The smart way of tyre dealing
General Manager Michael Jackson explains how Universal Tyres and Parts has grown in the face of change
Anyone with an old Beatles album must have noticed the ‘Hayes Middlesex’ address on the back, and affectionados of vinyl might know that part of the old pressing plant has been restored and once again, part of it is still pressing records.
However, just around the corner there is another part of the old site that has swapped vinyl for rubber as for many years it has been home to Universal Tyres and Parts, one of the largest regional wholesale distributors of tyres. The site looks reminiscent of a railway shunting yard as the cobbled courtyard had a number of rail tracks embedded in it.
“The rails are there because the records would be pressed over the road and then be stored in our warehouses before being shipped out on the canal” explained Michael Jackson, a Director at Universal. The tyre wholesaler rescued a clutch of buildings from a state of semi dereliction over a period of years. Apart from the deco-fronted warehouse the firm also occupies a suite of grand-looking offices that were once something to do with the record company, as well as a one-time storage area which is now a retail workshop offering the public around-the-wheel services as well as servicing and MOTs.
However, wholesale is the mainstay of the business and the last decade has seen turnover grow from £6m to almost £14m. That same period has been one of dramatic change across the tyre industry as a whole. “Before, tyre companies were a little world within themselves, and there was a bit of snobbery to anyone that was ‘outside’” said Jackson. “Now, we deal with a lot more service and repair garages (rather than just tyre fitters) because everyone is diversifying”.
Like the rest of the parts trade, it has been the advent of multiple daily deliveries that has been driving this diversification. Multiple drops mean that small workshops don’t need to hold a large stock pack in order to introduce a tyre bay. The garage equipment needed to change tyres is more accessible than ever these days, thanks to cheap finance and lease options – although Jackson cautions that not all beading machines are created equal. “Some garages see adverts for cheap tyre machines, but then realise that the equipment can’t take larger wheel sizes or are suitable for TPMS etc” he said, adding that Universal are always happy to put clients in touch with any number of equipment dealers that can supply the right kit.
The greatest change to the business in recent years is the adoption of electronic trading. A decade ago, Universal received perhaps a third of orders electronically, and Jackson says that a survey at the time showed the prevailing attitude of clients was that they ‘prefered to talk to a person’. Today, the situation has reversed, with eight out of ten orders being made electronically. Hard parts factors who say that their customers will never accept online ordering should take note…
Another area where the trade has changed is the number of tyres in any one particular size. 205/55R16 is the most common size, but there are hundreds of different options. Jackson used an example of a customer who can’t quite get their head around the idea of how many choices there are. “The customer might say ‘oh just send me a Conti’, but we might have 15 different Continental tyres available with different brand fitment, run flat and speed ratings, and there might be 50 different options in total when summer and winter tyres are taken into account”.
To manage amount of inventory a particularly lean system needs to be in place. The warehouse has two full floors with a conveyor rather than just a simple mezzanine. The inventory is large, but as with most just-in-time systems, daily deliveries of stock are required to keep the profile up to date. Walking around, it is fascinating to see the range of tyres stocked. We notice a set of white walls for an original Fiat 500 alongside van tyres, mud and snow tyres tyres and everything in between. “We have tyres for everything, from a wheelbarrow, to these, for a Ferrari Enzo” Jackson said, showing us the Enzo tyres by way of proof. “We don’t sell many of those, but if someone orders a set, they expect them immediately” he beamed.
Special racking has been put in place to maximise every square centimetre of space and in recent years the firm has migrated to a cloud-based management system called TyreSoft, which has proved popular with customers because as soon as a van has a manifest, a message is automatically sent to the customer telling them of the time of arrival of their order and the invoice is emailed as well. “It’s a smart way of doing it” concluded Jackson.