Vickram Sampath has a passion for cars. It’s the secret to his success after nearly 35 years in the car care business.
Sampath, 54, earlier this month opened the Charles Street, Port of Spain branch of his dual auto parts and accessories/cleaning company, V Sampath Auto Accessories Ltd/DGNL Co Ltd to bring his sought-after service from San Fernando to the capital.
“We provide cleaning for vehicles, mostly for the new car firms in south, plus other regular customers all over the country. We have a big (6,000 square foot) location in Cross Crossing, but six months ago, we seriously started considering a Port of Spain branch because nowhere in that area was doing what we do,” he told Business Day.
The bulk of the company’s business is with new car dealerships, and Charles Street is within walking distance to most of the major dealerships in Port of Spain, making it the ideal location, Sampath said.
The company does, among other things, deep cleaning and accessories installations for new cars in a one-stop location, making it convenient – reducing the dealers’ need for multiple contractors.
“When you purchase a brand-new vehicle you want to make sure it’s cleaned properly. That’s one of the issues. Then there’s also contractors but without their own yard – using everything from the firm. We are different. If you come here, I have insurance covering everything. I prefer to use my own things. So, when I did a survey (of the market) nobody in Port of Spain offers that.”
And lucky for him, in TT the auto industry is still managing to perform well, even despite the prevailing covid19 economic conditions, effectively making his business pandemic proof – except for a brief closure in April/May when the country was effectively locked down to mitigate the spread of the virus. (The company survived, he noted, with no cuts in pay to staff or salaries, and is already recovering from the lost time.)
“A lot of people asked me why I was going to do this (now). I’ve been hearing for the last five years from dealers and sales reps that (other service contractors) don’t deliver the same (quality) we do, so that made me go for it.”
A dealer recommended the property and it turned out, Sampath was acquainted with the landlord.
“I came up one Sunday afternoon and looked at the space. It was empty, no office or anything – just a bare shed, so I built it up to my standard because when it comes to business I'm a pretty boy; I like things nice,” he chuckled. The space in Port of Spain is about one-third the size of the San Fernando compound, but Sampath is open to the possibility of expanding.
He’s also decided to pass the baton, leaving his nephew, Deklon Mohan, to manage operations in the capital – although with both men being from south Trinidad, the north-south commute will take some getting used to.
“I got here at 5.15 am after leaving home (in Penal) to beat the traffic,” he laughed. “I think what we need in this country, you can’t stop selling vehicles – once our children get a driver’s licence we look to buy them a car. I think we should expand the roads and extend the highways, add additional lanes, and so on. The Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway is the main artery connected north and south and there is room to extend for another lane.”
He also believes the industry is ready to adapt to new trends – including electric vehicles, which he believes is the next evolution.
The import quota on foreign used cars as well as the new tax and duty levies on all vehicles with no exemptions, starting in January, will also invariably affect the industry. “The cheapest foreign-used care right now is the Toyota Aqua. Right now it’s about $70,000 but with the new taxes it will probably be $100,000 – and that’s for something already three years old. Compare that to a Kia Rio – if I were buying a car I would just spend the extra $40,000 for a new car that would include a 50,000 km/three-year warranty. And a new car is easier to re-sell than a foreign used one. So, I think the taxes will put a dent in the market.”
Sales for new vehicles will slow down next year, he predicted, as the price goes up. But it probably won’t last too long. “Trinis panic for everything. This month will probably have an increase in sales because of people buying cars to beat the tax. But even if the price goes up, people will still buy cars.”