Bradford entrepreneur Afzal Kahn is investing nearly £25m in the launch of a retail business in London to showcase his automotive design products to the global elite.
The 42-year-old businessman is opening four showrooms at prestigious locations in the capital with the first scheduled to open in the King’s Road in Chelsea in the coming weeks.
He told the Yorkshire Post: “It will put us on the map. London is the land of opportunity.
“It’s a bit difficult to buy a car for £250,000 from a business in Bradford when you live in central London, but yet people do.
“What we are doing is taking the show to the customer.”
Mr Kahn, whose motto is “the road is my catwalk”, specialises in “refining” high-end cars for wealthy customers.
This involves stripping new cars and rebuilding them with parts designed and manufactured by Mr Kahn and his group of companies.
He said: “We produce everything out of high quality product, even to the level where all the bumpers are different, the arches are different, the interior is different, the clock and dials are different. We basically refine it.”
He has hired Neil Cruickshank, a former sales manager at HR Owen Ferrari, to manage the expansion into London.
Mr Cruickshank said: “The economy in London is still booming hugely and our product capitalises on the demand.”
He said customers tend to have one thing in common – they are all wealthy. They include actors, entertainers, bankers and architects and anyone with a significant disposable income who is “looking for some extra style and a product that says something about him”, added Mr Cruickshank.
He said the group has a “massive” opportunity to win more international orders from wealthy Arab and Russian homeowners in central London.
The first London showroom will be a boutique for the full range of A Kahn Design products. The next three will showcase the group’s restyled Land Rover, Jeep and supercar products.
The £50m-turnover group has direct supply arrangements with Jaguar Land Rover and Jeep, two of its biggest sellers.
The brand has attracted a loyal following since Mr Kahn launched the business in 1996. But its owner was reluctant to name-drop celebrity owners.
He said: “We are not desperate for that sort of PR. If you do something like that, it’s not good for your brand. We have kept it quite discreet. Hence the reason we have got a lot of customers that buy from us. It’s not difficult to see a celebrity driving our car.”
Mr Kahn added: “Building a business is not complicated. It’s building a brand that’s the hardest thing to achieve, especially a lifestyle brand in this day and age.”
The group sells around 350 cars a year, most of which are sold over the phone. Many of its customers live in London.
Mr Kahn is keen to underline his commitment to UK manufacturing. He said: “I’m not money driven. I have got a love for this industry.”
He added: “We try to keep all our manufacturing processes in the UK. I’m trying to keep it very British. I think it’s very important for creative people to try to keep manufacturing at home.”
Asked why, he said: “For one thousand reasons.”
He has worked with Harris Tweed to incorporate its fabrics into the Land Rover Defender. He is also in talks about a collaboration with the fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.
Mr Kahn left Leeds College of Building to enter the automotive sector. He worked unpaid for two years to learn everything he could about manufacturing processes. He also became a qualified toolmaker and learnt how to produce almost any part.
He told the Yorkshire Post: “If you look at a Ferrari, it is signatured by Pininfarina. That’s where I’m going.
“You’re not just buying a Range Rover, you’re buying one signatured by Kahn.”
IT ALL BEGAN ON A PRINCE’S TRUST COURSE
Starting out in business, Azfal Kahn went on a Prince’s Trust course.
He never looked back.
In the early days, he juggled unpaid manufacturing work while working with his father at an ice cream company.
He would leave for work at 5.30am and then switch over jobs at 1pm.
“I had a love of cars,” he said.
The business developed quickly and by 1994 he was running three factories producing 500 parts a week.
The father of two said he took some huge risks investing in design projects.
Mr Kahn, whose parents are from Pakistan, bought his first Ferrari at the age of 23.