Mohammad Sujon, owner of Billion Car Decoration in Bangla Motor of the capital, has been laying off his long-serving staffers one after another amid the pandemic with a sense of guilt, but with the business down he has no other way to stay afloat.
The shutters of the shop, full of car accessories, remained pulled down one quarter of all business days since March last year due to the series of lockdowns.
And the business was low when the shop was allowed to open. The number of cars coming in for decoration drastiacally dropped to one-third resulting in a 60% loss of revenue for Sujon, compared to pre-pandemic days.
Accessories are non-essential products for one's car. With the lingering pandemic, most of Sujon's middle-class customers have cut spending on their cars; his shop is the last destination after fuel pumps, service centers, and repair shops.
"In all my 15 years in the business, I have never faced such a stressful situation," Sujon said, in front of the shuttered shop.
Mohammad Ibrahim, another shop owner in the same area, has been in the car accessories and decoration business for two decades.
He said dealership car sales had dropped drastically and that hurt his business to a great length.
New car owners tend to buy some common accessories for safety and security, comfort and beauty, and a clean shiny look, Ibrahim said.
They buy things like, car dash cams, GPS trackers, alarm systems, tyre sealants, inflators, pressure gauges, cell phone holders, car chargers, jump starters, seatback storage, back pain relief cushions, 360 degree cameras, fire extinguishers, floor mats, hand and headrests, headlight bulbs and lighting accessories, mudguards, polishing kits, and even things like small paint bottles.
Around 100 cars used to come to Ibrahim's shop every month before the pandemic and nowadays the number has fallen to 30-40.
Of his eight staff members, he could only retain five until now. Ibrahim may have no choice but to dismiss another two, if his business keeps going like this.
Dhaka Motor Parts Shop Owners Association President Saidur Rahman estimates that every shop incurred losses amounting to Tk3-4 lakh on average in the last 16 months. Most shops are indebted to banks and are under pressure to pay back their loans.
"Car decoration began to flourish as a business in Bangladesh in 1979 when a businessman by the name of Jakir Hossain started his Jakir Motors, followed by Salam Kabir's SK Motors, and Siraj Uddin Ahmed Lal's Sardar Motors in the Eskaton area of the capital," Saidur said.
Gradually, this line of business spread across the capital and to other large cities.
Most items used in car decoration are imported while a few local firms manufacture some items.
Saidur said the annual market for the car decoration business in Bangladesh had reached around Tk1,000 crore, and several thousand shops across the country engaged nearly 20,000 people in this before the pandemic.
The market might have been squeezed to only a few hundred crore taka and employment is likely down by 25%.