Mid-Devon garage Cully Tyres & Autocare is enjoying its most profitable period of trading since new owners took over in May 2022. The biggest independent tyre dealer in Cullompton recently invested £100,000 on a wide-ranging refurbishment, new equipment and opting to become a member of the First Stop network. Cully Tyres & Autocare, formerly known as Marsh Tyres, has recruited new staff and now offers additional automotive services, such as repairs and solutions for electric vehicles and hybrids. As a result of its First Stop membership, the branch has also broadened its range of premium tyre brands in stock, naturally featuring the ranges from First Stop parent company, Bridgestone and its Firestone brand.
With the manufacturer’s latest Dueler all-terrain tyre coming into the market in 2023, Bridgestone’s consumer sales director Brett Emerson has given some insight into how Bridgestone is developing its 4×4 tyre range with consumers and the wide variety of application mixes within this segment. Starting from the point of view that “no two 4×4 enthusiasts are the same,” Emerson explains the importance of “factoring in how much all-terrain driving” drivers will do and “how much is mud related.” The manufacturer, alongside the First Stop retail network, wants to help fit the tyre with the right performance characteristics to customers’ vehicles, Emerson continues.
The First Stop and ETB Autocentres networks began their Customer Centricity Week on 25 September. Both networks plan to offer a ‘delightful experience’, targeting the generation of more repeat-business and an increase in recommendations. In order to achieve this, they have created a new customer framework to raise standards among staff with three objectives: gaining loyalty and recommendations from customers, to be customer-centric, and to create what it calls “the best customer journey in the automotive retail industry.”
There’s no denying that the tyre business has become more digital and connected than ever before, but there are a number of sides to that equation. We know that between 60 and 80 per cent of tyre-buying consumers were doing pre-sale research online before the pandemic. Similarly, industry insiders have been saying that 10 per cent of tyres are bought online for something like a decade now. But anecdotal evidence from tyre retailers themselves reveals that, amongst those working for the large chains at least, many customers walk through the door to receive a tyre change that has already been booked online. Apparently, some of the younger generation just walk in and hold up a QR code on their phone! This month’s Tyres & Accessories looked into these kinds of questions, asking what it means for the tyre business to be digitally native. And it starts with a brand-new ranking of the leading tyre retail, e-tail and tyre comparison websites.
Kwik Fit and its other ETEL-related brands (Tyre City, Tyre Pros and Central Tyre) have dominated the UK tyre retail landscape for years. More recently, Halfords has made our annual tyre retail ranking a two-horse race. However, Michelin’s ATS Euromaster network remains a significant player and other chains such as the Micheldever- and ultimately Sumitomo-owned Protyre have grown consistently over a long period of time. But none of that tells the whole story. While big chains generate significant levels of value and volume, franchise networks like HiQ and First Stop represent another dimension. And medium-sized chains are often so good at what they do that they end up being bought by larger businesses at a premium. And yet none of that reflects the importance of the vast majority of the market – the independent tyre businesses with one or two centres. That’s why June’s Tyres & Accessories aimed to present a more panoramic view of the undeniably indispensable tyre retail business. Here, T&A presents our annual tyre retail ranking as a way of keeping you informed of the lay of the land in the ever-changing tyre retail landscape.
One of Wolverhampton’s oldest garages has joined the First Stop network, gaining new signage, equipment and access to a range of premium tyres along the way. First Stop Wolverhampton in Chapel was formerly part of HiQ.
A one-stop tyre shop in Basingstoke for truckers, farmers and motorists is the latest depot to become a member of the First Stop network. R & R Tyres, situated on Armstrong Road, will benefit from a wide range of support, including a £5,000 investment already made in new signage. The garage is one of the most popular in the town and one of very few in the country to fit tyres for HGVs, tractors, vans and passenger vehicles all under the same roof, while also offering a mobile call-out service around the area.
Following the news of Brenden Marais’s promotion to First Stop Tyres & Car Services UK and Ireland franchise manager, First Stop has recruited two new retail business consultants to accelerate its expansion plans. With 155 stores now operating under the First Stop banner, the company’s pledge to reach the 220 mark by 2024 remains on course.
First Stop Tyres & Car Services has confirmed that Brenden Marais has been appointed as the new national franchise manager for First Stop in the UK and Ireland. He will also act as the country manager for the First Stop network in Ireland.
Ron Austin, owner of A&A Tyres & Auto Services First Stop, was greeting customers on Monday November 14 in his inimitably jovial manner, only to pass away two days later. Austin, who was well-known to motorists in the Cardiff area and beyond died at the age of 89, having worked until his final days. He was believed to be the oldest garage owner in the UK.
The suggestion that the UK tyre distribution space is ripe for consolidation is not new. But during the single week that we went to press with the latest edition at the start of October, three big tyre retail announcements were made. First Stop broke through the 150-branch barrier. Point S announced that its buying group of independent tyre retailers now numbers 300. And Halfords bought Lodge Tyres for just over £37 million.
First Stop’s UK tyre and autocare retail operation recently broke through the 150-branch barrier. The leap to 150 tyre centres marks a significant milestone for any tyre business, but read in light of our annual tyre retail ranking, two key facts are immediately apparent: Firstly, First Stop has added something like 26 branches to the network since the last count at the end of April 2022 (which itself followed a 65-branch increase on the 2021 total). And secondly, reaching the 150 mark means that – as things stand – First Stop is now the fifth largest tyre retail operation in the UK. First Stop’s UK management set the goat or reaching 220 branches in four years back in 2019. Reaching 150 branches in three despite the challenging circumstances that have come along with the pandemic, is all the more remarkable.
Essex garage owner Laurence Nichols has promised to drive his Harlow business into a new era having strengthened ties with the First Stop network on his 50th anniversary in the motor trade. Nichols runs Uncle Tom’s Motorist Centre, which he named after his father who died in 1989. Now 63, the garage owner began his career making the tea for colleagues back in 1972, before his family business fully kicked into gear in 1976. When his father Tom passed away, he decided to change the name of the garage in his memory. He says thoughts of his father continue to spur him on.
Times have been tough in the last couple of years, but if the growth of the top 25 tyre retailers in the UK is anything to go by, the nation’s leading tyre retail businesses are taking triumph from adversity. Of course, Halfords’ acquisition of National Tyres and Autocare’s parent company at the end of 2021 makes up a big part of the new UK tyre retail landscape, but it is clear that adding branches to existing networks (either by organic growth or by acquisition) is a common theme across the board.
The manager of one of the latest independent garages to join the First Stop retail network is committed to creating the most welcoming customer environment in the industry, supported by an all-female front desk. Kim Dorr decided to embark on a career in the industry to dispel common stereotypes associated with garage forecourts after feeling intimidated and undermined when taking her car to the garage. She aimed to create a warm, welcoming environment at Northampton-based In Town Automotive, featuring a children’s play area, a screen showing live video updates of technicians’ work, and bunches of fresh flowers from the local florist. Now Dorr is heralding a new chapter for the centre as it gains national sales, marketing and purchasing support from the First Stop network.