Should the likes of Richard Branson still be hunting for new
consumer businesses to revolutionise, never mind pensions, fashion or
There’s a place to be found on the edge of practically every town in
Britain which remains the last bastion of customer indifference.
I’m talking about those so-called fast-fit tyre and exhaust depots whose
surly service, greasy waiting rooms and menacing blow-lamp wielding
operatives are but a foretaste of hell itself. Trading standards types
will tell you that of all the businesses in Britain, the car sales and
repair trade is still right up there with emergency plumbing, easily
leading the field in the customer dissatisfaction stakes.
Yet in my experience, your smarmiest car salesperson is infinitely
preferable to the dodgy wheeler-dealers who are attracted to the tyre
trade like Arthur Daley to a pad of bent MOT certificates. As you’ve
probably guessed, I’m still smarting for revenge after a day spent
phoning round, then waiting most of the afternoon for a free bay so a
simple job could be done on my car’s exhaust pipe. And that was after I
thought I had booked an appointment.
I mean, where exactly are these shiny palaces we see on TV, where you
can’t get a quicker fitter?
What’s most galling is that these places invariably have all the
trappings of the modern service organisation, without actually
delivering any of the features.
The walls are lined with staff training certificates and mission
Yet the inmates of these establishments give every appearance of having
served their apprenticeships with Aeroflot in the mid-70s. For a start,
you rarely get acknowledged when you walk in. You’ll hardly ever be
given a spontaneous run-down of the alternatives and costs, and are then
often misled about how long the work will take.
Yes, I know there must be fast-fit centres which have charming, helpful
staff. It is a notoriously tricky business to make money in.
Longer-lasting products have meant fewer repeat visits for small
Now there are important but expensive environmental measures for tyre
traders to cope with. They also have to compete against powerful
distributors in a complex market in which keenly-priced tyres are
sourced and shipped from plants all over the globe.
But all the customer wants is to be able to trust the tyres and the
people fitting them so as to get that rubber rolling on the road again
as soon as possible.
Laughably, the only reading matter provided to take customers minds off
all this in the waiting room I visited last week was a dull trade
magazine for tyre dealers. It is a shame nobody reads it, because
ironically one of the main features was a consumer visit to an Essex
town where the service was found to be duff in every tyre depot -
including the market leader.
So who will deliver us from this over-inflated, radial tyred hell? Your
country needs you.