Car businesses were amongst the first to get hit by the economic downturn. After the fall of General Motors (GM) and the like, people began to pull out from the business in order to avoid similar fate.
Emanuel Okol, a car JobPlant dealership owner feels that the crunch can be an opportunity for those willing to try harder and to expand into fresh markets.
He has been a regional car importer for years, and now he reveals that his car showrooms will grace each east African capital in the next three years.
The Sunday Times caught up with Okol for a chat on car importations in an era where there is so much to choose from. Excerpts.
TNT: Tell us about JobPlant and what your work involves?
Okol: As the name suggests, I started the business only to be a recruitment consultancy and the opportunity to acquire a dealership was not something that I had planned, I bumped into the opportunity as I was riding on the train back home.
The person sitting next to me owned a dealership and he was retiring, thus looking to get rid of his stock. It also happens that at the time I was also looking for a car, I then had to go to the dealership to have a look at what he had in stock to see whether there was anything for me, we got chatting and started talking business and before long I was hooked and could see the potential.
Well, the legal work started a week later and one month later the dealership had a new name JobPlant Cars- brought it under the existing company, JobPlant Ltd.
TNT: What’s the procedure of importing a car?
Okol: A customer should focus not on the price but the quality of the car they wish to buy together with the service history of the car in question.
The procedure is simple and easy to follow. Once the customer has identified the car they want to buy from a dealer’s website he or she is willing to buy.
The customer is required to send money into the dealers account by electronic transfer or any other arrangement. This may take up to 5 days before the transfer is complete.
Before shipping, the car will be inspected by designated authority and if it is approved road worth, they will issue a certificate confirming that the car in questions is road worthy thus suitable for export to Rwanda.
Once the certificate is out the car is set for shipping.
The certificate along with the log book is normally sent to the customer by DHL or any other parcel delivery services.
Once they receive these documents, the customer can start the clearing process before the vehicle some prefer to start the process once the vehicle has arrived.
There are two shipping dates in a month, a customer will be advised of the dates before purchase .
The prices quoted will normally be inclusive of Pre-shipment inspection fee, Port clearance fee and Freight costs to Mombasa.
Any duty and delivery issues can be discussed with the clearing agents. The dealer may provide a clearing agent though the customer is at liberty to appoint their own.
TNT: How valuable are these cars considering they have not been made to work in rough roads present in Rwanda?
Okol: European cars have always been known to be very strong and reliable regardless of what the road conditions are.
They are built with very good suspension systems that will take the African pot-hole with relative ease and without any damage to the vehicle whatsoever.
TNT: There are some people who fear accidents or theft occurring during shipping of their cars, what are your policies on that and has that ever happened to you and what’s the course of action?
Okol: If that were to happen, the cars are all insured while they are aboard the ship and customers would get their money back or ask for a replacement vehicle – no questions asked.
What kind of cars sell in Rwanda and what’s the average car that you export to Rwanda?
Okol: We have supplied all types of cars, from Saloon cars to top of the rage 4x4, Trucks; we also source minibuses, vans, Plant and farm machinery.
Some of them we source from Germany and France to match customer requirements. The prices are determined on make, and the conditions on sale.
On average, we sell about 3 prestige cars per month. Total sales are in the region of 10-12 per month, sometimes higher. Peak season are between March and October but slow during school holidays or beginning of school term. We source all types of
TNT: Some cars come when they have been tampered with (Changed from right to left hand drives) what you have to say on that?
Okol: I know this practice occurs every now and then and if done by a genuine specialist, there are normally no issues.
The problem comes in when people are trying out shortcuts and go to non-specialists and then get a botched job. This creates more problems with manufactures configurations, electrics, stability and many more.
However, it’s always better for any dealer to source right hand drives directly from France or Germany – customers should opt for this option as the car will be as it was originally made.
If you are to buy directly from the UK, be sure that it is what you really want.
TNT: How do you explain the sudden rise in the number of cars being bought in Rwanda?
Okol: There are a number of factors that this could be attributed to, namely, many young people are getting into business thus are able to make quick money, some have inherited some wealth or simply born in rich families. Certainly, there are other factors.
TNT: With the recession sending everyone into a panic, how has that affected your business?
Okol: I knew from the beginning that I had to match quality with lower prices. This has kept my business afloat. With the recession in place, amazingly our figures have increased especially in East Africa.
TNT: How do you handle competition from the many car businesses being set up in Rwanda?
Okol: Competition is always healthy but the customers always know best. If you deliver quality, you will always have customers either through repeat businesses, referrals, new organic business etc.
I always ask my customers whether they have shopped around before coming to us and many have done. I want them to know what else is on offer and compare notes as I feel that’s only fair.
Some may think that I am losing sales because I have opted to empower the customers and my response to that, the customers needs to make a willing choice, they make or break a business.
TNT: What have been the main challenges and successes in setting up JobPlant?
Okol: At the time of acquisition, the dealership wasn’t doing very well financially looking at its accounts. My main challenge was therefore to change the image of the dealership.
One of the decisions was to sell my house so that I can have sufficient funds to stock the high quality vehicles, still the money wasn’t sufficient and tried to borrow some more, unfortunately, it was such a risky business and the banks declined to offer me a loan. After sometime, local sales had increased 20%. We also started exporting to East Africa around the same time and today we are a major player in the car export industry.
TNT: When should we expect to see your Showroom in Rwanda?
Okol: In recent months I have considered setting up in Rwanda and we are currently searching for suitable locations. I hope that by the end of 2010 or early 2011, we will have showroom in Kigali.