Ex-future architect builds a thriving surplus car dealership

Jose Escamis of Bangkal, Davao City, who owns J. Escamis Trading, owner-manager of a thriving surplus car and car parts dealership,, feels little regret he never became the architect he dreamt to be nor the seaman his father urged him to become.

To please his father, he studied marine engineering instead of architecture at the Agro Industrial Foundation. After graduation, he cooled his heels while waiting for his parents to raise the money that would enable him to make the trip to Manila where he had to apply to get into the big boats.


Dabbling in barter trade

Jose set aside his plans to go to Manila  when he started earning good money at Mt. Diwalwal, a mining area in nearby Compostela Valley, bartering fighting cocks for gold nuggets with the gold prospectors.  “They had bulging pockets, and they liked to play sabong for recreation,” he recalls.

His next bartering venture took him to Indonesia which he entered by the backdoor. Brandishing travel papers signed by an Indonesian consul in Sarangani, Jose, accompanied by an Indonesian friend, sailed to various islands in that country on a kumpit boat, carrying boxfuls of Tanduay Rum, Cebu handicrafts, and over-the-counter pharmaceutical products  which he bartered for sea urchin.

Sea urchin is a commercially viable product, not only for its roe eggs which are brought by sushi shops but also for its feet, known as tuyum which are processed into handicraft items by artisans and craftsmen in Cebu.

In 1992, having started a family, Jose decided he was done with risky travelling on an unsteady boat and decided to look for a trade that would allow him to stay put in Davao.


Opportunity in rubber channels

As he loved cars and enjoyed tinkering with them, and as he realized that Davao’s car-riding population would inevitably grow, he decided to put up a surplus car parts dealership business.

At first, he dealt exclusively in rubber channels – those rubber fittings used to hold and seal auto glass and mirrors and which used to be in great demand back then when people liked to have their vehicles assembled.

With a starting capital of P10 thousand, half of which he borrowed from his seaman-brother, Jose bought the rubber parts from a dealer in Barrio Obrero, Tondo, Manila. Back in Davao, he sold these to dealers and private car owners. An item bought for P60, for example, would fetch P180 — good enough, even after reckoning the P1,200 he spent for boat fare.

A year later, in 1993, Jose was able to set up his own shop at Wales Building on McArthur Highway in Bangkal. It was a small, 40-sqm, 2-door space: one door was the store, the other the stockroom. As the business grew, he supplied parts to car dealers and repair shops in Cagayan de Oro City and General Santos City.


Changing product lines

In 1998, surplus cars from Korea and Japan flooded the market. The demand for assembled vehicles declined and with it the sales of rubber channels.

“All I needed was to change product lines,” Jose smiles as he recounts the brief slump he experienced. He figured correctly that surplus cars from abroad would sooner or later be needing replacement parts.

Soon, Jose was buying and selling starters, alternators and hydrovacs. Before long, he had expanded to engines and body parts, including doors, hoods, fenders, underchassis and others. The volume of his trade grew fast. Where before he was buying the parts by the box, he was, by 2002, shipping these to Davao City by the container van.

At first, when he had no track record to show, Jose had to pay for the stocks in cash. As his relationships with his suppliers thrived, they began to give him easier terms — up to 60 days credit.

Jose was soon handling 50 spare parts for Toyota, Kia, and Mitsubishi cars, trucks, and utility vehicles. He also put up a 300 sq m warehouse on Bonifacio Street, a few blocks away from his store. Later, he acquired a one-hectare stock yard on McArthur Highway to accommodate his fast-expanding business

His customers come not only from Davao City but also from areas like General Santos City, Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan, Cotabato, Tagum City, Marbel and Coronadal. He also sells to institutional buyers like taxi cab companies.

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