With the long-term future of the aftermarket industry under threat, new offerings like mobile service are here to stay.
Over the course of the pandemic, while the automotive industry carried forward as an essential service, the world around us changed dramatically. E-commerce sales grew by more than 40 per cent in 2021. One study found that about one-quarter of respondents noted convenience as the deciding factor in where they choose to give their business.
The change in consumer demand goes beyond convenience. We’re seeing it in the adoption of electric vehicles. It’s impacting the price of real estate. The way consumers shop, what they buy and how they live is putting pressure on the aftermarket industry.
To channel H.G. Wells: We must “adapt or perish.”
After years of research, Fountain Tire launched its TireMobile offering in the Lower Mainland of B.C. in 2021. Other major players will follow suit. There are already a variety of other, smaller operators across the country. This is more than a growing trend — it’s our opportunity to adapt.
The rise of mobile has gained recent media attention, too. In the January/February issue of CARS, Bruce Eccles credited mobile tire service as leading a race to the bottom, wrought with safety concerns, financial risks and the lost revenue of unperformed maintenance. As mobile offerings disrupt the industry, the hesitation from shop owners is understandable. Change is hard.
But the truth is, we need to innovate to advance our industry.
In a consumer landscape where convenience is king, the local auto shop as we know it is on a fast-track to extinction. Lease rates are rising exponentially — we’re seeing renewal rates in the Lower Mainland of up 170 per cent in some cases. For many markets, escalating real estate values and the trickle-down to lease rates and property taxes are the largest threat to aftermarket sustainability.
That is, if you can find real estate. Aftermarket shops are being pushed to the fringe as major centres face redevelopment and landlords have ample choice for tenants. Local, independent service facilities that once flourished on neighbourhood corners have been replaced with condos, bakeries and bike shops. The occasional car dealership left in the community is poised to absorb our lost business.
The further we are from our city centres, the less convenience we can offer our customers. Shuttle and pick-up/ drop-off options only go so far. Mobile service is an additional tool in the proverbial toolbox that offers another option to those who not only want at-home service but are also coming to expect it.
That consumer is also proving to be unique. With the redevelopment of our inner-city neighbourhoods comes a different kind of resident — one that is lifestyle focused. These customers have fewer vehicles, but drive newer ones, most of which are still under warranty. We’ve seen TireMobile attract a new segment of the market rather than drawing customers who require extensive repair. It’s allowing us to have a presence in new communities and look after new customers who would otherwise be out of reach.
The connection between new markets and established stores makes our model successful and different from others who have come before us.
In his article, Eccles speculates, “at the top of the list of problems [with mobile service] is losing the opportunity to service the vehicle properly.” Fountain Tire’s TireMobile technicians perform a digital vehicle inspection and provide a report to customers — complete with photos and videos — so the customer can see exactly what is happening with their vehicle. The report is shared with the closest Fountain Tire location and the servicing store takes care of educating the customer.
Admittedly, we cannot perform the same depth of inspection as we can in-store, but we firmly believe taking the time to educate a customer allows them to make an informed decision about next steps. The biggest driver of underperformed maintenance is a lack of consumer education on why a repair is required. We, the aftermarket, should be channelling our focus to educating our associates so they can, in turn, educate our customers.
As an early adopter in this space, Fountain Tire had the opportunity to set the bar for mobile tire service. We’ve set it high. For those exploring mobile, I offer the following:
Consider mobile as a part of a greater automotive service ecosystem. Mobile tire services work well when backed by established processes, stringent safety protocols, established HR programs and brick-and-mortar stores offering mechanical service.
Employ certified technicians. Fountain Tire’s technicians are TIA-certified, whether in-store or working with our TireMobile fleet. This high standard ensures the safety of our associates and highest level of care for our customers’ vehicles.
Adhere to stringent safety protocols and set customer expectations accordingly. Safety standards should not be compromised for unusual locations or inclement weather. If a job site is not safe, do not perform the service.
Provide a thorough inspection. Mobile tire service provides a great opportunity to help the customer understand the overall health of their vehicle. Even without a hoist, many mechanical issues can be flagged and safety concerns addressed.
Work with your insurance provider to manage liability. Fountain Tire has been providing on-the-farm tire service since 1956. We service vehicles in fleet yards, on construction sites and at mining facilities. The concept of work outside the shop is not new to our company, and it is not new to our insurance providers.
In the way we band together to promote careers in the automotive industry, don’t we owe it to one other to adapt to changing market forces and innovate in a way that benefits us all? We must look at mobile tire services not as a race to the bottom, but as a way to build a new segment of loyal customers and move our industry forward — with the same rigour, quality of work and safety as in our shops.
Nason Higinbotham is general manager, B.C. & Yukon Stores at Fountain Tire.
This article originally appeared in the June issue of CARS magazine.