In times of crisis, necessity is the mother of invention. For the vast majority, the COVID-19 pandemic has lasted a lot longer than first anticipated.
As the government’s nationwide effort to marshal resources to treat, vaccinate, and mitigate the second wave of COVID-19 continue to gather ground, businesses too must find their place as society transitions from pandemic to endemic.
For the minority who are responsible for generating their own income, operating outside the safety net and deep pockets of large corporations, equal measures of ingenuity and resilience are needed to survive the daily grind.
Within Kg Sinaut, a village of about a thousand residents situated along the ‘old’ Tutong Road or Jalan Lama, is the home base of motorcycle workshop Bike Park Company – who have pivoted in the second wave to offer door-to-door servicing for vehicles and bikes under a new brand Mighty 16 Garage.
As a modest workshop built outside the home of its founder and former national cyclist Muhd Raihaan Abd Aziz, the resurgence of COVID-19 in August would call for an overhaul of their business continuity plan (BCP) if they wanted to safely operate.
Much of Bike Park’s appeal and initial customer base is owed to Raihaan’s business partner and first cousin Mohd Yusra Bujang, a 35-year-old tenured mechanic who was previously recruited by Brunei’s Harley Davison operation, where he spent the better part of five years working on motorcycles.
Today, Raihaan and Mohd Yusra count seven Bruneian youth in their team, the majority from Tutong, divided into teams of two with the other focusing on procurement and logistics.
The Sinaut workshop is supplemented by another makeshift workshop outside another home of Raihaan’s family in nearby Kupang.
In effect, Bike Park meets the BCP criteria of alternate teams that would ensure continuity of operations should one team be affected by an outbreak. And by deploying pairs to service bikes and cars at customer’s homes, the duo have found a way to remain profitable while still adhering to health guidelines in the second wave.
“Alhamduillah we are able to now meet our target of servicing 10 bikes and cars (door-to-door) everyday,” said Raihaan.
“When the second wave came we lost most of our income as no one was really sending bikes in. That’s when we decided we needed to bring forward our 2022 plan to provide door-to-door services in the pandemic.”
Although automotive workshops are well established across Brunei, the niche for servicing, maintaining, and repairing motorcycles is still somewhat nascent; there are some 80,000 bikes in Brunei, according to the duo’s research, but less than 10 workshops dedicated to catering to them.
For Raihaan, Bike Park’s latest pivot to offer door-to-door services is the latest milestone in an unusual entrepreneurial journey, one that began as nationalist cyclist repairing bicycles for a living.
From bicycles to motorbikes
A competitor since his early teens, Raihaan was dominating local cycling contests by his early 20s. He was touted as being capable of a podium finish at the SEA Games and was on track to become a renowned national sportsman, until he received a two year ban in 2013 for taking steroids that he said he thought was a medicinal supplement to heal a niggling knee injury.
In 2017, when another national cyclist decided to open a bicycle cafe in a shophouse next to the former Riverview Hotel, Raihaan agreed to work as an all-purpose bicycle mechanic that cleaned, repaired, and offered riding advice. Less than a year later, its owners were looking to move out of the business, and Raihaan stepped in take over – rebranding it as Bike Park Company.
Raihaan’s budding entreprise then caught the attention of another business partner, and he was offered to expand his business to a larger premise in Kiulap. Capitalising on a more upmarket bicycle trend sweeping the country, Bike Park flourished, expanding to a team of seven.
Raihaan even mounted a competitive cycling comeback that same year, making the preliminary cut for the national cycling team heading to the 2019 SEA Games. But it was the business side that became problematic – due to undisclosed internal differences, the new venture in Kiulap did not work out, and Raihaan was forced to pack up and return to Tutong before the end of the year.
He kept himself busy by working for his family’s home-based wedding planning business, but several months on, he was still struggling to see what he could do with Bike Park Company, until he paid a visit to his cousin to have his motorcycle checked.
Self-employed to businessman
A lifelong motorcycle enthusiast, much of Mohd Yusra’s professional experience is blue collar; working offshore and in workshops. The 35-year-old admits he was not business-savvy, so while he earned a reputation amongst motorcyclists for being a trustworthy mechanic, he did not have a way forward for turning his expertise into a fully-fledged workshop operation.
“When I visited Yusra to have my motorbike fixed, I noticed he was already working on a lot of bikes and a few cars (from home),” said Raihaan. “He knew all the details, but when I asked him how much the service would be, he said mana saja (whatever you’re willing to pay) and charged me only $30.”
At that point, Yusra was no longer holding a full-time job, and had himself set up as a self-employed mechanic working full-time from home. He was familiar with specialized custom work with high-end motorcycles including Harleys as well as overhauls and restorations.
Raihaan offered to renovate his home garage, recruit staff, and turn Bike Park into a motorcycle workshop with Yusra at the helm as his partner. They recruited Bruneian youth from their surrounding community, some extended family members, with Yusra putting them through a two week training and trial before hire.
They opened their doors in September 2020, and in a bid to upgrade their business acumen, enrolled in Darussalam Enterprise’s (DARe) Micro Bootcamp in June, where they mapped our their company’s future journey which included plans to set up at the Lugu Light Industrial Park, servicing vehicles and introducing door-to-door services.
Their resilience would be tested after business dropped with the August outbreak, followed by a flood to their workshop a month later, but the duo remained steadfast; relocating part of their operation outside Raihaan’s family home in Kupang.
Their patience paid off, with an application for financing from DARe’s co-matching grant put in several months prior being finally green-lighted, after the duo impressed the approval committee with their pitch to run a fully local workshop, a relatively unique proposition in a sector typically dominated by foreign labour.
Bike Park received $10,000 for the purchase of essential workshop equipment including an on-board diagnostics tool which helps provide real-time data on a vehicle’s general health by monitoring their essential functions.
“We did not expect to have gotten so much out of the bootcamp, and together with the financing, it has really helped accelerate our growth a lot quicker, than if we had to figure out how to run the business all on our own,” said Yusra.
Service quality for sustainability
With their target of servicing 10 cars and bikes everyday, Bike Park can achieve a thousand dollars in daily sales with consistency. The new normal is all about convenience, says the duo, and saving the average customer the trip of driving their car out – typically in two cars if they’re not willing to wait at the workshop – is faring well in the new normal.
Much of the quality of service delivered will hinge on how well Yusra can retain and transfer his expertise to their relatively inexperienced team. So far the all-youth endeavour is paying off, and for Raihaan – who focuses on managing the overall business – Bike Park’s transformation into an automotive service provider marks a positive new chapter in an otherwise bittersweet life journey in entrepreneurship and athletics.
“During COVID-19 it did cross our mind to stop, at least for a while, especially after we lost some of our equipment in the flood. But our team who had helped get us this far, they need the income, one is even a new father,” said Raihaan.
“As long as our intentions in business are truthful, done in earnest, InsyaAllah there will be those out there to help us. Behind every challenge there surely is hikmah (truth).”