In the 1990s, when the digital age was still to flourish with all its possibilities in the country, setting up a real-life weekly marketplace for used cars was a visionary business strategy.
Car Haat was such an idea.
Established in 1999 by six friends at the Rajdhani High School playground on Manik Mia Avenue in Dhaka, the weekly marketplace has become one of the most popular as well as trusted marketplaces for both sellers and buyers of used cars in the city.
The recent spurt of online shopping platforms could barely impact the appeal and popularity of the real-life marketplace thanks to effective marketing and advertising strategy adopted by the enterprising youths.
However, it was not an easy journey for the six friends. They had to undergo great struggle for the first one and a half years reaching their concept to car enthusiasts.
At that time, newspaper was the main medium of publicity. Car Haat also used posters and banners for advertisement purpose.
"Nahid, Shuva, Rusho, Sabu, Shimu and myself are friends for more than two and a half decades. Car Haat was the brainchild of Shuva…but Shuva died after we had started the business. Initially, Nahid was a major financier," said Shamim Ehsan Sumon, one of the founders of Car Haat.
"Afterwards, we have spread our business in other sectors including readymade garments," he added.
The weekly car market sits every Friday from 8am to 8:30pm. Generally, cars of six brands are displayed in the market – Toyota, Suzuki, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai and Mitsubishi.
Car Haat authorities said about 148 cars can be accommodated in a single day at the Rajdhani High School playground.
If anyone is interested to display their car in the market, they have to register within Wednesday at the Car Haat office.
A car seller has to pay the haat authorities Tk500 for display for one day.
The Car Haat authorities also get a 2.5 percent commission from the total selling price of a vehicle.
After choosing a car, a customer has to pay 5 percent of the car's price in advance.
More than 30 sales executives deal with buyers in the haat.
"Most of the customers come in the afternoon and the rush continues till 8:30pm," said Rahmat Ullah, a sales executive of the Car Haat Ltd.
"Car Haat is the only weekly marketplace for old cars in Dhaka. Another similar marketplace ran behind the Aarong outlet near Asad Gate for almost a year. But it no longer exists," said Billal Sarker, customer relations officer of Car Haat.
"It is a service-oriented business. We take 100 percent liability of required papers of a vehicle. This is why customers can rely on us," he added.
Most of the sellers are professional businessmen who buy vehicles from individuals and sell in the haat.
"We buy cars from individual sellers and keep the vehicle in our showroom for a week. Then we bring the vehicle in the haat," said Jubaer, a car seller.
"Car is a luxury product. Nowadays, our business is in a bad shape. The situation has not been good for the last few years," he added.
"I have been involved in the car business for the last 10 years. The business is not so good now because of the financial condition of people," said Md Jalal, another seller.
Billal Sarker, customer relations officer of Car Haat, said, "About 25-30 cars used to get sold 5-7 years ago. But now the average sale is 14-15 cars in each haat."
Shamim Ehsan Sumon, one of the entrepreneurs of Car Haat, said, "The recent anti-casino drive has affected our business negatively. The fall in the share market a few years ago also had a negative effect."
Asked if they face any challenge from the online trend of marketing, Sumon said, "Despite all the challenges, customers are still coming to Car Haat. Here people can examine a car thoroughly before buying, which is not possible online."
Wishing anonymity a customer said he went to Car Haat to buy a car last year. "After I had chosen a car in the market, the seller proposed making the transaction outside in order to avoid paying commission to the market authorities. I agreed to his proposal, and it benefitted both of us," he said.
"This might be a reason behind the fall in the number of cars sold in the market," he assumed.
Used cars are also sold in numerous showrooms across the city. Most of them are operating their business through both traditional and digital marketplaces.
The traditional way is still more popular when it comes to buying or selling a car.
"Daily Car Haat" is a company which is conducting its business through Bikroy.com, a popular online platform. Their showroom is at Mohammadpur, Dhaka.
"We sell old cars both online and offline. The average online sale in the last two years is not more than 5 percent," said Adbul Malek, manager of Daily Car Haat.
"Most customers feel comfortable to buy cars from the showroom. This is why we keep both options open for them," he added.
Another company "Car Bazar" is also selling reconditioned vehicles online as well as from its showroom in Jashore.
"Both the wholesalers and retailers buy vehicles from us. Our online selling is not more than 1 percent of the total sale," said Meftahur Rahman Khokan, owner of Car Bazar.
"We used to sell 20 cars on an average only a few months ago. But now the number has fallen," he added.