Friday 29 November 2013

Who not to trust

It might seem old-fashioned but a key part of any successful business is the trust its customers have in it. Think of all the really successful brands, the ones that make staggering amounts of money, often more money than some countries have, and you’ll find companies that somehow inspire trust among their customers. Companies like Apple and Virgin have built brands that inspire a sense of trustworthiness and reliability, attributes that keep their customers coming back over and over again.

It’s the dream of anyone who really wants to be successful in business, to create a brand with that level of trustworthiness and hence loyalty. However some companies adopt a slightly different approach, they just sell the cheapest, nastiest rubbish at hugely inflated prices to people with little choice.

Another group go out of their way to abuse their customers, thinking that they can get away with ripping everyone off just once, there being a steady flow of victims in the pipeline.

Trans Africa Vehicle Exports is
registered to this address in the UK
In June this year I wrote about a car importer who seemed to have adopted this approach. Westridge Holdings, who represent and advertise locally using the name “Trans Africa Vehicle Exports” fall definitely into this category. Their business is importing cars from the UK to sell to people here in Botswana.

First things first. Importing cars from overseas is a silly idea but many people seem to think that it’s a very good way of getting a cheap car. The truth is very different. The simple fact is that buying a car online from a far-flung foreign country is NOT a cheaper way to buy a car than buying one here. It’s simply not cheaper. Once you include the costs of actually getting the car from the UK or Singapore all the way to Botswana, all the taxes, duties and fees, all the storage costs they often include you get to almost the same price as an identical car here or in South Africa, if not more. Then you add in the additional costs for parts when you later service the car, always assuming that you can get it serviced. I know dealers here who now refuse to service imported cars of the brands they sell because either the cars have been “clocked” by having their mileage adjusted or because the inconvenience of finding parts for cars built for other parts of the world is so high.

More importantly, who in their right mind would buy a car they’ve never test-driven? That’s The Number One Rule Of Buying A Second Hand Car. Test drive the car before you sign anything. Then go home and think about it. Then get your friend the mechanic to test-drive it as well. This is obviously impossible if the car you want is on the far side of the planet.

Then there’s the sort of people who often run these import businesses. Business like Trans Africa Vehicle Exports lie, take people’s money without delivering cars and, if you’re lucky, just deliver the wrong type of car and make you wait forever for a refund.

This is the same company who, according to another newspaper a few months ago, had its owner arrested on suspicion of fraud. The same company whose customers we’ve heard from on several occasions, sometimes delivering the wrong car and refusing to offer their customer a discount. On other occasions they just didn’t deliver a car at all. Nothing.

One of their customers contacted us after she had paid them a large amount of money only to have entirely the wrong delivered. The manager at Trans Africa then refused a refund until he could find a new buyer for the wrong car. Despite failing to abide by his contract with her, despite failing miserably to abide by the Consumer Protection regulations and, above all, despite eventually promising her a refund there were endless delays in actually making the payment. When the client, the importer and I eventually met he assured us both that the refund would be made the same day.

It’s no surprise of course that he lied. No payment was made that day, nor the next day, nor the one after that, nor in the months since. He didn’t even repay her after she went to court and obtained an order she can use against him to seize and sell his assets. He’s now effectively on the run, claiming that he has no vehicles that can be seized to raise some money to pay his debts.

So has he gone to ground and stopped running this crooked business? No, he’s still there and I’ve heard from other people all with pretty much the same story. Either the wrong car or no car at all. Only last week they placed advertisements in the papers advertising their car import services, despite having built up this long trail of victims. As a test last week I sent him a text message asking if he can get me a vehicle and yes, he’s perfectly willing to get me one so long as I cough up the necessary money in advance

So let me state this simply and directly, in terms that Westridge Holdings, the Botswana wing of Trans Africa Vehicle Exports and their “manager” Earnest and everyone thinking of buying a car from them can understand.

Don’t. Don’t give them any money under any circumstances. If you’re lucky you might get a car from them but there’s a sizeable chance that you won’t and your money will disappear, never to be seen again.

They can’t be trusted so please don’t risk your money with them.

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