More and more automotive service and repair shops offering mobile tire service. And more and more, they’re only hurting themselves and our industry.
Late last year, Fountain Tire was the latest dancer to the party as it announced it would be bringing its mobile tire sales and installation services to customers’ doorsteps. For now, it’s only available to those in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.
Nevertheless, the concept is not new and none of its many flaws have been ironed out over the many years it has been around. In fact, the concept has failed. GoTire promoted its mobile tire service on Dragons Den’s seventh season. Despite getting an investment of nearly $219,000 from Kevin O’Leary and Bruce Croxon, the company looks like it has gone under. Its website is no longer available.
Apart from the extraordinarily tight financial gain, at the top of the list of problems is losing the opportunity to service the vehicle properly. With manufacturer extended service intervals dramatically lengthened, this was already a bubbling issue. It’s a well-known fact in the industry that underperformed maintenance represents billions of missing dollars.
Take this, written in CARS’s sister publication Jobber News almost 10 years ago: “The ‘untapped market’ of unperformed and underperformed automotive maintenance represents a significant 27 per cent of the total aftermarket potential — but the larger concern is vehicle safety, according to the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA).”
The piece went on to highlight that customers avoiding or delaying maintaining their vehicles pose potential safety risks to not only themselves, but their families and everyone travelling on our roads and highways
“AASA strongly supports addressing the issue of unperformed/underperformed maintenance through continued consumer education and reasonable, safety-friendly and cost-effective vehicle inspection programs throughout the country,” said Bill Long, then-president and chief operating officer of the association.
Chief executive officer of Fountain Tire Brent Hesje, in an April 2018 Jobber News profile upon his election as chairman of the Automotive Aftermarket Industries Association of Canada, also referenced underperformed maintenance. He deemed this as unrealized financial potential for the aftermarket.
“If that was all fulfilled in Canada, there is a multi-billion-dollar prize out there,” he said, citing AIA Canada estimates of the “prize” being as much as $15 billion at the time.
“I didn’t really have an understanding of the magnitude of the underperformed maintenance that is out in the marketplace … We have this bigger prize to go after,” he later observed in the interview.
And, yes, it is amusing that the leader of Fountain Tire made these comments, and here we are just a few years later as the company rolls out a service that will only make matters worse.
How so? A semi-annual tire switch over in a controlled environment like a reputable repair shop allows service providers to service and inspect a vehicle properly with licensed and trained technicians.
That’s not happening in a driveway.
A semi-annual tire switch over in a controlled environment like a reputable repair shop allows service providers to service and inspect a vehicle properly with licensed and trained technicians.
And when a vehicle is in a bay, this not only increases sales in bays but provides the consumer with a safe reliable vehicle.
There are also a number of concerns that only hurt shop owners and, ultimately, the aftermarket industry as a whole:
Liability: There are liability concerns when working on private property, not to mention the cost of having the proper insurance to do such work.
Comebacks: How much will this cost in comebacks to your shop? Or an on-site call back at the customer’s home? You can bet good money that there will be more complaints about vibrations, broken wheel studs or wheel locks.
Investment costs: How affordable is it to invest in new tools and the training required to reset tire monitor systems and diagnostics when needed? What about your truck to perform the work? The return on investment will likely be a long one as costs to the customer can’t be too far out of line with what they would receive if they came into the shop.
Qualified staff: Who will be doing this work? Will they be properly trained? Are you going to send qualified professionals into the field, rather than have them in the shop? We already have enough of a labour challenge — will this exacerbate it? And will be these pros be willing to work in undesirable weather conditions? Remember, these jobs take place in spring and fall.
Wheel balancer: It’s highly questionable if high-end wheel balancers designed for stationary installation will overcome day-to-day road vibrations without calibration issues.
Extra costs: Fuel costs are at all-time highs. How far are you willing to travel for your customers? Are you getting those costs back in your fees? Unlikely. What about costs associated with cellular data? You will need mobile internet information to retrieve correct wheel torque and tire pressure specifications, on top of an internet-based POS system. Let’s not forget maintenance costs to repair your service truck.
At the end of the day, mobile tire service will become a roadside assistance business with even lower margins for profit. It is catering to a specific consumer who bases everything on cost, not value. We shouldn’t be racing to the bottom as an industry.
The argument for mobile tire service is that it provides convenience to the customer. Putting water in a plastic bottle was an idea based on convenience. Now it is an environmental disaster.
If such a service is about convenience for the consumer, then offer pickup and delivery, a courtesy shuttle or courtesy vehicles.
Our job as shop owners and technicians is to ensure every vehicle we put back on the roads is safe and reliable. A mobile tire service not only doesn’t do that, but it also increases the risk that these vehicles are in worse shape.
Bruce Eccles is the semi-retired owner of Eccles Auto Service in Dundas, Ont.