How fast-fits aim to satisfy all your repair needs
04 April 2007
Now may be the time to consider going to a fast-fit for your servicing requirements as they are cheaper, quicker and more convenient than the equivalent franchise dealer networks
By the early 1970s the rot had truly set in. A dark age had befallen the once mighty British car industry.
Undeterred by industrial strife as everything crumbled, the newly formed British Leyland continued to do what it did best - spew out poorly built re-badged metal that self-destructed shortly after hitting the asphalt.
Since drivers ended up putting the development miles on the clock, dealers had to pick up the pieces, creating dealerships that were jammed full of warranty jobs and shackled to a financially crippling manufacturer.
It was this scenario that gave rise to the professional fast-fit phenomenon. Where once you would have been laughed out of the dealership for asking the service manager to take a half hour off from an engine overhaul on a five-minute old Triumph Dolomite to change your oil, a fast-fitter wouldn't even flicker an eyelid and have the job completed at no notice within the hour.
Fast forward to today and thanks to customer-facing training techniques at least the service manager won't laugh you out of his ivory-clad automotive tower, although he will politely say he's booked up for another two weeks.
That's fine if it's an oil change you're after, but not so good if it's a low break pad warning light, or a tyre so worn you affectionately name it Kojak.
"The market has caught onto the culture of 'no appointment necessary', but for business there are far wider implications to do with time or lack of it," says Kwik-Fit boss Mike Wise.
"No-one plans to have a burst tyre - they happen at the most inconvenient moment, but when it occurs we're a quicker and more cost-effective route, and who else is open seven days a week 363 days a year?"
Wise is responsible for steering the current fast-fit service, maintenance and repair revolution for his BusinessCar award-winning firm.
"The conditions that gave birth to the industry in the 70s are similar [again] today. Call a dealer today for a service and the lead time will be two weeks; business users can't wait two weeks.
"This is why we are scoring new servicing business," says Wise, suggesting businesses struggle to afford the downtime and inconvenience of the hours dealers keep.
Fast fits are also benefiting from longer leases running past the first MOT, and the European ruling over uncompetitive practice of tying customers into a dealer to preserve warranties.
“The conditions that gave birth to the industry in the 70s are similar [again] today. Call a dealer today for a service and the lead time will be two weeks; business users can't wait two weeks.”
Kwik-Fit boss Mike Wise
Sadly, the days of convenient mobile service units turning up to your carpark are gone.
Kwik-Fit closed its Hometune service back in 2003, but not because of business apathy says Wise.
"Hometune was a very successful award-winning profitable business-to-business service. We closed it because we foresaw the impossible burden duty of care [issues for us] would place on this side of the business."
The firm also ran into problems with its late 90s 'Stop and Steer' servicing program because it pushed fitters to their mechanical skills limit.
"We learned a lot - we will now only use fully trained mechanics in the future to do mechanical work", assures Wise.
Now that a lot of the major fast-fit firms are undertaking SMR work, is this trend of diversifying something we should expect from other fast-fitters, such as windscreen specialists? Would they, for example, consider a sideline in rubber?
It's a resounding 'no' according to Autoglass MD Nigel Doggett.
"We're concentrating on delivering a world-class outstanding service. Our priority, especially with business customers is to get you back on the road as quickly and as safely as possible," says Doggett.
He goes on to explain how every part of the business has been streamlined for the benefit of customer service, from developing the fastest and strongest drying adhesive in the business and introducing night-time patrols for break-ins, to creating robotic arms to assist technicians in screen fitment.
Doggett also takes pride in software that taps into the DVLA database to maximise the chance of turning up with the right screen - not easy when your car has 15 unique possibilities.
Why haven't big firms dared to compete with the specialised windscreen fitters?
"There's not too much that we don't do already. If you think we spend a lot of time with cars for other essential jobs - we don't need big ad campaigns to generate new leads," says Wise, hinting he could see an opportunity to sell other services for a car needing a tyre replacement.
Perhaps the day is not far away when your Mondeo, in need of an MOT, can be dropped off at a fast-fit company with with a chipped screen, kerbed alloy and scraped bumper, and come out fit for disposal.