x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Childhood love of cars grew into a business

A Dubai-born Jordanian driven by expertise with BMWs and auto community talks of his BMW Club UAE venture.

Ayham al Daqqa established the BMW Club UAE, which is now the largest of its kind in the Middle East.
Ayham al Daqqa established the BMW Club UAE, which is now the largest of its kind in the Middle East.

From 2005 to 2008, I worked in the UAE oil fields as a engineer, so I do believe in sweat, blood and tears to get ahead. I did that after I graduated from the American University of Sharjah. Oil fields allowed me to generate the capital to start my business, Das Autoworks, in Dubai. The job was bonus-based and high risk, and without it I would have sought financing and loans. So I am working from a very comfortable place and I'm not desperate. If you bring in your car for repairs and it costs Dh500, I'll charge you Dh500. If I were desperate I would charge you Dh2,000. This reputation has reflected positively on my staff and clients.

I'm Jordanian, but I was born and raised in Dubai. I have always been interested in anything with an engine and this happened at a very early age. My father was the manager for Arabian Automobiles, so he used to take me there in the summertime. I would hang out in the showroom and the spare-parts warehouse, speaking with technicians and supervisers. My father saw my interest early and I remember my room was covered from floor to ceiling with car posters.

When the internet came along, I got involved in forums for BMW. In Jordan, BMWs are the hottest young generation car. They are powerful and easy to maintain. I started doing actual work on cars when I was 13 or 14 years old, but the internet made it academic for me. I got to speak with motorsport enthusiasts and got into discussions with seasoned drivers all around the world. All of this led me to establish the BMW Club UAE (www.bmwclubuae.com/index.php), which is now the largest in the Middle East. We have 1,207 members from all over the region, but I would say 85 per cent are UAE residents.

People started seeking refuge with our club and we offered our resources, knowledge and direct contact with suppliers for free. There is a membership fee of Dh450 per year and it's all non-profit, going towards the website, organising events and purchasing apparel and equipment for the club. It's a social and motorsport club. We meet and drive to Jebel Hafeet and Fujairah, for example. The last time we all drove up Jebel Hafeet, we went up with 85 BMW cars.

Sometimes people will drive up to my house and I will help them with their cars free of charge. The club has been a valuable investment and after a year-and-a-half, I saw an opportunity to develop it into something that would pay me for my time and expertise. The shop, Das Autoworks, came online three months ago. The garage is full of cars and there are plenty waiting outside. We are actually having difficulty coping with the demand and I'm sure it's because of my involvement in the BMW community.

At first, quite a lot of my business was from members' cars, but now I'd say it's 50:50 because of word of mouth. We do mechanical and electrical work. More or less, it's a one-stop shop. There is another very exciting part of the business that involves project cars. We modify BMWs, do engine repairs, tune and give advice to the driver. We also offer a high-performance driving school, whereby you are given a race car, an instructor, [use of] a professional track for four or five hours and food and beverage for Dh600.

It's cheap because the club is non-profit. We could make lots of money here, but that's not the point. The motor scene is expensive so we try to keep the costs down. And honestly, I was a client not too long ago. BMWs are expensive and my first car was a gift from my father in 2003. It was a 1993 BMW 325 manual, and it cost about Dh30,000 used, imported from Japan. The first car I bought for myself was a 1997 BMW 328 convertible, also a manual.

Only 300 of these cars have been made in the world. I still have it to this day and it cost me around Dh45,000. The BMW A46 M3 is my motorsport car. I take it to Yas Island or the Dubai Autodrome for racing on the weekends. The engine is tuned, it has a full exhaust system for higher flow and the suspension is lower and stiffened. If you're smart and know what to do, you don't have to spend a lot of money to make a racing car competitive. But I also know these are tough times for people and cars can't always be a priority.

We work with our clients. I try to be reasonable and not exploit people's ignorance of their car. That happens sometimes in this business and so I try to develop trust. Here at the garage we have many expenses. There's the rent, government fees, utilities, phone bills and salaries. So far, we have four employees and by the end of they year we'll have a fifth. We are already profitable, but whatever money the shop makes I put back into the business, reinvesting in equipment and educating my workers. I'm giving it another four or five months and this should be done. The business will be where it should be - and then it's cash-in time.

* As told to Jeffrey Todd