Fri, 11 Jun 2004

Rental boots keep shoppers' feet clean and dry

Leony Aurora Jakarta

During the rainy season, shoppers at traditional markets are sure to get their shoes -- and possibly, trousers -- muddy, but customers at Kramatjati Wholesale Market, East Jakarta, can shop worry-free.

Vendors at the market, the main distribution point for fruit and vegetables in the capital, have come up with an ingenuous, yet profitable, solution: rental galoshes.

At the entrance to the market and just inside, eight vendors were busy renting out boots when The Jakarta Post visited on Thursday. Each vendor had dozens of pairs of galoshes arranged in neat rows, while a variety of footwear, from flip-flops to slippers and sandals, surrounded them.

"I wonder why it took us so long to come up with this idea," said Wasilah, 32, who runs a boot rental. "This market has always been muddy and dirty."

Wasilah, who also sells tents, started the business in March, taking the idea from another boot rental that had opened earlier. A pair of boots costs only Rp 1,000 (11 U.S. cents) to rent, and there is no time limit.

"Some people used to bring their own boots, but not anymore," she said as she bustled to select the right sizes for customers. With 100 pairs of boots ranging from size 25 to 27, Wasilah rakes in Rp 150,000 on a good day and Rp 100,000 on an average day.

The busiest period is between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., she said, when she sometimes runs out of boots.

For Saeful Mujab, 18, the boot rental is an easier way to make money than being a porter -- his job during the dry season. Saeful opened the boot rental with three friends, and they take turns running the service.

As Kramatjati is a 24-hour market, the four work around the clock in shifts. "The person on the night shift sleeps here," said Saeful. "We're closed only when there's been a long period without rain, like last week."

Saeful and his friends started the business with 70 pairs of galoshes, each pair costing Rp 15,000 to Rp 17,000. "The expensive ones have a softer inner lining," said Saeful as he cleaned a pair just returned by a customer.

Every day, however, one or two pairs go missing with a customer. "We don't look for them. We're still making a profit anyway," said Saeful indifferently.

Wasilah said she had lost 50 pairs within the three months she had been operating, even though she had marked her boots.

"I once saw a man wearing my boots," she said. "But I kept quiet. I didn't want my husband to see that. They'll just get into a fight, you know how men are."

To give herself an extra competitive edge, Wasilah provides plastic bags to line the boots. "Some people don't want the smell of other people's feet on them, I guess," she said smiling.

As long as it rains and the market stays dirty, boot rental vendors will have customers lining up for their much-needed services, so they can concentrate on shopping, rather than the mud.