John Stone started Stone Tyres in 2016 as a bricks and mortar tyre garage. Based in St Helens, Merseyside, he built the business into one of the busiest and most recommended in the area. He had to shut-up shop for a month during lockdown, but this time to reflect sparked an opportunity to boost profits beyond COVID-19.
Here’s more on how the business got to where it is today, and how pivoting in a time of crisis put them in a better position for the future.
Pivoting in the face of COVID-19
Back in 2018, John bought a fleet of mobile tyre fitting vans and branded it up as a mobile division. This was just used for emergencies and specific call-out work, but not a core part of the business. Whilst the garage closed, John and the team started offering mobile services to customers – fitting tyres at home for no extra cost.
“This really was a lightbulb moment for us. It became apparent pretty quickly that customers loved the idea of not having to take time out of their day to visit a garage,” said John.
What started as a reactive response to COVID-19, has led to John completely remodelling the business. “For nearly 2 years I had these mobile tyre fitting vans and they were massively under utilised. Now I’m actually buying more vehicles to add to the fleet, meaning we can reach even more customers and add a new revenue stream to the static garage in the future.”
Customer experience is everything
It’s not just about having a good business model, being successful is about building trust, a solid reputation and creating an experience that keeps customers coming back. Reflecting on Stone Tyres’ experience, John comments: “delivering a fantastic customer experience and a fair price every time has been a key part of our business model. Touchwood, so far we have never had a single bad review.”
“One of the biggest learnings from COVID-19 for our business is around customer experience and behaviour. It’s shown me that customers in our industry are increasingly looking for a contactless option – as a result we’ve seen our website, social media, telesales all see a massive uplift.”
Looking to the future, John sees Stone Tyres’ move to online and digitisation accelerating along with the wider industry. “I have no doubt that our business model, and that of lots of other bricks and mortar businesses are changing. I fully expect the mobile and online side of our business to overtake the garage side in the next 3 years which is very exciting!”
And it’s also their finances which are seeing the benefit of this shift. “I’ve been working closely with my accountant to look at how we can streamline and digitise some of our processes. Although it felt daunting at first, we now file all of our VAT returns through Xero’s Make Tax Digital integration which saves us so much time every quarter.”
Advice for other SMEs
John thinks that other SMEs shouldn’t be afraid to try something new or use this time to take a fresh look at business models.
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. Pivot might be a buzzword at the moment, but it can be the key to success. We are not trains on fixed tracks, as businesses we can move and adapt to obstacles. So my key piece of advice would be to take a step back and look at what you could be doing differently.”
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