As more customers demand convenience from tire dealers, more companies are taking steps to react to that trend — whether that involves buying and/or installing tires or servicing vehicles.
Over the last 12 months, several companies made moves to leverage the convenience of online tire buying and mobile tire installation and service, either through collaborations or new initiatives.
The largest online entity of them all, Amazon.com Inc., has been a prime example.
This year, Amazon forged agreements with three automotive service providers — Sears Holding Co.'s Sears Auto Centers, Icahn Automotive Group's Pep Boys retail network and Monro Inc. — to provide installation and balancing at those brick-and-mortar retailers for customers who purchased tires on Amazon.com.
Sears Auto Centers in all 50 states — nearly 300 stories nationwide — now install tires from Amazon, as do nearly 1,000 Pep Boy locations. Monro expanded its collaboration with Amazon.com to provide online customers tire installation services at its automotive service locations in 10 Eastern states.
Among the other big news in the online/mobile tire buying services in 2018 were:
• Dealer Tire L.L.C., an independent replacement tire distributor for car dealerships, invested in SimpleTire, a business that links independent tire distributors across the country in an e-commerce network that includes more than 3,000 independent supply points.
"The business of selling tires continues to evolve," Scott Mueller, partner and CEO of Cleveland-based Dealer Tire, said.
"We've built our business by consistently driving innovation in the tire distribution business and by providing automotive dealers with the tools and services they need to be successful selling tires."
SimpleTire's national partners include Pep Boys, Monro and Mavis Discount Tire.
•Icahn Automotive Group L.L.C. and TBC Corp. announced initiatives to go after the larger corporate/fleet business, which are in addition to a mobile tire-installation program being tested by Goodyear along with dozens of independents active across the country.
Icahn Automotive rolled out its Pep Boys Mobile Crew rig, a 28-foot, dual-axle trailer with a service bay equipped with mobile lifts, tire-changing and diagnostic tools and equipment and staffed by ASE-certified automotive technicians.
TBC initiated a mobile tire-installation service in early October in the Dallas and West Palm Beach, Fla., areas through its NTB Tire & Service Centers and Tire Kingdom Service Centers, respectively.
TBC also launched TireAmerica.com, a direct-to-consumer online platform that leverages the company's wholesale and retail assets.
• Goodyear launched its "Roll by Goodyear" retail tire concept at four locations in the Washington, D.C., area. The concept brings a retail tire showroom to vibrant lifestyle areas, such as outdoor malls, where consumers can stop in to purchase tires and schedule appointments to have them mounted and balanced at their convenience.
The new stores — which in most cases offer no tire services on site nor have service bays — address consumers' shopping preferences such as simplicity, convenience and flexibility, qualities many of today's consumers seek when making purchases. The idea is to give buyers the opportunity to control the tire-buying process from start to finish.
• In a mid-year decision that some say will help to level the playing field somewhat for brick-and-mortar stores, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that states have the right to require Internet businesses to collect sales taxes on all sales within the state, even if the businesses have no physical presence there.
The National Governors Association, as well as trade groups such as the Tire Industry Association, Auto Care Association and National Retail Federation, said the decision has restored fairness to retail sales.
• Late in the year, Hankook Tire Co. Inc. said it was revamping its global corporate structure to enhance competitiveness, a process that will include efforts to accelerate the company's digital transformation.
The restructuring took effect Jan. 1 and includes the creation of an IT Strategy Department and a "Car Life Business" headquarters. The IT Strategy Department will oversee efforts to accelerate the company's digital transformation, including developing a group IT policy function.
• Bridgestone Corp. acquired a minority ownership stake in the holding company for the Pitstop auto service chain active in Germany as part of a plan to expand its cooperation with Pitstop.
• Nitto Tire U.S.A. expanded its focus on customers' digital experiences, adopting a policy to be more responsive to social media.