Estimates vary, but independent repairers handle between 10-20% of fleet servicing and maintenance business – and it’s increasing.
Leasing providers are keen to put much greater volume through independents, but face resistance from some fleet customers who have had a bad experience in the past.
Other blockages include the need for independents to send vehicles to franchised dealers for re-coding after maintenance work, increasing downtime.
Kwik-Fit intends to tackle these negative perceptions.
It is looking to throw off its fast-fit shackles via a million-pound modernisation programme investing in facilities, equipment and staff training.
The company believes this will put it on a par with franchised dealers for everything – except pricing.
Low-cost maintenance will remain a key selling point.
Since Ford acquired Kwik-Fit from Sir Tom Farmer 12 years ago in a billion-pound deal, the company has changed hands four times as successive parents struggled to find the right strategy to allow the business to flourish.
Venture capitalist PAI made the greatest impact during its six-year ownership, converting the fast-fit operator into a business able to dip a cautious toe into service and repair.
Last year, Itochu Corporation became the latest incumbent after acquiring Kwik-Fit from PAI in a £637 million deal.
So what’s different this time? For starters, Itochu is not a venture capitalist; it is not seeking to make a quick buck before selling on the company.
And it has history in this sector: Itochu has owned tyre networks in its native Japan as well as Germany and America.
Although it has sold those businesses, it acquired UK-based Stapleton’s Tyre Services in 2004 and has laid out a strategy of expansion in UK and Dutch markets.
Following the Kwik-Fit acquisition, Itochu installed Stapleton’s CEO Kenji Murai as Kwik-Fit managing director. Murai is a seasoned tyre expert; he joined Itochu’s tyre business in Japan in 1990.
The company has already refitted 15 Kwik-Fit sites. With a target of 100 centres a year, and an annual budget of £20m, the full 676-outlet network will be modernised within seven years at a cost likely to top £120 million.
“The best strategy is quality and investment,” Murai told Fleet News. “Quality is our keyword. It will increase customer satisfaction and that will increase our profits.”
Itochu “does not have an exit plan, just a growth plan”, he adds.
Murai’s passion for the business is a primarily driving force, and his aspiration to improve the facilities at each Kwik-Fit centre stems from his early experiences at Stapleton’s.
“I went into the washroom – it was unbelievable,” he recalls. “But if you go to the high street, the facilities are fantastic.
"I couldn’t understand why there was this gap in standards with tyre retailers.”