How to start a JDM Import Business!

I’ve broken down the whole process into sections so it’s easier to understand along with some advice based on my experience working in this industry. The process will get easier and less complicated as you go down the list because after the initial phase is done, the exporter will take care of and be there with you throughout the sourcing and buying process (assuming they are good at their job!). It will also get so much easier once you’ve done the process once or twice.

Research import regulations

This is perhaps the most important step in starting your very own JDM import business. Every country has its own import regulations, import charges, and registration processes. Figuring out what they are early on will help make things a lot easier.

The US, for example, can only import JDMs older than 25 years and requires an import broker to help with the import process and release the vehicle(s). Import duty is 2.4% for cars and 25% for trucks. Registration is relatively simple at the local DMV. Full guide for US importers here.

Meanwhile, for Australia, the shipping is postpaid and packaged together with a 15% duty and GST based on the commercial value of the invoice. Australia also requires special compliance to make sure the vehicles are up to Australian road and safety standards. Which tends to cost more if the vehicles have aftermarket parts. Full guide here if you’re looking to start a JDM import business in Australia.

The U.K does not have any import regulations, just the VAT and duty on imports. Then get vehicle approval to show that your imported vehicle meets environmental and safety regulations. You’ll need proof of approval to register the vehicle.

The import regulations research must also include looking into whether you need to register yourself as a company to import. Most countries will have a limit to the number of vehicles an individual can import before they need to register as a company. If you’re just starting out with your JDM import business and can import as an individual, do that until you’re settled in.

Make sure you’re very versed in importing the vehicle into the country as this will help towards the end of the process since, well, Zervtek takes care of everything up until the destination port.

Start-up costs

Rx7 bought from the Japanese auto auctions

There are two business models for JDM import business “start-ups” I’ve seen as an exporter that keep recurring.

  1. Finding customers looking for JDMs and importing a vehicle for them.
  2. Importing a vehicle and then making a sale.

  • 1. This requires talking to people and building connections. Essentially you’re looking at finding a customer that’s willing to put down a security deposit in exchange for your sourcing and importing a vehicle for a set, pre-agreed-upon fee. The payment terms can be set by you. 
  • 2. This usually means using your funds/capital and importing vehicle(s) that you think would sell. This lets you control and set your prices potentially leading to higher profit margins (or losses if you calculate wrong).


The difference between the two methods is just that the second method can yield a lot more profit if done right but it also carries a bit of a risk since there’s no customer that guaranteed a purchase. Most new importers that worked and matured during their time with us used one of the first methods and went on to mix and match the two processes.

I often say this to new people coming into the JDM import business. There is no need to rush, start slow, test the waters and see how it goes. We’ll be here for you.

The buying process

Auctions vs Stock

There are usually two methods for buying a vehicle from Japan. An exporter’s stock and the Japanese auto auctions.

The Japanese auctions may seem daunting especially when you’re starting out but there’s a reason why we recommend it. Especially for importers looking to do this as a business.

The Japanese auctions are basically a big network of different auction houses holding their own auctions once a week. The sheer number of auction houses means that there are several different auctions per day from Monday to Saturday throughout Japan giving you a ton of options per model.

If you were looking at an exporters stock, you would not only have to take into account their (sometimes an insanely high) profit margin for a vehicle that was most likely bought from the auctions but also get a limited amount of vehicles to choose from

The auctions will:

  1. Give you a lot more options to pick from.
  2. Set your custom budgets per vehicle depending on the year, mileage, condition and etc.
  3. Buy at wholesale prices that Japanese dealers/exporters buy at.
  4. A flat exporter fee that will include all the charges within Japan.

I will be talking about the auctions from here on out.


What the exporter will do for you

JDM import business.

Pre-auction

This is how the process usually works with us and our customers, it could vary depending on the exporter. 

  1. We will provide you with recent sales data, help you with budget estimates and provide our opinion on various things to help you during the initial search.

  2. Once the vehicle and the budget are narrowed down a bit, we will get onto the searching phase. This could involve us sending you options from our end as well as you sending us links to vehicles that you’re interested in (Typically if you’re looking for a few different models at the same time).


  3. A. provide you with auction sheet translations and have you narrow down, particularly if there are not many options coming up    
    B. have you specify all your preferences where we narrow upcoming cars down very specifically according to the preferred preferences and bid on a lot of vehicles to get one, typically done when there are a lot of options coming up and we cannot send translations for each vehicle. We make sure to adhere to and narrow down thoroughly.

  4. In some cases, usually older and rarer vehicles conduct an inspection to get more photos and videos to ensure the condition of the vehicle. The auction sheet is usually enough to go with for newer vehicles

  5. After the vehicles are decided, bid and purchase.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNlJbc2dRMc

More on the process here.

Post-auction

  1. Transport the vehicle to the port yard. If the customer purchases an oil leaking or a low-down car, those will need to be fixed before it’s allowed to be shipped. Additional charges will incur but we will let you know about the charges and issues or avoid these before the auction.

  2. Arrange to ship and be waitlisted until a booking is confirmed for the vehicle, and receive and convert documents to make the vehicle exportable

  3. Carry out any cleaning or inspections if required by the destination country. (We will figure it out, you do not have to worry about if it’s required or not.)

  4. Ship the vehicle.

Relationship with an exporter

This is very personal advice from me working in this field over the last few years and this will vary from exporter to exporter. But this is how it is for me, personally, and for us as a company.

Importing means you will be developing a relationship with the exporter as a company as well as a personal relationship with the agent in charge (maybe more) as you will be in constant contact almost every other day for years to come talking about upcoming cars in the auctions, translations, and inspections for those vehicles, market prices for a vehicle you’re interested or after purchase updates.

Start your import business with zervtek Japan

It’s typically easier to work with people who understand and respect our pricing. It’s okay to try and negotiate but at the same time, the prices are set carefully considering our operating costs and what we think our time/efforts are worth.

There may be exporters with lower or higher pricing, and that’s fine. We are what we are and our services offer actual depth with brand equity, and loyalty. Along with things like educating the customers on everything (check the entire site) and making sure they feel safe with us or apologizing if things beyond our control happen (like shipping delays) or trying to fix a strut bar onto a jacked-up RX7 for 5 hours because that customer is valuable to us and constantly evolving trying to do things better and faster for our customers because long-lasting relationships with recurring imports are everything to us.

A longstanding relationship that’s built over years based on trust is not worth being replaced by trying to make a few extra bucks possibly for worse service, in my opinion.

Having a trustworthy relationship with an exporter that goes both ways will be one of the core pillars of this business. Regardless of whether it’s us or not, if you find a good exporter you can trust, stick with them.

What to avoid with an exporter

  1. Don’t make payments via Union or Western transfers. Always either use Paypal or registered Japanese banks.
  2. Check reviews and exporter websites – not the listed units, but the content.
  3. Cheaper prices would also mean they keep a hidden margin on shipping. This is very common when customers say “that place is cheaper”. Well, you’re probably getting way ripped off on shipping.


A few key things to success

Landcruiser for export and import from Japan

Think long term

Most of the successful importers I’ve met and grown together with us from their first car usually had one thing: They were dedicated to building a brand and a long-term business- not a one-off sale to make a few bucks fast. Often spending time searching for new connections and customers, fixing up vehicles if needed, and working on their brand.

Be realistic about your budgets

Cheap cars are good and good cars aren’t cheap. It’s very subjective but the point is to be more realistic with the market in your country, the current prices in Japan, and what condition/mileage/year range your budget can afford. This will save time for you as well as the exporter and make the first few purchases easier until you get used to the process. 

Getting used to importing

 It’s very easy to get along with some importers and harder with others. It will take time to get used to working with each other sometimes but it’s okay. As long as you are committed to purchasing and are willing to put in the work from your end as well, it will get easier, especially after the first 1-2 imports.

ZervTek Japan

This was written from a very personal perspective hoping to educate new entrepreneurs. That being said, if you are interested in working with us, please do not hesitate to contact us via Email or Whatsapp.