Halfords Group plc has reported strong group sales up 10.4 per cent like-for-like over two years driven by “an outstanding Autocentres performance through the third quarter 2021 MOT peak.” Indeed, ‘Motoring services’ now account for 70 per cent of sales due to the combination of Autocentres growth and the recent National Tyres purchase. Not only do these movements reflect Halfords’ efforts to lead the tyre retail/motoring services market, but represent steps towards the creation of motoring retail “fusion towns.
A quick glance at our recent top 10 articles of 2021 email offers a unique overview of the major themes of the last 12 months. Since most of those issues are ongoing stories, they bring with them a useful insight into some of the things we can expect in 2022 – an insight that can be summarised by these three words: acquisitions, consolidation and sustainability.
In light of the news of Halfords acquisition of National Tyres and Iverson Tyres, Tyres & Accessories contacted various National Tyres and Halfords executives for comment on the subjects of branding and branch closures. In response, company spokesperson confirmed that the bulk of Axle Group businesses will be rebranded under the Halfords moniker with one or two exceptions.
Following the news that Halfords Group is buying Axle Group Holdings Ltd including 239 National Tyres garages and 60 mobile tyre fitting vans, further details relating to the transaction have emerged. Firstly, while company announcements refer to the purchase of “National”, Halfords’ latest acquisition actually sees the company purchase the entire issued share capital of Axle Group Holdings Ltd (“National”) for £62 million. And the transaction is expected to be completed on 9 December 2021.
According to Halfords, the acquisition of National Tyres delivers “on its strategy to become a Motoring Services focused business”. Halfords Autocentres has always been amongst the most profitable parts of the overall Halfords Group businesses and financial figures have consistently shown that autocentre-related revenue is amongst the fastest-growing parts of the group. But what the National Tyres acquisition specifically means is that what Halfords terms “motoring revenue” will “represent more than 70 per cent of Group pro-forma revenue”.
In addition to the acquisition of Axle Group/National Tyres, Halfords has also bought London-based Iverson Tyres, which describes itself as a “specialist supplier and fitter of tyres and provider of adjacent maintenance services”. Iverson Tyres was founded in 1992 and is made up of four locations in Chiswick, Hanwell, Northolt and Farnham Common.
Halfords is paying £62 million for National, the tyre and automotive servicing, maintenance and repair business, which operates under the National Tyres and Autocare, Viking Wholesale Tyres and Tyre Shopper brands. As a result, Halfords’ garage estate will grow by more than 60 per cent (from 372 to 604 garages), offering MOT, servicing, fitting and repair services. According to Halfords, this deal makes it “the largest vehicle service, maintenance and repair business in the UK, with the majority of UK households within a 20-minute drive of a Halfords garage.” However, Tyres & Accessories data suggests European Tyre Enterprises Ltd (ETEL), which incorporates 650 Kwik Fits in its portfolio, is still the largest in the UK with a total estate of 740 at the last count.
On the one hand, most sources agree that online tyre demand is booming as a result of the pandemic and its related lockdowns. However, on the other hand, such rapid growth has also led to increased competition online. One way of finding which tyre firms are getting ahead in the online space is to consider the race for pole-position in Google search results. Since Google is the by far the biggest search engine online holding a dominant 92.47 per cent global market share as of June 2021 (87.7 per cent in the UK specifically), getting your brand ahead of the competition in search results makes a big difference. And paid search advertising, known as pay-per-click (PPC) – is one way to do that. In order to get a handle on the tyre retail sector’s virtual performance in 2021, Tyres & Accessories worked with SEO marketing specialists Evolved who analysed the organic search and PPC performance of the top 23 UK-based etailers and concluded that online specialist Blackcircles is taking ground from bricks and mortar market leader Kwik Fit, amongst other things.
With a pandemic, an MOT extension and three lockdowns to contend with, describing the last year as “difficult” would be an understatement. Nevertheless, tyre retailers have demonstrated that they are not only key workers essential to keeping the British Isles rolling, but also versatile and resilient businesspeople during the last 12 months. A quick look at the top 25 UK tyre retail chains 2021 table reveals that it has been a more eventful year than normal in terms of branch openings and closings, but overall the clear message is one of consolidation. As a result, the top 25 UK tyre retail chains wield more power than ever. Specifically, the top 25 now run 2528 branches between them. When our coverage of this area began back at the end of the 2008/2009 tax year, the figure was 1978. During the interim, the rough estimate for the total number of tyre retailers national has stayed stable at around 10,000 specialists (that number is roughly double that if you include general garages). This means the top 25 occupy roughly 25 per cent of the number of branches, up 6 percentage points since 2009.
National Tyres and Autocare has begun offering vehicle servicing at selected outlets. It offers three vehicle servicing packages, starting with a 25-point Express Service and going up to a full 51-point Full Service.