From India to Kenya: how an investor is tapping big business opportunity

642
Hameed Ramzan (centre) engages sales executive, Elizabeth Wangari in a discussion during the opening of AA Japan Nairobi Office at FCB Mihrab building in Hurlingham, Nairobi. Looking on is general manager, AA Japan, Hamza Almeida.

BY VICTOR ADAR

It looks like buying something online comes with more risks especially at a time when con games have engulfed most online portals. In fact, the choices of online platform to use when making a big purchase like buying a car are almost endless.

You are seemingly betting on something that you have no idea how it looks, and can be worse when you order from those who are not genuine and several months down the line, you realise that, after all, what you got is not what you ordered for. Well, you are obviously going to come a cross plenty of scam if you fail to do your due diligence.

Online business offers plenty of challenges, but AA Japan is one company tightening the noose on fraudsters who are making life difficult for unsuspecting customers ordering stuff online. The company has weathered many storms, and now wants to put to stop the culture of con game that has engulfed bogus foreign firms thanks to its entry into the Kenyan market by opening an office in Nairobi on FCB Mirhab building on Lenana road, Kilimani. This is expected to boost its relationships with both current and potential customers as it seeks out new opportunities in East Africa countries like Uganda and Tanzania.

After graduating from high school, Hameed Ramzan, who is the firm’s founder, started working in his family’s jewellery and accessories business, the Royal Gems and Jewellery in Sri Lanka. From a management trainee, he climbed the ladder becoming a director in the company within a year. He would then join another family business, the Royal Car Sales. It is from this point on that he found his footing in the vehicle trade business. He was the purchasing manager for a while, before he became a fully-fledged manager of the same company until 1996 when he decided to go to the source of the cars in Japan. Here he started a car exporting company similar to his family’s business and named it what is now known as AA Japan Kenya.

President and C.E.O, AA Japan, Hameed Ramzan (centre) with managing director, AA Japan, Kogawa Teruyuki (right) and general manager, AA Japan, Hamza Almeida (centre) during the opening of AA Japan Nairobi Office at FCB Mihrab in, Nairobi.

Started with a three-man team as a family business in Sri Lanka before entering Japan, AA Japan Kenya will be a force to reckon with in the second hand car sales. Joining some of the biggest players in car exports, among them Be Forward, SBT Japan and Car from Japan, the company is applying the concept of “presence” by eliminating an online hitch where goods once bought cannot be returned. The reality is that customers, whether online or offline, should have an opportunity to give feedback on products.

“Japan is six hours ahead of Kenya and when our clients log in to buy vehicles, they are forced to post and wait for the next day to get a reply but with this (Nairobi) office we shall offer a seamless service for all car dealers,” Ramzan said, pointing out that the firm is also setting up an online portal for Kenya that will have 500 vehicles daily ranging from salon cars to pick-ups, double cabins and four-wheel vehicles.

In 20 years Mr Ramzan, who is also currently the co-chairman of Royal Car Sales and Osaka Motors in Sri Lanka, grew his three-man team to more than 50, and his dealership from one country to more than 60. With a degree in Business Administration, the shrewd entrepreneur is not giving anything to chance thanks to his long career in the second hand car business. He is behind a company that has grown in leaps and bounds having exported 5000 units to Kenya over the last two years.

In 2015, he says, the company sold about 3,000 units to Kenyans, 3,750 units in 2016 and last year it hit the 4,800 units mark, an indication of a high potential of growth.  He also provides a special service for clients who require vehicles for commercial purposes. This includes searching and purchasing the vehicles requested, facilitating shipment and meeting all export requirements. At the moment, the firm’s initial scope of operations is expected to revolve around serving the Kenyan market while accommodating customers from other countries as well.

Part of AA Japan’s entry into Kenya includes the introduction of an exclusive auction system for local customers. That’s why the system to be introduced this March that is aimed at buyers to bid on the firm’s stock and get vehicles at competitive prices will go along way.

Apart from East Africa for instance, the firm exports used vehicles to other African countries including Mauritius, Congo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Their clientele is not only made up of professional car dealers but also individuals in other global territories including the Middle East, Europe and Oceania.

“We’ve been exporting cars for 22 years to Kenya; and I mean all kind of cars from Toyota, Mercedes, Subaru… almost all cars and not only cars but of course buses. We come to Nairobi to do sales to our customers and we are selling cars,” said Ramzan.

It is an elephant ahead, but at a time when more and more foreign firms are setting up shop what it means is that there is a big market for all.