By A. Jeyaraj
Pictures by Luqman Hakim
Today they would carry euphemisms like ‘pre-loved’ or refurbished but second-hand has served this community well. We are referring to the second-hand goods dealers in Jalan Bendahara who started their business in the early forties from a one and half acre plot of land. Initially they went on foot and bicycles and were buying old bottles, gunny sacks and scrap iron. They supplied the bottles to the hospitals. As they gained experience, they expanded their business by trading in second-hand spares for motor vehicles, heavy machinery and other equipment. They are now well established and acknowledged as THE major second-hand goods dealers in the country. The Indians still call this place botha kadai meaning bottle shop.
From Local Bottle Shop to Export Market
The traders came from the Ramnad District in Tamil Nadu, India and belong to the Ayira Vaisiya Chettiar community and are different from the money-lending chettiars. The traders were not related and came together to seek greener pastures.
In the beginning about 50 people were involved in the business. They stayed in a wooden house within the compound and shared communal cooking. The wooden house is still standing in the yard of RAJA & Co along Jalan Bendahara, but no one is staying there now.
During the heydays in the fifties and sixties, this was more or less the only place in the country where a group of traders were selling second hand goods in one location. During weekends businessmen from all over the country came here to purchase their goods. It was a one-stop centre for people looking for second-hand spares. Jalan Bendahara is still synonymous as a place to look for second-hand spares especially for old vehicles.
From the seventies onwards, people from other towns started similar businesses and there was stiff competition. The dealers in Jalan Bendahara decided to venture into the export business which led to their current status where their main business is in the export market. They export to Asean countries, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Middle East, Nigeria and others.
Since they do not advertise and are not active in online business, I asked R. Seetha, Managing Partner, R. Seetha Raja Enterprise how buyers from overseas know about them. In reply he said, “We have our own networking and if a person wants something, he would soon discover where to get it from and come to us.”
Seetha said that they used to purchase their goods from agents in KL, but he now usually travels to Japan, Middle East and Europe to purchase second-hand goods. They have acquired the expertise to buy second-hand spares that are in demand.
In the late seventies MBI asked them to vacate the place due to congestion and provided them with alternate sites. The dealers made two decisions. They rented land along Jalan Kuan Woh Yuen which is at the end of Jalan Bendahara and also bought their own land in Pengkalan and Menglembu industrial estates and built their warehouses there.
T. Letchumanan, Director, Thangam Auto Parts Sdn Bhd, whose yard is in Jalan Kuan Woh Yuen said that his main office is in Menglembu where he keeps his stock and he has his sales office in Jalan Kuan Woh Yuen. Since Jalan Kuan Woh Yuen is well known, he reckons it is best to have an office here to deal with walk-in customers. As they are renting the place it was not prudent to put up new buildings since they may be asked to vacate at anytime. The yards in Jalan Kuan Woh Yuen are in old wooden buildings and temporary makeshift buildings. Though the buildings look dilapidated, the spares are stacked neatly with aisles for forklifts to move about.
In 1998 a major fire destroyed most of the shops in the original place in Jalan Bendahara and goods worth a few million ringgit were lost. Only about five of the original buildings are remaining and are still in business. Currently about 60 companies are involved in this business.
The people doing the business now are second, third and fourth generation descendants. Though every company is doing the same business, each one has its own niche market.
The proprietors were reluctant to talk at length and said that previously when information of their companies were published, they were robbed. A few of the popular companies are:
M.R. & Sons Vehicle Parts Sdn Bhd
This is the biggest and most well established company and has a warehouse in a three acre plot of land in Pengkalan. M. Ramachandran, Chairman said that his company moved to the present site in 2000 and employs 30 people. He added that his son is the fourth generation descendant doing this business.
Ramachandran said that his company deals mainly in lorry spare parts and purchases mainly from agents in KL. Their business is known by word of mouth. They mainly export to overseas markets.
Thangam Auto Parts Sdn Bhd
T. Letchumanan, Director said that he was new to this business and learnt it on his own and has been doing it for the past 25 years. He specialises in long trucks, buses and their spares. His main office is in Menglembu and the yard in Jalan Kuan Woh Yuen is mainly for walk-in customers. He travels overseas to purchase his spares.
R. Seetha Raja Enterprise
R. Seetha, Managing Partner said that he is a third-generation descendant and has been doing this for the past 25 years. His company mainly deals in mining equipment, heavy machinery and construction equipment. They recondition old equipment mainly for export. He travels to Japan, UK and Dubai to purchase the equipment.
Seetha said that his employees do the overhauling and repair works and have experience in doing this work. He gives limited warranty depending on the equipment and provides after-sales service.
He participates in online auctions and buys equipment through government tenders as well. His customers know of his business through networking.
His main warehouse is in Pengkalan and the store in Jalan Kuan Woh Yuen is a sales office which is well known to customers.
John MC, Proprietor said that his is one of the few companies that are still doing business in the original site in Jalan Bendahara and the land belongs to them. He is a third-generation descendant. In the early days a few people jointly purchased an old car, dismantled it and sold the parts as spares. Now he deals in small lorry and van parts.
Raja & Co
G.T. Balu, Proprietor said that he is a second-generation descendant and his yard is in Jalan Bendahara next to the original site. The wooden house where the workers stayed is still in his yard, but nobody stays there. He specialises in reconditioned diesel engines, generators, road rollers and heavy equipment.
Balu said that he does the overhauling of the equipment in Chinese workshops and gives warranty up to three months. He provides after sales service and adds that he travels outstation to repair equipment. He purchases his equipment locally and mainly from Singapore. In addition to local sales he exports overseas.
All purchases and sales are inclusive of GST. The goods are imported and exported legally and the relevant taxes are paid. No warranty is given for spare parts. Spares are sold in “as is” condition.
Pros and Cons
The pros and cons in buying second-hand spares is mainly dependent on the cost. Original spares cost more and have extended warranty, whereas second-hand spares are cheap and have limited or no warranty. Original spares may not be available for old vehicles and equipment and second-hand spares must be used.
In spite of the stiff competition and downturn in business, the second-hand goods dealers are venturing into new markets to keep their businesses going.