TireConnect has established itself quickly in the Canadian market, so far boasting a 100-percent retention rate and a client base of about a dozen regional and national distributors and nearly 500 retail customers, according to the company.
In addition, it recently inked a deal with Midas Canada Inc. that will bring its store count to more than 600.
This year, the company entered the U.S. market and has partnered with about a dozen wholesalers.
According to Chance Harrington, TireConnect's vice president of business development, most tire dealers today — both in the U.S. and Canada — are not using their websites in ways that convert online shoppers effectively into real customers.
“They might have a tire finder that is not tied into live inventory, if they have one at all,” he told Tire Business. “If they don't, then really you're just sending people to a website that tells you how long you've been in business, that it was your grandfather's business and now junior is in charge.”
Such a website, he added, has no real value to a company as an asset, but TireConnect is hoping to give dealers an opportunity to turn it into one.
“The only reason a customer is on your website if you're a tire guy is to buy some tires, and that's the bottom line,” Mr. Silagadze said. “You can say to yourself whatever you want, but that's the only reason why they're there—not to look at your pictures or read about your company.
“If you're not (providing consumers with options), you're missing out,” he continued. “If you spent time and money on the website, it just makes sense for you to give your customer the ability to actually, at the very least, quote tires and, we think, purchase tires.”
Birth of a concept
TireConnect has its roots in E-Axis Inc., a mobile app developer that Mr. Silagadze founded in 2001. A decade later he came up with the idea for TireConnect after a problematic tire-buying experience.
“In 2012, I was buying tires for my wife's car, and it was somewhat of a painful process,” he told Tire Business. “It was the usual thing — you start collecting some phone numbers for local dealers, you call them up. It was the busy time in Canada as well, where you get a lot of that seasonal switchover happening.”
Several dealers, he said, weren't even able to offer him a price quote on tires right away.
“It just got me thinking, and through just asking around and talking to some people, I realized there's a lot of uniqueness to the tire market in terms of how the supply chain is set up,” he said. “And there's a lot of sort of technical reasons why anyone who sells tires can't really do it efficiently, I would say.”
Mr. Silagadze saw the challenge as a business opportunity. He created TireConnect and began allocating resources from E-Axis to begin building a platform that would allow tire dealers to sell tires via their websites.
The company soon launched a testing phase with several dealers in Canada, including its first big client, Tirecraft Group. Through discussions with the company, he realized it had similar problems to retail dealers — supply chain integration and access to supplier inventory — but on a larger scale.
“The challenge for them was they wanted to build a new website for their organization, and they just couldn't do it essentially because, again, all of the issues prevented them from doing anything functional when it comes to selling tires on their website,” Mr. Silagadze said. “Some dealers didn't want to display pricing. Some did. There were also related services alongside tires.”
Over the course of about six months, the firm built a tool to fit Tirecraft's needs, and the TireConnect platform was born.
Dealers have control
Through TireConnect, Mr. Harrington said small dealers have an opportunity to compete in the online marketplace.
“We provide a way for that small guy to keep in the game,” he said. “What the Internet has done to a retailer — and I'm not talking tires; now I'm talking any kind of product — is that it's simply a commodity if it can be bought online.
“Consumers are doing their research online and they're getting more and more comfortable with buying online, and as the small retailer, there's no way to compete with that until we came along with this product — which throws them a lifeline to get back into the game.”
According to Mr. Silagadze, the system is “completely plug-and-play” and takes little time to set up. “Essentially, you can go from not having any tire presence on your website to selling tires and competing with the Tire Racks of the world in about an hour,” he said.