Kwik Fit fleet sales director outlines the strategy as the company develops from tyres-only to a more comprehensive SMR service.
When it comes to aftersales work, leasing companies and fleets have a clear choice: use franchised dealers or turn to independents.
It’s no secret that many have been directing more of their aftersales work to independent workshops – Fleet News leasing stats show that 30% of work already heads their way, up from just 18% six years ago.
The independent sector has undergone considerable change in recent years. Long seen as a cheap and, arguably, inferior alternative to the franchised dealers, heavy investment has improved not just the quality of repairs, but the quality of facilities, with, for example, plush waiting rooms, free WiFi and coffee on tap.
The leading companies have also extended their offering from tyres into full servicing, maintenance and repair (SMR).
Kwik Fit has been at the vanguard of this new dawn. After acquiring the business in 2011, its parent Itochu Corporation made a strategic decision to overhaul the entire network of service centres under the eye of managing director Kenji Murai and fleet director Peter Lambert.
An impressive commitment when the network totals more than 600 sites.
Lambert retired in February after almost seven years in the role.
His replacement, Andy Fern (pictured), believes the company has “changed massively” since the days of private equity ownership, although one thing that has remained stable is the split of business – two-fifths fleet, the balance retail.
“Itochu has invested and has looked at the long term. It’s a professional business and that was pivotal to me taking a leap and joining,” he says.
Fern has an interesting background. A self-confessed ‘petrol head’, he spent two decades working for Michelin, the first in its motor sports division including five years as a race tyre technician for the McLaren Formula 1 team. Despite never seeing himself as a salesman, he switched to sales in 2006 as Michelin began to scale back its interests in F1.
Responsible for major accounts, one of his clients was Kwik Fit.
“My style is that I will sell something if I believe in it. I like to get involved, I like to understand the detail and, when I do, then I will sell it. That gives me credibility with customers,” Fern says.
In 2014, he was appointed sales manager for fleet at Michelin. “That’s when I started to understand fleet. My style is more suited to dealing with fleets and leasing companies,” he adds.
“So when the opportunity to join Kwik Fit came up, it felt like the right thing to do.”
Kwik Fit is only his second employer. He already had a good understanding of the business, but has no plans to make any changes to strategy just yet.
“You have got to give it six months before you have a good, balanced view of the business,” he says. “My ideas are very similar to how things are now. But it’ll be six months before I understand the business sufficiently to put my stamp on it.”
So, currently, the priority is to continue the push into mechanical work, with a strategy based around the “one-stop shop” network of Kwik Fit Plus centres and an expanding mobile service.
Kwik Fit operates 200 mobile vans around the country and late last year launched Mobile7 within the M25 London Orbital motorway, initially with 10 vans. Mobile7 extends operating hours from 8.30am to 8.30pm seven days a week with the vans equipped to tackle a wide range of maintenance requirements. Already, 40% of bookings within the M25 are for evening slots.
Fern’s long-term ambition is to offer the Mobile7 service nationwide, mirroring the direction in which the market is moving, especially for tyres.
Fleets are being encouraged to change their drivers’ mind-set when it comes to tyre replacement, moving away from the traditional approach of turning up unannounced to a Kwik Fit centre towards pre-planning tyre changes, with bookings facilitated through the company’s Fleet Web website.
“Our strategy is two-fold,” Fern says.
“We recognise that our centres are bigger and tyres are evolving – and it’s not stopped yet regarding the number of fitment options. It’s challenging to have every tyre in the centre on spec so we need strong logistical support from our Stapletons business , but also from fleets and drivers planning ahead.”
Fleet Web is a crucial component as the variety of tyres grows, partly fuelled by the trend towards specific tyres for specific vehicles, such as SUVs. Auto transmission and 4x4s are also growing in popularity and they have their own tyre requirements due to weight, complexity and speed.
The proportion of work pre-booked through the web remains small, but rising.
Fern says: “We have to work with customers to change their mind-sets, but it’s a win-win; it helps us to plan ahead and it is more convenient for the customer because we come to their office.”
Technology will help to drive the change: the connected tyre is not far off. Initially, it will be able to inform the driver about size and tyre; ultimately, it will be able to tell the driver when it needs replacing.
Fern recognises that Kwik Fit’s heritage lies in tyres and he is determined to “not take our eye off the ball” as the company puts greater energy into growing its SMR business.
This strategy revolves around the Kwik Fit Plus centres; it has 70 with plans to add more over the next couple of years.
“We are seeing increasing interest from leasing companies – we work with eight of the top 10 – because we now offer a broad section of mechanical work,” Fern says.
“If you go into one of these centres, it feels like you are in a car dealership – it’s a similar model. But the investment has also improved our ability to do a high quality job on time.”
Fern puts fleet business into two camps: pay monthly, typically leasing companies and large fleets, which lean towards premium tyres (Kwik Fit bases each centre’s stock profile on the customer base); and transactional, where the leasing company has negotiated its own rates with a tyre supplier and Kwik Fit follows that stipulation.
His own sales team is divided into three: leasing companies/large fleets; core fleet/medium-size fleets; and local business specialists for fleets with fewer than 100 vehicles. “We have an approach for each,” he adds.
He also has a strategic approach for vans, an area of the market where Kwik Fit is looking to make significant inroads. Facilities investment has enabled more centres to accommodate vans, which has increased business, but the company still has work to do.
This could result in the relocation of some high street centres which do not have the floor space to fit high-roof LCVs. Tyre stocking has not been an issue, as there is a relatively low number of sizes dominating the market so centres are better able to accommodate unplanned visits.
Kwik Fit has identified three phases to its business: what the driver does before they go to a centre, what happens to the car at the centre and what happens after the fitment.
Much of the investment has focused on the middle phase; the company now needs to turn its attention to the first and third stages, according to Fern.
“We have to respect that the driver is the customer of the fleet or leasing company,” he says.
“This is where we will develop over the next three years – that three phase approach.
“I want customers to consider us to be the best at what we do and to be the benchmark for their business. It’s not enough to continue to do just what we are doing today.”