Blackcircles, the online tyre retailer platform launched by UK entrepreneur Michael Welch, has debuted in South Africa. Founded almost 20 years ago, Welch and his team first launched this service offering in 2001 in the United Kingdom – which works in partnership with a network of more than 2500 independent garages. Since then, Blackcircles has expanded globally with franchises in Mexico, Egypt, Thailand, Canada and now South Africa.
Blackcircles South Africa is run as an independent division of Sumitomo Rubber SA. General Manager, Devlin Moodley elaborates on this new concept, the benefits to the consumer and what makes it different from other online tyre purchasing platforms that came before it, most of which did not muster sufficient industry buy-in to ensure sustainability.
Tell us more about this exciting new development Devlin. When was the official launch and how does the platform work?
Blackcircles officially launched in South Africa on 8 December 2021, but it was only early in 2022 that we began actively marketing the platform via YouTube, social media platforms, google and other digital spaces. In the near future, we will also be introducing it to google shopping. The Digital First approach is growing in the minds of consumers, which is why we are focusing heavily on the digital space for visibility and brand promotion.
The concept behind the Blackcircles online purchasing platform is linked, first and foremost, to the tyre supplier (manufacturer / importer / wholesaler), showcasing an array of premium brands and sizes in the passenger and SUV market segment.
This unique platform allows the consumer easy access to the brand of their choice as well as to the fitment store of their choice, from a list provided on the site.
What has been the response from the local manufacturing sector?
We have been in discussions with the manufacturers for the past eight months, focusing mainly on the leading brands available in South Africa, which we are pleased to report are all featured on the Blackcircles platform. Suppliers are well aware that the online marketplace is coming and that it will rank as another key buying choice – of the market in years to come.
Currently, we are streamlining our supply so as to be able to source product directly from the multiple manufacturers.
Has there been any skepticism around SRSA having sole rights to the platform?
In the beginning, perhaps, but once they came to realise that Blackcircles is run independently, and that it was not an exclusive SRSA purchasing site, sentiment began to change.
We are confident that as time wears on and we are able to record volume growth via Blackcircles, we will see even greater buy-in.
So, are only premium brands available via BC?
As our focus is primarily on the consumer, we recognise the importance of making tier 2 and tier 3 products available , which we have done. We are cognisant of return channels and recourse for non-compliant tyres and will only feature brands where the necessary processes are available. Our Blackcircles, the online tyre retailer platform launched by UK entrepreneur Michael Welch, has debuted in South Africa. Founded almost 20 years ago, Welch and his team first launched this service offering in 2001 in the United Kingdom – which works in partnership with a network of more than 2500 independent garages.
Since then, Blackcircles has expanded globally with franchises in Mexico, Egypt, Thailand, Canada and now South Africa. We are focusing on leading brands coupled with professional service and competitive pricing. Our reputation is tied to the products and services we offer, hence we analyse each brand to be sold on the site. In short, we are focusing on leading brands coupled with professional service and competitive pricing.
Are you able to compete on price at this stage?
Feedback from consumers using the platform has been positive on the whole, but there is room for improvement to our pricing, which we are actively addressing. Bear in mind that different geographical regions in the country have different price points. To ensure a unform price point on an online platform is a challenge. We need t offer the consumer the best possible price, but added to this, we need to ensure that our fitment partners remain profitable.
Working closely with suppliers and fitment centres is what will ensure the best possible offering that is essential if we are to remain market related.
How do the fitment centres join the platform and how many do you currently have on board?
We are engaging with the retail sector by way of face-to-face discussions, emails and calls in an attempt to plug the geographical gaps, and will ensure quality standards are adhered to by way of audited check procedures. We are selective in our approach when it comes to our retail partners, so as to ensure that the offer on our platform aligns with the service being provided by the various stores.
We launched with 36 fitment partners and are now up to 67, with representation across all the provinces. Our next focus is to improve the number of options in the top 20 cities in South Africa. During these discussions, we are also addressing some of the noise around the launch of Blackcircles and clearing up any of the misperceptions that might be circulating in the marketplace.
Blackcircles was born with the modern consumer in mind, in a bid to them finding and fitting tyres via a completely stress-free process.
Is the online process user-friendly?
We have received a number of compliments from consumers who found the online journey smooth, easy and stress-free. Users begin with a search either by vehicle or wheel size. They are then able to choose their tyres and desired fitment centre.
Once payment is made through our secure gateway, the journey towards tyre replacement begins and the customer simply needs to arrive at the dealership for the fitting.
Are you looking to expand your current portfolio by way of additional market segments?
The system is set up to accommodate all market segments, so yes, in time we are hoping to expand on our offering. It comes down to finding the right fitment partners in the respective areas.
Any final thoughts Devlin?
The Blackcircles.co.za website is run by a team of forward-thinking individuals that are already working hard to deliver the best tyres at the best prices. These experts are motivated by the simple fact that it is time to change the way that South Africans buy and fit tyres. For too long, consumers have been following the older, traditional and outdated process of choosing their tyres in person.
Blackcircles.co.za not only allows purchasing tyres to be completely straightforward but also does so with a platform that is entirely transparent as well as smooth, simple and secure. Above all else, we want convenience to be the main takeaway from everyone visiting our website. We will catch up with Devlin Moodley later this year to report on any new developments.