Name: Khalid Bihzad Electricals
Type: Auto Garage
Owner: Muralidhara Mahabala Moolya (Murali)
A busy garage, with no parking space, yet several cars crammed outside for minor repairs – seems like chaos – especially when certain major repairs aren’t permitted in Doha area. bq speaks to the owner of a popular garage, that’s been around for roughly twenty years, and finds out how they manage.
bq: Tell us about your journey…
Murali: I came to Qatar around 25 years ago, and started off with a small time job in a garage. Five years later, I found this business lucrative, and started my own garage. We are now one of the most popular garages in this area, and have clients who have been coming to us for over twenty years.
bq: How does your business function?
Murali: It’s simple. People come to us to repair their cars and that’s what we do. We undertake minor repairs and for major repairs, we outsource it to some known garages in the industrial area.
bq: What is the size of your shop?
Murali: This shop is roughly 350 – 400 square feet, and since this building is old the rent is very low.
bq: What repair works do you undertake?
Murali: Right now, we only do minor electrical repairs at this location. We repair only light vehicles, and not heavy ones. We do all kinds of parts-fixing, mounting etc. We are not permitted to carry out major repairs in Doha area. It’s a government rule. So for any works like denting, painting, welding, engine repairs, gearboxes etc – we have to carry them out in the industrial area. So we accept all kinds of repair work, but depending on the kind of work, we decide whether to do it in Doha or Industrial area.
bq: And how does that work – on a profit sharing basis?
Murali: No, not exactly profit sharing. Let me give you an example. If the garage in industrial area is charging QR 1,800 for the job, we charge the customer QR 2,000. So we keep a margin of QR 200 and this is the amount that we get.
bq: How do you feel about relocating to a dedicated commercial zone in the future?
Murali: We are already tied up with some garages in the industrial area. So if they relocate us and we have to shift, we will search for an appropriate place there. The rents of course are much higher, over five times what we are currently paying. But the advantage is that if we shift there, we will be allowed to carry out bigger repair works, and of course when we work on engines and gearboxes or such things, the labour charges are much higher. So a move to this area may not be a bad thing as we can get higher revenues.
bq: When did you break even? And how is your profitability now?
Murali: It took around a year or two to break even. Overall, we are fine now. We have two seasons – summer and winter and usually during winter, we see slow growth in business. That lasts for about four months.
bq: Where do you get your materials/spare parts from?
Murali: Most of the parts are sourced locally – particularly from the industrial area. We get all parts there subject to availability. There are also some companies in Doha and Wakra areas from where we can get spare parts.
bq: How much do you charge for basic electrical work?
Murali: It depends on the car. Different brands have different pricing. For example, if we carry out some ac repair work, and it requires opening of the dashboard and all, that takes around two-three days. So in such cases, the charges are higher. The labour charge for this might be QR 1,500 or so, depending on the brand of car. We do give some discounts too, depending on the brand again.
bq: What is the difference between getting a car repaired at the respective showroom or at your garage?
Murali: There is too much of a difference, starting with the costs. They of course have huge labour charges, and ours are minimal. We charge the same for spare parts, but the labour charges are what make the difference.
bq: What kind of customers do you usually have?
Murali: We have people who have been coming to us since we started out, like I mentioned earlier. Our major customers are a few companies like rent-a-car companies or companies with staff vehicles. These companies have up to a 100 cars each, so that’s big business for us since they give us all their vehicles.
bq: What about competition and how do you cope/stay ahead of them?
Murali: We don’t really have any competition. There are other garages, but there is a difference. We give really good service and we don’t charge very high prices, especially for labour. If you go to another garage and they perform a certain job on your car, once you pay them, the job is done. If you have any further problems, you’d have to pay them again. But we don’t do that. We focus on follow up services too. If the customer comes back after we’ve fixed his car with the same problem, or a resulting problem, we fix that free of cost. We only charge if we use any new parts. So we ensure that all of our customers are happy with our services, and definitely they are going to return. The presence of other garages doesn’t affect us much.
bq: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Murali: Probably running a bigger garage in the Industrial area. The expectation is there, but we can’t predict what will happen at that time. We personally want to move there, and continue.
bq: What difficulties do you face?
Murali: As you know, we get a variety of customers, and all of them are not exactly straightforward. Many of them request us to do the required repair work and once it is done, they don’t agree for the price. If we charge them QR 500, they argue and end up paying QR 100. This is one of the major problems we face. We also have constant checks from the Baladiya. They come on a daily basis and do various checks.
bq: What exactly do they check? What is illegal in this business?
Murali: Well, it is illegal to carry out major repairs as you know. We are also not allowed to keep any major parts with us in the garage – like an engine or a gearbox. The Baladiya comes and checks if we are holding any of these parts since that would indicate we are illegally performing major repairs, and if we are caught there is a huge fine and of course the garage will be shut down.
bq: How do you finance yourself? Have you ever taken a loan?
Murali: We never took a loan till date. All the capital invested was mine, and as the profits started coming, we kept reinvesting it into the business. So this way, we never needed finance from outside sources.
bq: How many cars do you repair in a day on an average?
Murali: It differs of course, sometimes we get over ten cars, sometimes just five.
bq: How do you manage when you get several cars for repair, as space is obviously a problem here since you’re located on the main road? What if people don’t collect their cars on time – where do you keep it?Murali: Yes, space is always a problem. But the neighbouring shop belongs to a friend of mine, so I get that parking too. Once the car is repaired, we move it to a nearby ground. It’s empty and there is lots of space, so we temporarily park the cars there until the owner comes to collect it.
bq: Do people come to you to get their cars repaired without a police report?
Murali: It is a major offence to repair any accident car without a police report. We don’t touch such cars as this poses a risk to the running of our business. A lot of people come to me requesting to repair small damages especially, but we never accept such cars. It really isn’t worth losing your business over this. We always follow the rules.
bq: Do you repair cars on credit? What happens when the owner/companies don’t pay on time?
Murali: Yes we do repair cars like that, especially if it’s a known or reputed customer, mostly companies. We usually don’t face problems, except for some late payments. But I do have one client with a huge bill pending who hasn’t paid me in over ten months. There is nothing we can do about it. We can’t take any legal action also because we would need an explicit contract or agreement between the two parties for that. If they have signed and they don’t pay, then we can take action. But if its a known company or customer, we obviously can’t do such things. They always say, “we’ll pay tomorrow,” but you know – tomorrow never comes!