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Luxury car travel comes of age in Kenya and sets the stage for big business

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Picture of Limo ‘R’ Us done by Mash Autos (Inside) posed by models ahead of Valentine’s Day

In 2008, two brothers, Ash Sadique and Wayne Fernandes, invested Sh4.5 million in an eight-metre Isuzu Trooper which could comfortably accommodate 15 people for a classy ride.

Mr Fernandes said their business was so successful that an additional limousine was inevitable, eventually giving rise to what has become the Limo ‘R’ Us business empire.

“The demand was very high in the first three months. We had to introduce another limo, and another one, and we are still a growing business,” says the co-proprietor of the luxury car company.

The Isuzu Trooper was a locally assembled vehicle which has been the basic reference point for the six limousines that the firm owns, save for one which was imported.

The Trooper was a cut-up of three similar vehicles and was assembled at Mash Auto, a workshop the two traders started to fit cars with extra accessories or customise them for specific purposes.

“We ensure that the chassis and propeller shaft are extended and balanced for stability and control. It is something done with utmost care and by professionals,” says Mr Fernandes.

The interior is then fitted with consumer delights like sofas, a mini bar, fridge, flatscreen television, and neon lights. The purpose is to induce deluxe relaxation for a consumer for short trips, especially around Nairobi.

Three months after customising their first limo, the two entrepreneurs commissioned a six-seater Mercedes E200, followed closely by a 12-seater Toyota VX and an eight-seater Opel Astria convertible.

Five years down the line and Limo ‘R’ Us boasts six limousines in their yard.

The biggest ride is the double-axle, six-wheel Isuzu Bighorn which is 10 metres long and can accommodate 20 passengers.

The smallest limo is an imported two-seater Lincoln. It was brought into the country last year specifically to serve the high-end business executives market segment.

“We spotted this vehicle being traded with a deal that was too sweet to ignore, so we purchased it. We have never regretted the decision,” adds Mr Fernandes.

However, a limo ride does not come cheap. The hiring charges for the high-capacity vehicles are Sh15,000 per hour for a minimum of five hours and the cheapest goes for Sh8,000 per hour with a minimum time of five hour.

Restaurants and hotels

Despite the high charges, the two businessmen receive dozens of fully-paid bookings and other unconfirmed requests for a day’s escapade.

“The requests are enormous all days long. Saturdays and Sundays are even crazier,” says Mr Fernandes.

Limousine travel services are big business in Kenya, with an increasing number of restaurants and hotels buying their own fleets to ferry top-tier customers from the airport.

Car hiring companies like Royal Hometown and Executive Limos have joined the fray and introduced limousines in their fleets, thereby creating a competitive environment for travel-in-style services.

Weddings and product launches are the biggest earners for Limo ‘R’ Us. Other events include business meetings, airport transport, and celebrity outings. The company has enjoyed a robust turnover and has invested in the hospitality industry.

According to Mr Fernandes, the family has three outlets in Nairobi: Hidden Agenda at Sarit Centre, Mystique Gardens at Parklands, and Zebra Lounge at Capital Centre, Mombasa Road.

Mash Auto, which was revamped at the tune of Sh10 million in January, is now assembling a six-seater limo which Mr Fernandes believes will be a game changer.

“We have designs that will include a 42-inch television and, remarkably, a Jacuzzi. We want to be a pace ahead in this industry,” he says.

The limo, which will be completed in May, will cost the firm Sh6 million.

Changing the interiors

Mash Auto, which was started with a capital of Sh3 million in 2004, has mainly been used by celebrities to upgrade their vehicles. Also known as “soup up”, the process involves changing the interior and exterior décor of a car using graphics, shiny and big rims, loud music systems, and GPS system.

There are about 40 such car workshops in the country, each with a sizable market share and specific customer base.

Mr Fernandes believes the electronic revamping of Mash Auto will propel the firm to penetrate the regional market.

An average car overhaul at the workshop costs Sh250,000 and increases with customised accessories like the size and type of rims, type of the speakers, and the paint job. The workshop has 15 employees and the company is targeting working on 30 cars on a monthly basis on average.

Limousine rides are for prestige and fun. The minimum time one can hire the services is five hours. Most journeys are done within the city of Nairobi.

Kenyans “peculiar habits” have been known to sometimes make the expensive hires self-defeating.

“A man may hire a limo to have a memorable time with his girlfriend, either to propose or take her out for a date. But the Sh50,000 minimum fee will see him invite all his friends to chrome (fill) up the ride. This defeats the purpose of a romantic set-up,” says Mr Fernandes.

However, he believes that Kenyans have come of age to redefine their worth in terms of seeking the best things they need in life, even if it means using wads of cash to achieve this.

“People are now showing the muscle of their wallets by displaying their capabilities with things bigger and classier. If you want to treat your lady that one day, how much would you be willing to spend?” asks Mr Fernandes when he spoke to Money.

His only challenge comes with parking. He has to secure four parking spaces hours in advance with his security team and the city council.

Also the security team has to protect the limo from citizens who are always mesmerised at the vehicle and want to touch it.

“Limo hire is an exciting venture which we joined at the right time and the right place. Our only challenge is to increase out fleet in order to accommodate the high number of requests we receive,” he says.-Nation

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