When you think of essential services you might not instantly pick tyre fitting. But around the world, tyre dealerships found themselves selected as one of the key roles needed to help in the fight against coronavirus.
Their job: to keep essential workers mobile, whether that involved repairing a nurse’s car so he can get to his shift or keeping an ambulance or police car on the road. They also played a supporting role by maintaining vehicles for the general public and those helping elderly relatives or the vulnerable.
Among Pirelli’s community of dealers, Simon Hiorns, retail director of Micheldever Tyre Services in the UK, is quick to play down any sense of heroism. “We know it’s about making sure the people who really matter – like nurses and doctors – can do the job they have to do,” he says. “But I know I can say for myself and our workers that we felt like we had a responsibility as one of the country’s larger operators, with the backing of a large corporation in Japan, to support the government and the country by keeping our business open, and I’m very grateful for all the effort our workers have put in.”
Simon Hiorns - Retail Director of Micheldever
Hiorns, who runs Micheldever’s retail arm of Protyre, with 158 businesses across the UK – 37 of them Pirelli Performance Centres – initially kept all of his outlets open. Then, at the start of April, those that could be covered by other branches were closed. The initial weeks of the pandemic were not easy, because workers were unsure about getting into customers’ vehicles when these were possibly contaminated. In came personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitisers, bleach washing of the centres and new contact points for payments, so that staff – and customers – could see everything was being done to make things safe.
Staff and customers could see everything was being done to make things safe
It was a similar story for Jamie Ward, president of Tire Discounters, one of the leading independent tyre dealers in the US. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, the firm has 130 stores in the Midwest. He saw what was coming in early February and personally petitioned the Ohio state government to be designated an essential business. “We war-gamed early on and got a jump-start by ordering supplies, buying PPE and building contingency plans,” he says. “Our team has been in a mad-dash sprint to stay on top of this and keep our employees safe.”
Jamie Ward - President of Tire Discounters
New standards of excellence
Health, safety and hygiene measures were also quickly introduced at Driver Center, the official network of Pirelli dealers operating in eight European countries including Italy, Germany and Spain. New digital platforms have made it possible to book and pay for services online to minimise contact, while many dealerships offer car collection and delivery as well as the “Driver on the Go” service, with tyre changes taking place at home.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every area of the economy and changed the usual interaction between dealers and consumers,” says Mattia Bussacchini, Pirelli’s senior vice-president of commercial operations. “We are supporting our Driver network of dealerships with fresh thinking and new standards of excellence that will allow motorists to carry out any required car maintenance in comfort and safety.”
Beyond the norm
In the early weeks of the crisis in the US, Ward says his team encountered plenty of requests for help from nurses and medical workers, and even trucks that had broken down while hauling medical PPE, as they worked to keep essential travellers on the road.
Meanwhile, Hiorns was quick to communicate to his managers that, in the middle of the crisis, their usual KPIs were no longer relevant. With profits cut by 60 per cent because of reduced trade, it was about staying open and helping people in need.
With profits cut by 60 per cent because of reduced trade, it was about staying open and helping people in need
“We’ve got loads of stories where we’ve done more than just our job, offering to help with deliveries if we’ve got spare capacity, for example, or taking a gentleman in his nineties a newspaper and a pint of milk when we dropped his car back to him,” he says. “That’s what I would expect my guys to do in this situation and customers have really appreciated it.”
Now, as dealers look to the future, they know that the way they operate will continue to be affected. Social distancing measures will remain in place. Collect and deliver services and mobile tyre changing may be preferred. And staff who have been able to work from home may continue to work remotely, at least for some of the time. Pirelli has also rolled out a new online learning programme for its dealers around the world with the aim of building a new way of working with customers, both during the restrictions and after.
In the meantime, the advice from garages is to ensure your car is safe for when you can resume travelling, whether that is