Thought tyre management was only for big fleets? It’s time to think again says Kevin Croxall, K&M Tyres, a Continental Tyres network partner.
Replacing damaged or worn tyres has long been one of the distress purchases of commercial vehicle operation – without them vehicles are idle, they can be prone to unreliability and they are costly to replace.
Tyre management can help, but has been the preserve of large fleets with the resources to actively manage tyres and casings from initial specification through rim changes, regrooving and retreading.
Now, however, a modern generation of tyre distributors is taking on some of those tasks and making tyre management expertise available to more operators. So far removed are these businesses from the old supply-and-fit distribution operations focused mainly on price, tyre companies such as Continental have a new name for them – network partners.
So, what exactly do these new businesses offer an operator? CVW spoke with Bury St Edmunds-based K&M Tyres, to find out more.
K&M Tyres was established in 2005 by business partners Kevin Croxall and Mark Bond, who wanted a tyre business that was more than supply-and-fit. From the start, the business has focused on building strong relationships with its customer base and offering honest and impartial advice to local, regional and national fleet businesses.
“Some tyre companies use budget tyres to drive volume through their business, but our philosophy has always been to supply and fit premium products to enable us to offer increased tyre life through correct tyre management,” explains Kevin Croxall.
“Even though they are more expensive initially to purchase, premium tyres, properly managed and with the correct tyre fitted, will deliver greater savings in terms of whole-life costs. They are more reliable, so there’ll be fewer breakdowns, casing life will be extended and there can be fuel economy benefits too.
K&M Tyres is a member of the Conti 360 Network Partner group, which is designed to deliver national standards of tyre specification and management, at the same time as recognising that local relationships are key. Because each fleet is different, K&M tailors its services to suit their needs. “Our services range from supply-and-fit to monthly/weekly inspections and a full range of additional services aimed at pro- actively managing the tyre asset on our customer’s vehicles.” Croxall added.
K&M has seven service vans, all tracked. “It’s not about tracking our employees, who we trust, but about our reaction time – Continental Network partners are required to attend a breakdown within 90 minutes, so we need to know which vehicle is closest when a tyre-related breakdown occurs.”
The vans are fully equipped with correctly calibrated equipment such as torque wrenches and pressure gauges. Tyres are not routinely carried on the van, unless it is attending a breakdown. “Some of our customers will hold stock at their site to reduce downtime and get the vehicle moving as quickly as possible.”
All K&M employees are City and Guilds trained in tyre removal and fitting. “We believe qualifications are important, both for professional development of our employees and to reassure our customers that they are dealing with competent people who understand tyres and the importance of safe working practices.”
Tyre management, of course, is all about reducing the likelihood of a tyre-related breakdown, but operators also expect minimal downtime for routine inspections. Planned tyre service work now constitutes around 80% of the company’s business, points out Croxall. “Vehicles are often back at the depot at predictable times each day, so we can time inspections to match, and we also offer weekend and out-of-hours servicing to minimise downtime.”
Sometimes, K&M might get little notice of a tyre-related problem on a vehicle. “A workshop might have a vehicle in for a routine inspection and discover a tyre issue. It’s up to us to get a replacement tyre or tyres out as quickly as possible to get that vehicle back on the road.” And while many trucks are on repair-and- maintenance contracts, tyres are usually excluded, Croxall continued.
In keeping with its philosophy of the personal touch, K&M tries to assign a particular tyre technician to each fleet. “The technician gets to know each vehicle and each fleet’s operations and requirements. It’s understanding the operation and how tyres will behave in those circumstances, but also about knowing what each fleet expects in terms of health and safety compliance on their own premises.”
It’s good for the staff too. “They feel more valued. It’s less about simply tyre removal and fitting, which is a distress purchase, and more about building a relationship based on expert knowledge of tyres and that particular fleet.”
Like other Continental 360 Network partners, K&M maintains stocks of relevant tyres for the fleets it services. “We have over 500 truck tyres in stock, and for larger fleets we will allocate specific stock to them, to ensure downtime is kept to a minimum.”
On monthly tyre inspections, K&M leaves a copy of the report with the customers, including any actions taken or advised. “It’s all about planned tyre servicing, not reactive. Technicians know when they enter a fleet depot which vehicles and tyres need prioritising in terms of checks.”
Tyre pressure monitoring
Tyre pressure monitoring is the buzz phrase of the moment for good tyre management and prolonging tread and casing life. K&M will check tyre pressures on each of its visits. “Too high or low tyre pressures will always result in excessive tyre wear, but sometimes there is a valid reason an operator wants the pressure lower than the recommended PSI. We respect that.”
As part of its whole-life tyre management service, K&M tyres offers a regrooving service. “Tyres are tagged on arrival, so we can identify each customer’s tyres. We also know which technician removed it and the reason. The process takes two hours, and we’ll keep the tyre in stock until it’s needed.”
Health and safety
Health and safety is paramount for K&M too, explains Croxall, especially for roadside breakdowns. “For example, a breakdown on the A14 is particularly hazardous. There are a lot of trucks running to and from Felixstowe and in many places, there’s no hard shoulder for a vehicle to pull over on to.”
K&M tyre technicians must also meet whatever health-and safety procedures operate at the various fleet depots they visit. “There are national KPI standards for Continental 360 Network partners, but we also check what specific local requirements there might be. For example, we might need a permit to work on the site. There can be as many as 40 pieces of information in each van.”