HiQ Fast-Fit — September 2007
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
The result of two years work, the revamp also includes a stylish new corporate image plus increased stress on technician training. But most importantly, HiQ is majoring on fair and honest dealings with customers.
Want to buy your van tyres online and have them fitted at a time and place to suit you? That's the latest service offered by Goodyear Dunlop-owned nationwide fast-fit chain HiQ as part of a multi-million-pound makeover.
That's something the fast-fit industry hasn't always been noted for, the jibe being that if you send your van in for a new exhaust it's likely to be returned with four new tyres and a new battery too whether it needed them or not; along with a big bill.
To be rolled out across the country over the next three years, the revamp was triggered by research that lifted the lid on consumer attitudes towards fast-fit outlets. While the findings didn't make for pleasant reading, they revealed what the industry had long suspected admits HiQ managing director, Neil Burrows.
“Centres are seen as dirty, unwelcoming and confusing, with staff that are either unhelpful or speak in technical jargon,” he says. “Our research highlights the fact that when customers visit a fast-fit outlet they very often lower their expectations in readiness for what they feel is likely to be a negative experience.
“Prices are unclear with the quoted price invariably increasing once a job has been carried out and customers feel they have no control over waiting times — they don't want to be kept hanging around all day — and choice of product.”
In response, HiQ is implementing a policy that clearly states that the price the customer is quoted is the price he will pay for his tyres, shock absorbers, battery, exhaust, or to get his van serviced or MoT-tested. Around 75 per cent of locations offer MoT tests — Burrows hopes to add more test stations in the future — and some branches will sort out air conditioning problems.
“If we say a job is going to cost £100, then it will cost £100 and no more,” says Burrows. “What's more, if we say '25 per cent off' then we'll make clear what the original price was before it was discounted.
“Centre managers will be targeted on customer satisfaction levels as well as sales figures,” he continues. That should hopefully eliminate any temptation to fit items that the van owner doesn't really need. “We promise that we will never carry out unnecessary work,” says Burrows.
“We want to raise standards in this sector of the market. Franchised dealers have already done so and the fast-fit industry needs to catch up.”
Better-trained technicians will be turned out by the newly created HiQ Academy, with courses leading to City & Guilds qualifications. It's also busy devising individual learning programmes for each employee.
Buying tyres online and arranging fitting at a HiQ centre involves visiting our web site says Burrows.
“You don't need to have any tyre knowledge and you don't even need to know the make and model of your vehicle,” he explains. All you have to do is tap in the registration number and the site will come up with a selection of tyres to suit your van and your pocket.
It's worth noting that if you use the web site you'll pay five per cent less for your tyres than you would if you purchased them from a HiQ branch. It may be possible to book servicing and MoT tests online in future.
Sited on Nuthall Road, one of the main routes leading into the centre of Nottingham, the first HiQ branch to be redeveloped — it took ten weeks and cost £600,000 — is without doubt a world away from the traditional fast-fit environment.
“It's become our flagship store and encapsulates everything we are aiming to do,” Burrows enthuses. More and more HiQ sites will emulate it between now and 2009/2010, although the facilities provided are likely to vary a little from depot to depot.
Clean and cool, with a plasma screen TV, broadband access and even a Play Station as well as free tea and coffee for customers, Nottingham's reception area has a lot more in common with a high street boutique than a lube bay. Big windows give an unrestricted view into the workshop.
Prices for jobs that can be done on a wide variety of popular cars are clearly displayed, but it was a pity that no light commercials were included in the mix given that HiQ is happy to work on them; most locations can accept long-wheelbase high roof vans.
Aside from four two-post lifts capable of handling light vans, Nottingham features a four-post lift with a 5.5m platform able to raise a commercial vehicle grossing at up to 5.0 tonnes. Other facilities include a scissor lift used in conjunction with a digital wheel aligner that can cope with big vans, a Class 4 MoT bay with an automated test lane, tyre changers and wheel balancers, and a special wash that cleans wheels with a mixture of water and polypropylene beads.
Good to see clearly marked customer parking bays. At Nottingham they're surfaced with Wet Pour, a safety surface said to be highly durable that's traditionally found in playgrounds and made in part from recycled tyre rubber.
The site is open from 8.30am to 5.30pm Mondays to Fridays, and 8.30am to 4.00pm on Saturdays. It closes on Sundays.
As well as improving standards, HiQ aims to increase the size of its network. At present it has 145 locations, 30 of which are run by franchisees. Franchising will be used to expand coverage, with 150 franchised outlets scheduled to appear over the next three years.
A new franchised outlet has already opened at Carterton in Oxfordshire and shares many of Nottingham's features. “We're working particularly hard at recruiting franchisees in the North West and within the M25 ring,” says Burrows.
More mobile service units are going on the road. HiQ locations will be running 100 by the end of the year, up from the current 75.
HiQ is right. Standards in some fast-fit outlets are disgraceful and if it can improve the breed then that's something to be supported. Let's hope it can deliver, and do so while keeping prices competitive.