UK tire entrepreneur launches North America’s first online portal for tire retailers

Mike Welch (by Stewart Attwood)
Mike Welch (by Stewart Attwood)

Three years after selling Blackcircles.com to Michelin, the founder of one of Europe’s first online tire retailers Mike Welch is bringing his online experience to the world’s largest tire retail market in the US, where replacement tire sales reached $39.6 billion in 2017. 

Welch, who pioneered so-called ‘click and fit’ tire retailing in Europe which represented a world first at the time, has founded Tirescanner.com, investing an initial $1m plus of his own money in the venture, and Welch claims it will be “North America’s first online portal for brick & mortar tire retailers”.  

Mike Welch said: “We have a very simple focus to provide drivers with the ultimate tire choice, availability, price and booking options at the best brick and mortar retail outlets across the country”.  It is understood what Welch plans to launch Tirescanner with over 60,000 tire sizes, 3 million prices, 60 retailers and a handful of key manufacturer partners.

Industry commentators concur that the US’s largest 100 retailers are strategically investing to create a larger geographic footprint and that owners feel it is an essential strategy to compete against online sales, shrinking tire margins and a tight labor market. 

Welch adds: “When I started Blackcircles in the UK in early 2000 my focus was to create an online pure play business that could compete with the big name high street retailers. What I’m bringing to Tirescanner is what I have learnt about cost effective customer acquisition, retention and best-in-class customer experience. You could say I’m hunter turned gamekeeper”. Blackcircles’ online conversion reached 8% at its peak, the business had a net promoter score (NPS) of over 90 and year-on-year growth of over 50% in the years before he sold the business to Michelin (2015). 

Welch said: “Tirescanner is a platform that celebrates and showcases the very best of the bricks and mortar retail stores the United States has to offer. We have many thousands of tire retail outlets in the US and unlike in Europe it is impossible for customers to check all of what is available to them. Tirescanner addresses that customer problem head on.  Our goal is deliver an easy to use whole of market platform for customers and a low cost high performance solution for retailers to ensure they protect and grow their share of the market in the face of growing online competition”.

Welch’s claims are backed up by industry stats that show pure play online sales are growing fast year on year.  And in 2018 we have seen further market moves indicating the importance of online as a channel, not least Amazon’s continued expansion into the market and Dealer Tires purchase of pure player Simpletire.com.

Welch added: “I have learnt in the last 20 years running online tire businesses that it is the proposition that provides choice, price and service that wins, not price alone. Tirescanner is here to preserve value for the retailer and deliver value to the customers. Great online is not about driving down price, any fool can do that, it is about reinforcing and showcasing to customers the value propositions of our partners. We have created a real strength in numbers opportunity for the traditional retailers”.

Welch anticipates launching fully early next year and says he already has commitments from a growing number of retailers and engagement with manufactures and will be focused on building on those in 2019.  Welch said: “Initially my job is three-fold; to establish customer acquisition formulas for customers who wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to engage with my retail partners, and do that at as low a cost as possible; to work up partner strategies with a handful of  key tire manufacturers and to match Tirescanner users with the very best retailers in their area.”

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