What you need to know:
- Starting out was not easy for Maru. He had launched the business in June 2022, just when elections were about to be held.
- At this time, most people were holding back their money, unsure of how events would turn out in days to come.
From a young age, Poojan Maru was drawn to cars. The revving of engines, the design of interiors, the speed and the luxury are all things that gave him an adrenaline rush.
He hoped to one day run his own automobile business. When he completed school, Maru took up a job as a car salesperson in his hometown of Eldoret.
The money he made from this job would enable him to set up his own business, therefore even though he had to work 7 days a week on this job, he kept going for 7 months.
“It took me 3 months before I could sell my first car. I remember it very well, it was a Probox, which I sold to a farmer and made a commission of Sh5000. Those were the best five thousand shillings I have ever made in my life,” said Maru in an interview with Powering SMEs.
The money he was making at this job was however not enough to enable him achieve his goal, and so he moved to Nairobi in 2019 to look for another job. It was better, as it offered him a retainer, plus a commission on every sale he made.
“These two jobs taught me a lot about patience. On a daily basis, in a car yard, you can find just one or two clients walking in, and sometimes even these may not necessarily be looking to buy from you,” says Maru.
In the year 2022, after gaining enough knowledge on selling and sourcing cars, he decided it was time to venture out on his own. Using the money that he had saved up, he formed the company Chief Imports Kenya Ltd.
The business would be engaged in the importation of automobiles on behalf of individual clients as well as corporate organisations. For starters, he would leverage on the networks he had built while in employment, to grow the business.
“While working in car yards, I discovered that dealers will sell to customers what they have in the showroom, and often they may not have what a buyer wants. Maybe someone wants a silver car, but then they go around and what they discover are white cars,” says Maru.
Importing vehicles on behalf of clients would therefore ensure that the clients get exactly what they wanted, although they would have to wait longer for the car to be delivered.
Like most other newly established ventures, starting out was not easy for Maru. He had launched the business in June 2022, just when elections were about to be held. At this time, most people were holding back their money, unsure of how events would turn out in days to come.
To onboard customers, he therefore had to be creative. He decided that he would charge customers an importation service fee of about 2 percent, which would be lower than the standard importation service fees of between 10-15 per cent imposed by most dealerships.
“We did not want to overcharge anyone buying cars as a way of compensating them for lost time, because shipping does take time. If a car is readily available in our source country in Japan, then it can take us 45-60 days, but if it is not ready, then we are looking at up to 90 days,” said Maru.
They would also offer after sales services, engine and gearbox warranties, as well as import financing, in partnership with CFC Stanbic bank, to lure customers.
“Previously financing has been a very big challenge in the imports business. You had to make sure that you have 100 percent money before the car comes to Mombasa, but with the partnership you can deposit 20 percent and the bank will finance 80 percent,” noted Maru.
One year down the line, the business has grown from serving individual clients, to serving corporate organisations as well. Maru says he would like to expand the business more, but heavy taxation is making this a challenge.
The entrepreneur urges the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) to make duties more sensible, pointing out that most people do not mind paying taxes, the only problem is that the taxation framework is unclear and keeps changing.
“As a country, we are importing more than 10000 vehicles in a month, therefore imposing even just a small duty could generate significant revenue for the government. A car which cost Sh500,000 about two years ago now costs almost Sh800, 000 partly because of an increase in duty. These are the same cars which are supporting many people in the taxi business,” noted Maru.
He urges anyone looking to venture into the automobile business to do it with an end goal of satisfying the client, because these are the same people who will recommend them to other customers from within their circles.
“You cannot come into this business with the goal of getting rich quickly and expect to make it. You have to put in the time and the effort, but most importantly focus on the customer,” noted Maru.