(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the tyre fitting sector
Independent tyre fitters have had to face increasing competition in recent years from the national chains of fast-fit outlets such as ATS Euromaster, Kwik-Fit, Halfords Autocentres and National Tyres and Autocare. Economies of scale enable them to offer very competitive prices, which can be difficult for the independent to match. As a result the number of independent tyre fitting business has fallen while the fast-fit chains have grown. As well as facing competition from national chains, independents also face strong competition from online tyre specialists such as Black Circles, Mytyres and even Asda, which advertise tyres at highly competitive prices and offer local fitting through a national network of affiliated fitters.
After they were introduced, online sales of tyres grew rapidly and national chains benefited to the extent of making the independents almost invisible. This led to Micheldever Tyre Services Ltd, the UK's largest independent distributor and retailer of tyres, launching in 2015 its proprietary 'TyreClick' solution to help independents compete for online sales. TyreClick supports around 1,000 transactional websites linked to independent retailers, each with their own local URL. It allows dealers to remain independent, permitting them to gather customer data to develop customer relations, and control their own branding and margins. TyreClick has grown rapidly and had a huge growth surge in Spring 2017.
Also in 2015, the tyre manufacturer Michelin bought online tyre retailer Black Circles. They reported a steep increase in sales from new customers during June 2016, of which about 80% were customers who had never before bought tyres online. In March 2017 Michelin launched Click2Sell, which they describe as a flexible 'website in a box' that helps dealers build their online presence and attract new customers with ease. Click2Sell is open to any dealer and allows them to promote their chosen tyre range online - and it does not have to be Michelin.
On a more positive note, the number of cars in the UK continues to rise and consequently demand for tyres remains high. Modern tyres are generally of a higher specification and so the average price has risen. And new cars - even quite basic ones - are being specified with ever larger and more expensive tyres, including special run-flat tyres in some cases. Similarly, the cost of other fast-fit replacement items such as exhausts and shock absorbers has also risen (this is especially true of exhaust systems since the introduction of catalytic converters). However, the lifespan of original equipment components has increased, which means that these components are not replaced so often. Overall though, the fast-fit replacement market has grown in terms of the amount of money spent on these items by motorists each year.
One motor industry trend that hasn't benefited the industry is the decline of the spare wheel - more and more car manufacturers are leaving this out as standard to save on weight and free up space. Although spare tyres don't get replaced very often, they're nevertheless a source of demand for the tyre fitting industry and their disappearance is not a welcome development. The tyre-repair foam that's often supplied instead of a spare isn't very popular with tyre fitters either - it's messy and unpleasant, and some maintain that it's not practical to repair a tyre which has been filled with foam.
Recent years have seen cash-strapped local authorities spending less on patching and maintaining roads, leading to more bumps and pot-holes. A couple of colder than normal winters haven't helped matters. Potholes are often blamed for damaging wheels and tyres as unsuspecting motorists bump over them at high speed. Unfortunately, the lack of cash available to local authorities at times of economic difficulty often coincides with a lack of cash in the hands of consumers, so the damage caused to tyres by poor road maintenance is not always repaired as soon as it should be. In 2017 a 'tread depth on replacement' survey revealed that in one week alone 1,200 tyres were replaced that were already below the legal minimum.
Several recent icy and snowy winters in the UK have boosted demand for winter tyres, with a growing number of motorists purchasing a second set of tyres for winter use. Some tyre fitters will even store the unused set of tyres over the period when they're not in use, contacting the owner to remind them to come in and have them swapped over (all for a price, of course).
Developments in technology have affected the tyre industry too, leading to new products like energy saving 'eco' tyres, all-season tyres and special run-flat tyres.
Mandatory EU tyre labelling was introduced in 2012 to give motorists more information about the tyres they buy. The labels must provide information in a standardised format about fuel efficiency, grip in the wet, and external rolling noise. Tyre retailers must ensure that the tyres they sell are properly labelled (unless they're exempt from the labelling requirement - for example competition tyres), and must inform their customers about what the labelling means during the sale process.
Disposal of used tyres
The proper disposal of used tyres in the UK is an important environmental issue, with around half a million tonnes of waste tyres being discarded each year. These have to be disposed of or recycled in ways that meet current legislation - sending tyres to landfill sites is banned. There are many businesses that offer a collection service for old tyres, which are then re-used or recycled. Uses include re-treading the tyres, burning them as a fuel in cement kilns or recycling the rubber, which can then be used in many different ways. The National Tyre Distributors Association supports drilling sidewalls or cutting beads on tyres that members remove which are not suitable for the part-worn market.
Tyre fitters must ensure that all the old tyres that they remove are collected by an approved registered carrier. Collection companies generally charge a fee for each tyre collected. Many tyre fitters pass these costs on to their customers, often showing a separate disposal charge on the bill.
You can search for an authorised used tyre collector on the Tyre Recovery Association website.
Keep up to date with developments
Trade associations can help you to keep up to date with what is happening in the tyre fitting sector. The National Tyre Distributors Association (NTDA) represents the interests of tyre retail outlets and fast fit centres in the UK. The NTDA operates a code of conduct for its members and offers business services, training and a telephone helpline. Members can also join the NTDA's commercial vehicle breakdown service, Tyrelink.
Other trade associations representing the motor industry that may be of relevance to specialist tyre fitters include the Independent Garage Association (IGA), part of the Retail Motor Industry Federation (RMIF).
Subscribing to a trade journal is another good way of keeping up with developments in your sector. Relevant titles include:
- Tyre Trade News
- Tyres & Accessories (Tyre Press)
- Professional Motor Mechanic
You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade show. You will be able to meet tyre manufacturers, suppliers and importers. The Exhibitions UK website includes details of forthcoming exhibitions in many different industry sectors.