50 years of Kwik Fit
Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of a brand that launched an entire automotive sector and today is familiar to every motorist up and down the land. On 16 April 1971 in McDonald Road, Edinburgh, the first ever Kwik Fit centre opened its garage doors to motorists, offering the new concept of ‘fast fit’ services, replacing components while drivers waited.
In its early days the centre focused on exhaust replacement, followed by tyres, but as automotive technology developed over the subsequent years, Kwik Fit has succeeded by ensuring its range of services developed in parallel. From a single location and a team of five, Kwik Fit now employs over 5,000 people in more than 600 centres across the UK, as well as operating the largest mobile tyre fitting fleet, with over 200 vehicles. In addition to the UK operations, today there are also more than 240 Kwik Fit centres in the Netherlands, Italy and Hungary.
Keeping apace of automotive developments
Over the past 50 years the company’s apprentice scheme has grown to become a sector-leading training programme that is rated outstanding by Ofsted and now trains 150 new apprentices every year – more than 4,000 people have started their automotive careers as Kwik Fit apprentices. The training they experience has evolved significantly since 1971 – matching the advances in vehicle maintenance equipment and automotive technology.
For example 50 years ago, while most electric vehicles were uninspiring (but essential) milk floats, some belonged to the space age – the battery powered Lunar Roving Vehicle or ‘moon buggy’ was first used on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission of 1971. Today, the shift to electric is embedded in the UK car market, and Kwik Fit already has more than 300 technicians servicing electric vehicles.
A driver visiting the centre in 1971 would have had the option of perhaps 14 different tyres. Today Kwik Fit stocks more than 650,000 tyres in its centres, covering an incredible 1,941 different specifications. Correct wheel alignment provides better handling and reduces tyre wear but in 1971 wheel alignment was a lengthy process carried out by relatively few garages. Today, Kwik Fit centres use laser wheel alignment technology to provide a diagnostic reading within minutes, producing analysis which customers can view in real time on screens in reception.
And whereas the foundations of the business were built on the regular demand for new exhausts due to their short lifespan, today many exhausts will last the lifetime of the vehicle and drivers can go through their entire motoring life without ever replacing one.
Customer service ethos unchanged
The anniversary is being marked with a plaque at the McDonald Road centre to highlight the milestone date. Mark Slade, managing director of Kwik Fit says: “Kwik Fit founder Sir Tom Farmer spotted the opportunity in meeting motorists’ needs for the most frequently replaced components – exhausts and tyres – and combining it with the growing desire for faster customer service. Car technology has changed dramatically since then, but one thing which still runs through our core is the customer service ethos which the Kwik Fit team has focused on every day since April 1971. We’re incredibly proud to have been keeping the UK safe on the roads for 50 years and look forward to the developments of the next half century.”
Sir Tom Farmer, who sold the company in 1999, said: “Although I moved on from the business many years ago, it still gives me great pride to see Kwik Fit at the forefront of the UK automotive industry. From the day we opened our first centre we set out the way we wanted to conduct ourselves and the relationship we wanted to have with our customers. We eventually put that in writing as the Kwik Fit Way and I think that is important in the brand’s longevity – having a consistent set of values at the heart of an organisation is vital if it’s going to last and stay relevant.”
Kwik Fit’s plans for the near future include increasing the number of technicians trained in servicing electric vehicles, further development of its mobile fitting service – which is already the largest fleet in the UK, rolling out calibration services for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and increasing its network of MOT centres that are directly connected to the DVSA system.