you started hawking tomatoes on the street?

While I was hawking tomatoes, many people in my family asked me questions, especially my father. It wasn’t what they wanted for me. it wasn’t the life they had initially envisioned for me. They saw their daughter, who they believed had a great chance of achieving something significant, whose future seemed bright with dreams hawking tomatoes. Despite feeling disappointed, they did their best in their small way not to discourage me or prevent me from pursuing what I was doing.

As for my peers and friends, it was a very disappointing situation. I began hawking in the same area where I had grown up. The same place where they had seen me participate in pageants and even win some crowns. I had been like a shining star to them.

Naturally, it was a sad turn of events, and I faced mockery from many people. There were numerous occasions when I walked with tomatoes on my head and people burst into laughter. It was a challenging phase, but I am grateful because it is part of my journey. I embrace it because it shaped who I am today, building my resilience and strengthening me.

Why did you choose to take sole responsibility for raising your daughter alone?

Well, my daughter is my daughter, as well as his (the father’s). However, I did not grow up depending on anyone for anything, so it was a personal decision. I do not know how to ask anybody for help. Therefore, I felt that I needed to do what I could and do my best on my own.

What year did you gain admission?

I gained admission in the year 2014.

What challenges did you face during your early days of hawking tomatoes, and how did you overcome them?

I became pregnant while in my fourth year at the university, and as a result of my actions, I had to start looking for extra money to support my daughter. It wasn’t easy. I felt the need to care for my daughter, and since I am not the type of person who likes to ask for financial assistance from others, I do not depend on people.

I began hawking tomatoes on the street, going from house to house, sometimes with a tray on my head. All the while carrying my baby on my back, in the sun or rain. It was through this hawking that I managed to pay my school fees, and later, during my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) year, I saved up enough money from my allowance to start my food business. In 2020, I opened a foodstuff shop.

At what age did you become a single mother?

I was 19.

How old is your daughter now?

She is eight years old now.

How would you describe the impact of becoming a single mother on your life?

I would say that everything I have today, being able to push through, being able to fight for the life I have now or the life I want, I achieved not just for myself but because of my daughter. I did it because I had brought a child into this world. I wanted to set a good example for my daughter. I wanted to change my story. I did everything I could because I wanted my daughter to have everything she wanted. I wanted her to grow up in love.

I wanted her to grow up without lacking anything. So, I have never once thought that my child was hindering my growth. If not for my pregnancy, there is a chance that I would still be the same person I used to be – a lady with no focus at all. A lady who could not account for anything, because I did not know how difficult it was to earn or get anything of my own. So, no, I do not feel like my child was a barrier. I am intensely indebted to her because she was my greatest strength and my source of motivation.

Is there any memorable experience that you will never forget?

I remember this incident when a woman came to my parents’ house. She told them to my face that I would be better off getting married immediately because I was not going to find someone who would consider me worthy enough. She added that my dreams had come to an end because of my pregnancy.

How did you manage your NYSC allowance to invest in your business?

I was not doing what other people were doing, like hanging out with friends and living a social life. I completely cut them off to ensure that I could meet my needs. I deprived myself of pleasures to save money and made sacrifices.

Where did you serve?

I was posted to Ekiti State in 2019, but I redeployed back to Plateau State based on the medical report I presented during camping. It was during the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns and restricted movements. I served at a Plateau hospital in the accounting department.

What items do you currently sell?

I sell all kinds of grains in small and large quantities. I supply to companies and distribute to market women. I also sell various foodstuffs, vegetable oils, fish, stockfish, etc.

Where is your shop located? Celebridge Tomato Market, before Tina junction, Jos, Plateau State

What advice do you have for single mothers out there?

Being a single mother should never hinder you from achieving your dreams. Your worth as a person is not defined by being a single mother. I empathise with the societal pressures that suggest otherwise.

It’s one thing for society to judge and another for you to believe what you want people to know about you. The key to becoming the person you aspire to be lies in building your confidence beyond others’ opinions. Society may stigmatise single motherhood, portraying it as a setback or even as derogatory. Yet, your identity is defined by your own beliefs and actions, not by external perceptions. Embracing your story, flaws and all, empowers you to transform it into something beautiful. Your child should not be a source of pity but a blessing and a motivation for self-improvement. Aim to become the kind of mother your child will be proud of in the future.

Given the high cost of food, what factors enable customers to buy from you consistently?

How do you maintain profitability and customer loyalty? The high cost of living in Nigeria makes it challenging for many people to afford basic necessities. Despite this, food remains a priority, even if other expenditures are reduced. I purchase most of my food in bulk during harvest seasons when prices are lower. This allows me to offer competitive prices to market traders and customers, enabling them to save money.

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