By Bruce Eccles
It is a well-known fact that billions of dollars are lost annually in North America from underperformed maintenance. And the problem involves much more than dollars and sense; it’s an issue that could potentially affect everyone, since much of that underperformed maintenance includes safety items.
In recent years, some enterprising individuals have started providing mobile service, and especially mobile tire service, where they’ll come to the consumer’s door and switch over the car’s tires right in the driveway. Convenient, yes. But safe? I’m not so sure.
I believe offering mobile tire service will actually add to the underperformed maintenance figures, and potentially add to the number of unsafe vehicles on the road.
The semi-annual tire switchover brings the consumer into the local service operation at least twice a year. That gives service providers a chance to service and inspect the vehicle properly, using licensed and trained technicians. This not only increases sales in bays, but it also provides the consumer with a safe, reliable vehicle. It is impossible to inspect a vehicle properly in a driveway!
Furthermore, I can list many reasons why mobile vehicle service is a flawed business model. It is very seasonal, basically spring and fall; what happens if the consumer has a problem? Can they find the service tech again?
Liability is always a concern; proper insurance is a fixed cost, and I wonder how well covered the typical mobile service guy is.
There’s the cost of fuel and travel time; and the cost of comebacks or return visits for vibration complaint, broken wheel, stud or wheel lock (and this will happen). Proper tire changeover involves more than just taking off one tire and putting on the other. Does the tech do a road test? Wheel retorqueing? Does he drive back in a week to check on the job?
Some techs think that getting into this business is easy money, since lots of consumers will be attracted by the convenience and (perceived) cost savings of having the tech come right to their driveway. But there are lots of hidden costs to this kind of enterprise that they might not be considering.
Let’s start with the initial cost of truck and equipment, plus future maintenance.
There’s the expense of cell-Internet (mobile) service to retrieve spec information the tech might need, including correct wheel torque and tire pressure specifications. Then there’s the cost of installing an Internet-based POS system.
There’s the cost of trained and qualified staff who are willing to work in outdoor conditions. On a warm sunny day, we all love to be outside, but what about rain or snow, or below-freezing temperatures and bitter winds? Labour shortages in climate-controlled shops are already an issue.
Next, add in the cost of the tools and training required to reset tire monitor systems and diagnostics when needed. There’s the potential of noise complaints in urban situations, even legality in some areas. It’s very questionable if a high-end wheel balancer that is designed for stationary installation will be able to withstand day-to-day road vibrations without calibration issues.
I believe many entrepreneurs who embark on this business will eventually need to expand their services, turning it into a roadside assistance service – with even lower margins for profit.
Finally, is it really wise, from a business point of view, to focus your entire business model on catering to a specific consumer who bases everything on cost, not value?
If it is about convenience for the consumer, then you can offer pick-up and delivery, a courtesy shuttle, or courtesy vehicles. Then go out and promote it.
The way I see it, putting water in a plastic bottle began as an idea based on convenience; now, it is an environmental disaster.
Bruce Eccles, Eccles Auto Service
Bruce Eccles is the “semi-retired” founder of family run Eccles Auto Service in Dundas, Ont., regarded as one of the premier independent automotive aftermarket service providers in Canada. He continues to be an active participant in the business and the industry and is Vice-President of the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario.