Online Innovation in Equipment Sales

In 2017, Zayd and Saleh Kuba acquired a magazine named Middle East Plant and Equipment to leverage its extensive international database of heavy equipment for sale. Saleh recalls that in 2015 they had started an equipment trading business in the United Arab Emirates, but they lacked a database for marketing their services.

The initial goal wasn’t to enter the publishing industry but to acquire a platform for selling machinery online. However, they do still publish and distribute the magazine throughout the Middle East and Africa. With their company rebranded in 2018 as Plant & Equipment, the brothers can now provide marketing services for the heavy equipment, truck and spare parts industries around the world.
Heritage of heavy equipment
This digital evolution of equipment sales began when the boys’ father, an engineer, instilled a love of equipment in them at an early age. The brothers started working in the construction industry around 2003, doing asphalt, pavement and concrete projects – learning how equipment is used and maintained.

Born and raised in Orange County, California, Zayd took an internship at MECO Miami, an AED dealer member who specializes in used machinery and equipment. There he learned that, although heavy machinery is traded worldwide relatively easily because specifications and local environmental regulations do not restrict it, not all parts of the world have access to an online marketplace for construction equipment.

After graduating from Northeastern University in 2014 with a dual degree in economics and history, Zayd spent two and a half years working for his family’s contracting business in Saudi Arabia before matriculating at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland to pursue a graduate degree in energy finance. However, rather than pursue his original goal of working in the oil and gas industry by accepting a job offer from Shell, he and his brother decided it was now or never to build an online marketplace targeting emerging markets.

Online enterprise
The brothers had been purchasing new and used equipment since the early 2000s. Although they sometimes found machines through the Yellow Pages or online, most of the time, they had to go to the dealer to find a specific machine. Out of that experience, they conceived a mission to create a marketplace to connect buyers and sellers of heavy equipment and trucks worldwide.

Zayd explains how the platform works: “We take a listing fee from dealers that want to sell their machines for six-month and one-year subscriptions. Prices vary based on the number of machines a dealer wants to sell.”

They don’t get involved in the sale unless asked, but they learned that many dealers had some trepidation about the technology and wanted assistance in uploading their machines online and selling them – and that some buyers also required assistance. “They wanted somebody to do it for them,” Zayd observes.

For them, the brothers designed a service to assess machines based on a buyer’s requirements, take pictures, negotiate on behalf of the buyer, and assist in logistics. “Typically, used machines do not have warranties, but our team inspects machines when we are involved in the sales process,” Zayd explains. This service earns them a commission – a small percentage of the sale price from both the buyer and the seller.

One of their first challenges was building credibility with sellers. “You could always find buyers online, but convincing dealers to list their machines online was more difficult,” Saleh recalls. He hopes that AED membership will introduce dealers to their project because listing their machines on opens up “a whole host of new opportunities to sell their machines at higher prices than they would bring when sold locally in the U.S.”

Michael Vazquez, vice president of membership for AED, first signed them up with the intention of helping them grow their business in North America. He remembers about 15 years ago when their father bought a large package of equipment from him to be sent to Saudi Arabia. “I sold him over 500 machines.”

The Kubas’ connections with buyers in the Middle East and Africa are enticing to U.S. sellers. “We try to advise dealers on what types of machines sell well in the Middle East and Africa,”  Saleh says, observing that 14H motor graders are one of the hottest machines on the market right now.

They sell more than 1,000 brands from all over the world. Different countries, even in the same region, will have different requirements, Saleh says. “For example, Furukawa wheel loaders are popular in Saudi Arabia, while Kawasaki wheel loaders are popular in Iraq.” Caterpillar remains the most popular brand overall, but preferences aren’t just about brands. Different types of equipment are preferred in different countries. Excavators are favored in the United Arab Emirates, and graders are more prevalent in Egypt.

Plant & Equipment keeps data on which brands are popular per country and on inquiries and where they come from. “This data is a massive advantage for our company,” Saleh says, “because we can assist dealers in marketing the right machines to the right market.”

Africa is one of the hottest markets in the region today. Countries like Egypt, Ethiopia and Djibouti are buying machines at higher rates than companies in the Middle East. Iraq is starting to pick up, specifically in the earthmoving sector, but the truck market in the Middle East is a bit oversaturated, Saleh believes.

There’s a market for older machines in many of the regions the Kubas work with, mainly because Tier IV engines are not sold there. Vazquez considers this a prime opportunity for U.S. sellers with pre-2012 machines for sale and says that it’s easy to arrange transportation to Dubai, a large port that serves as a center for Africa and the Middle East because it’s a free-trade zone.

Milestones, goals and growth
As Plant & Equipment commemorates reaching its 50,000-listing milestone a year earlier than anticipated, the brothers reflect on how far they’ve come, how a global pandemic has impacted business, and where they still hope to go.

“At the moment, our goals have not changed,” Saleh says, “but our ultimate goal since 2018 is to be the go-to digital marketplace for Africa and the Middle East markets.” To achieve that status, they are focused on consistently growing and solidifying their business by connecting emerging market buyers with global dealers.

Currently, the majority of buyer inquiries they field come from Africa and Middle East markets. Egypt is developing the New Cairo district of the Egyptian capital, with numerous construction projects in progress there and in nearby Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

“We believe there is an enormous opportunity of growth in the construction industry for the foreseeable future,” Saleh predicts, adding that the Levant area, which encompasses Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, holds substantial potential. But they have eyes beyond their own region. “We do intend on growing to other emerging markets, including central Asia.”

Rather than slowing them down, COVID-19 has positively impacted their business. Although they had to close their office in Dubai and cease meeting clients in person, they have the optimal quarantine format. Forced to accept digital technology in order to do business, many dealers have overcome their reluctance to sell construction equipment, commercial vehicles, and spare parts online.

Since March, listings have doubled to more than 50,000 from nearly 700 dealers. “We have seen an increase in the number of visitors to our website and the number of inquiries our listings are receiving,” Zayd says.

 “Pre-COVID, we had approximately 20,000 listings. Over the past six months, we have added 35,000 listings. The total number of listings now stands at 55,000. This is a massive milestone for our company, and it’s put us on the world stage.” 

To appeal to an even broader international audience, Zayd says they intend to add multiple languages on the site, including French.

Having reached the point of positive cash flow and revenue from their once self-funded venture, the brothers are capitalizing on that potential to expand and improve their business. Among the changes, they’re working on is a new dealer dashboard they’re about to launch that will allow dealers to view listing statistics. Additionally, Zayd indicates that is expanding further into multiple machine industries, including agricultural equipment and waste and recycling.

Citing a “very productive relationship” with the Kubas, Vazquez says the potential for growth is “tremendous.” The Kubas certainly share that viewpoint and continue to work diligently to expand their business globally.

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