Please explain the business rationale behind the worldwide Olympics partnership you launched in March with your new ‘chase your dream, no matter what’ ambassadors Daley Thompson, Chris Mears and Charley Hull.
Robin Shaw: We have a global position and a brand recognition that gives us a strong position. But we have aspirations to be even stronger, which is why we are doing things like the Olympics worldwide partnership. It reinforces our global position and makes us attractive to the consumer, the person we call the ‘boss’, and also to the manufacturers for first fit.
In the UK, we do not have the strength in the market that we do elsewhere. So we are looking for growth and this is the first part of the plan. We are putting the brand in front of people so that they think of us when they are considering changing their tyres.
Why are you not as strong in the UK?
RS: We have different competitors in Europe. Also there are bad habits on tyres in the UK. People don’t pay a lot of attention to them, so they buy a lot of budget and part-worn tyres. Part of it is down to climate – we don’t have the summer/winter changes. Also, we are more ambivalent when it comes to thinking about servicing cars. In other countries there is greater interest .
Our OE business is starting to perform extremely strongly. We are seeing a lot of growth – more fitments on more vehicles – and we are very pleased. This is important, especially with the high fleet content in the UK, because there is a high follow-through to first and second replacement.
Farrell Dolan: First fit gives us a pull into the aftermarket, but also strong brands want to be associated with strong brands. British consumers are more likely to fit like-for-like.
Where are the opportunities for growth?
RS: We are strong in the CV market, off-road and motorcycle, so the biggest areas are cars and light commercials. We are looking to work with our partners in distribution and retail to convey our messages through to consumers so they remember us and see the benefits in our tyres.
In the UK, our aspiration is to emulate our global position . We strive to be at a position in the marketplace that deserves the investment we make. The biggest factor affecting sales is the vehicle parc and that has been growing, so tyre sales follow. The long-term trend is one of growth.
What impact has tyre labelling had on the market?
RS: Where the tyre is sold in the retail outlet, we are disappointed with the level of awareness; it hasn’t connected with the public yet. Here there is less
engagement and a temptation in the industry to make price the leading factor.
But it is making a difference to tyres sold online – a growth area - where there is no one to talk to. They do their research and will use tyre labelling to make an informed choice on a level playing field. Is it a defining attribute for fleets? Probably not. Their purchase decision is around OE fit and safety considerations as well as improved performance over the tyre life.
What role will tyres play in the development of the connected and autonomous car and are there any concerns?
FD: We are exploring the options. We have done a lot of work to harness the power of connectivity and also the changing nature of ownership and driving style. We know where the trend is going; it’s understanding how that picture will develop and adapting the technology to match the need. The tyre is a key area – that feedback for the car and the measurement of attributes, driver style and safety. Over time, manufacturers will gravitate to the tyre manufacturers that are willing to invest and that will change the market.
Investment will dictate the long-term winners in the tyre world.
There are concerns. For example, where the driver does not own the car or is not driving it, how do we ensure that they understand the tyres and the condition? When someone is the occupant and not the driver, what is their mind-set going to be regarding maintenance and ensuring the car is safe – whose responsibility is it?”
What are your core brand values?
FD: Safety comes first; that’s the pre-eminent attribute. We look at what the ‘boss’ needs and harness that. It’s an ever-more complex world with different driving styles and vehicle ranges. Tyre awareness has grown and needs are changing with the composition of vehicles, for example, for SUVs, so we have had to respond by improving products in those areas.
Do you support the 3mm campaign, which wants the legal tread depth limit to be raised from 1.6mm to 3mm on safety grounds?
FD: The minimum tread depth is the only barometer we have. We have a voice, but for us it’s what meets the needs of the customer. If they want to drive that change, we will listen to them. We have seen little change in the proportion of tyres replaced below the legal limit, it’s a long-term campaign. We are investing in this area to change perceptions and improve understanding.
Are franchised dealers any good (or getting better) at selling tyres?
FD: There is certainly more interest in tyres – they see it as a good source of turnover and profit, and also an opportunity to connect with the customer. With extended servicing intervals, there are fewer opportunities, but tyres is one. They are also more aware on how to sell tyres; they are improving all the time.
Do you anticipate growth in the run-flat market ?
FD: There has been growth fuelled by the vehicle parc growth, but also a growing awareness by consumers of the increased mobility in the event of a flat tyre. They want the assurance that they will not be stuck on the hard shoulder. DriveGuard was a big step forward for us and the industry in terms of offering a universal choice. You can fit to any car which has a tyre pressure monitoring system. We have been very pleased with both sales and the reception after the first full year.
Five years ago, all the talk was about winter tyres; that’s now gone quiet and we are starting to see more all-season tyres. What’s the future?
FD: All-season tyres are a compromise, but it’s a thought-through compromise. But there are different attributes that people look for, so it can’t just be segmented into all-season or winter tyres. Also, it is something for the UK with its fairly benign climate; other countries can’t compromise. Our view is that demand has to be consumer-driven.
We see no huge trend in any direction because there is no single answer. They make their choices based on a multitude of factors, although brand recognition is important.
When someone goes into a retailer, we want them to think about Bridgestone. Consumers rely on trusted brands so we have to continue to invest to get our messages out about safety and performance. STEPHEN BRIERS