Small Enterprise

Ex-banker’s garage on wheels idea shakes up local auto repair market

MobiTyres and Autoservices Limited managing director Ogle Ali during the interview at the back of one of his vans. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU
MobiTyres and Autoservices Limited managing director Ogle Ali during the interview at the back of one of his vans. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

Ogle Ali has a clear memory of his first customer. She called to book a Saturday appointment. The tyres on her Toyota Harrier were worn out and she wanted them changed. She sent a deposit upfront via mobile money.

Next week, his business, MobiTyres & Autoservice, will be turning one year old. 

But for a man at the helm of a company that is still in its infancy stage, he has surprisingly few anxieties.

In fact, he has hardly been scared ever since he quit his “uncomfortable” job as a London-based banker and moved to Kenya to ultimately pursue his passion for cars.

MobiTyres’ proposition is that it will eliminate the hustle of getting your car serviced. The business operates three well-kitted vans which serve as mobile mechanic workshops; Ogle goes to his clients, not the other way round.

He wants to save motorists the time spent getting to a mechanic and waiting to have their cars fixed; time which could be better spent with family and friends, for instance.

“The concept is a little bit simple, convenient and different. Getting a car serviced or repaired can be a big hustle. So I thought I could bridge that gap, come to the customers. All they need to do is to sit down and we’ll do the rest,” he says.

Convenience and status

The number of cars thronging Nairobi’s streets is constantly on the rise — driven by an expanding middle-class in search of convenience and status. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of cars registered in Kenya rose 70 per cent to 107, 701.

Some of the services that MobiTyres offers its customers are oil and air filters, tyre and battery changing as well as wheel balancing and fixing a vehicle’s braking system.

The idea for the business came when he relocated to Kenya in 2012 and started audit consultancy for companies primarily in petroleum and energy sectors. The turning point came when he consulted for a firm in the motoring business.

“I stumbled upon the auto business through recommendation. It was business that wanted to be revamped…. I met clients spending half of their day trying to get their cars fixed. When I saw that there was a gap in the market and I wanted to fill this gap,” Mr Ali told the Enterprise during an interview at his office in Industrial Area.

But it was not easy for him to transform his passion for cars into a viable business venture. At first, he had to convince his wife, his family that the idea was not nearly as crazy as it seemed.

While doing the consultancy jobs, Mr Ali was also researching the mobile mechanic units business, refining the business concept which is relatively novel locally.

The need for convenient mechanic services saw the business register early success. Early on, he was serving two to three clients a week per van, a number he said was much better than he had expected.

But after two months or so, business slumped.  Unwittingly, MobiTyres had become part of a price war, although the mild-toned Mr Ali is not quick to use this term.

His suppliers began directly targeting his clients, offering discounts that would otherwise have been unavailable to them.

“We did customer feedback and they told us that our suppliers were simply giving them a better price on tyres and parts,” says Mr Ali. The 38-year-old had to go back to the drawing board.

He slashed their marketing budget and brought down their billboards. He refocused his business to develop its own supply chains and to stock up on the spare parts and tyres that it had previously acquired from local suppliers.

After this, business turned around. At the moment, MobiTyres serves an average of nine clients per day, over half of them being women.

This is better than they were doing when they started out and miles away from the lows they sunk to during the price wars. Still, the business has many more miles to go.

“At optimum, we should be serving four clients per day for every single one of our vans,” he says.

For clients in need of tyre changes, MobiTyres charges start at Sh3,000 for size thirteen tyres. For oil and air filter changes, clients part with a minimum of Sh3,500 while spark plugs go for between Sh350 and Sh2,000.

Mr Ogle adds that brake changes cost clients between Sh6,000 and Sh13,000 for genuine brands but some clients can also get good quality aftermarket parts for Sh3,000.

Battery’s costs at least Sh6,000.

“Our prices vary depending on the type of car we are servicing as well as the type of spare parts that the client orders. We supply the best products in the market complete with guarantees,” he said.

The vans are not rescue vehicles and clients have to make advance bookings. The vans’ drivers double as a manager and a marketer, drawing in business and representing the company out in the field.

Mr Kibet Salim, who is in charge of one of the vans, says that one of the challenges from his business is a pervasive knowledge gap.

Salim estimates that out of every 10 clients he deals with, only two are well-versed in the ins-and-outs of their cars. He adds that this ignorance is not gender specific.