This entrepreneur from Wakefield imports tuk-tuks from India and then converts them into bespoke vehicles for other entrepreneurs.
Founder of Rickshaw Revival, Ajay Sharma, runs his family business which has helped more than 15 micro businesses since its launch last year.
Business Advice caught up with Sharma to discuss how the idea first started and the hurdles he has said to jump along the way.
How did you come up with the concept?
I launched the business in February 2017, when I recognised that tuk-tuks were a cost-effective platform for people looking to establish a food, drink or retail business. They’re especially good for hire at events with their quirky, attractive look. They quickly draw customers to them and also work as an alternative to those wanting to offer passenger transport and deliveries.
What was key in terms of getting started?
I wouldn’t have been able to launch my business without the help of a programme called AD:VENTURE, which is an ERDF funded programme that helps business just like mine that are starting out or are less than three years old. They gave me expert advice and practical support – in particular, dealing with regulatory bodies and the legal requirements associated with attending events. They also helped me identify and establish Rickshaw Revival’s initial supply chain, which secured opportunities that helped me to ‘show off’ my tuk-tuks and showcase how they can be used.
What makes the business unique?
I think my product has a clear point of difference. My unique selling point is that the tuk-tuks can be converted to meet a client’s exact specifications. They are also innovative, quirky and fun. This has attracted a great deal of attention and I’ve seen several innovative uses of the rickshaws.
Some clients are now using their rickshaws to sell Prosecco or hot dogs, whilst others have used them to promote their spa products. One has even been converted into a Pick-Up truck that wouldn’t look out of place being taken for a spin around the Top Gear race track.
We’re constantly thinking of new developments and innovations for what we call our ‘new era’ tuk-tuks, one of them being a tuk-tuk that runs on electricity, to keep things green and save the environment. We’ve recently adapted some of our tuk-tuks to have fibre glass roofs which can be raised so people can serve from the inside. These super cool modifications are what keep clients coming back for more.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?
No matter how exciting your product is or how innovative the opportunity, at the beginning it’s always scary. Again, I’ll mention AD:VENTURE because, without them, I don’t think I’d have got my tuk-tuks noticed in the right circles. The business experts on the programme gave me practical support and guided me through the different laws and loopholes I needed to understand in order to get my business idea moving. They gave me the insight and confidence that I needed.
What’s your biggest achievement to date?
Rickshaw Revival has sold tuk-tuks right across the country including to Deliveroo and Prosecco 1754, a large distributor of Keg Frizzante. Clients range from people living in the furthest reaches of the Scottish Highlands right down to the south coast. We are also now enjoying national distribution, which I think is a great achievement for a business that is just over 12 months on its journey.
What makes us super proud is the fact that we have helped more than 15 micro businesses, supporting other entrepreneurs. Not only are we playing a small role in kick-starting enterprise journeys, but hopefully this leads to business growth and the creation of a great many jobs.
Describe your marketing technique – what strategies have you used?
Our tuk-tuks get a lot of attention; they are fun and quirky, so they really stand out which naturally generates enquiries.
Initially, I marketed the products by attending local events so that I could show the product in use, this early supply chain helped me to test the product and get a feel for how the tuk-tuks could be used.
Commissioning professional photography was also worth the investment. Good imagery showcases our conversions and the quality of our product which helps us to stand out from our competitors.
With such a strong visual product, social media is also a natural marketing tool for us; here engagement is crucial and testimonials precious – there is nothing better than seeing a five-star review and being able to share it.
Now we are established we also plan to attend catering exhibitions and intend on driving our tuk-tuks right into the show.
In five years’ time, I will be…
Inventing more ways to make sure the tuk-tuks takeover. My ambition is to establish UK-wide franchises so that more people can be their own boss.
Who are your business heroes and why?
I would have to say my mum because she’s honest and hardworking. She’s instilled a great work ethic in me and taught me to share and not be greedy. I’ve carried her values into my business and I try to benefit others, not just myself.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Never be afraid to ask for advice, there are people and organisations out there that can support in so many ways, whether this is just through advice and support or through grant funding; accessing this is simple and certainly not as difficult as some people make out.
Don’t give up and never stop innovating. There’ll be a lot of disappointments along the way, but you just have to keep on trucking (or should that be ‘tuking’ in my case).
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