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A five-year development plan is at the basis of new drive for the Network supported by Bridgestone with a distinct strategy: from investments in image and communication to new agreements with mechanical engineering partners to support for creating outlet traffic

Mino De Rigo

TO HAVE 250 of the best tyre specialists within the next two years: for First Stop, 2013 is a re-launch year and the upgrade in numbers will be supported by a project that can count on considerable investments for developing the Network.
Renewed drive with three benchmarks: regular and more comprehensive training for retailers; initiatives that stimulate outlet traffic, supported primarily by e-commerce, and new agreements with providers of mechanical work on cars, the obligatory integration of the prescribed offer of services. Davide Ivac, Zone Manager Retail at First Stop, emphasized: “With Bridgestone we have launched a five-year development plan that envisages considerable investment. Today, First Stop has full operating autonomy because it can move much more agilely and dynamically in the market. Now we are changing up to a higher gear thanks to new project contents that will raise the standards of the entire proposal”, homage to a network policy of shared values: professionalism and service, quality and assortment, care and comfort, trust and reception, which translates into the declared commitment to construct and maintain a sound relationship of trust with the final consumer.

New horizons for the market
The aim of the First Stop Network is to be the first choice of final consumers who want professionalism, premium products and services for car care and maintenance.
“We intend to contribute to making the firms in our network – now about 150 shops -  increasingly competitive and to support outlets in always offering their customers the best. In the meantime, we want to acquire new members chosen from professionals with high levels of potential, those who have understood the need to aim for the consolidation of the organization and have seen growth possibilities in market change”.
First Stop is a pan-European network that was set up in 1994 and now has about 2,000 outlets in 23 countries. “The project is growing in Italy and in the rest of Europe: closeness to customers must continue to be our strong point. The experience acquired over the years has taught us to put customers and their needs at the centre of our proposal”.
Strategies that strengthen the network
In the light of a willingness to strengthen the First Stop network in Italy, how can the most promising tyre specialists be recruited with the assurance of real advantage compared to the competition? “We count on involving them” – said Ivac – “by guaranteeing an operations model that has been tried and tested in the profitability area. And by offering proactive support for responding quickly and effectively to changing market conditions and for meeting the needs of customers who are light years away from the stereotypes of the past: in their eyes, what also counts is being received in a clean and professional structure, where, in addition to providing a wide range of services, the attention to vehicles and overall image is obvious.” In short, after removing the wheel you discover that the brake system needs attention, being able to do it immediately fully meets customers’ needs.
Another element of attraction is being able to offer products for cars, commercial vehicles, motorcycles and trucks, but also a portfolio of products that will meet all users’ demands. In addition to the Bridgestone range, standard Firestone tyres in the mid-range, we offer Starfire tyres exclusively for members of the First Stop Network; these tyres are dedicated to consumers who want an affordable product without compromising on quality”. It is true that there is an increasing tendency by European drivers to go for inexpensive products, but in Italy premium tyres are still the top favourites. “And if they are offered competitively, the market proves them right. This is being demonstrated also by the success of the campaign, “New horizons with Bridgestone”, that rewards consumers who buy a set of summer tyres with a “Promoshopping” coupon of up to €80 to spend on clothing, fuel and high-tech”.

Expansion of offer and training
Another hot topic is First Stop’s undertaking to sign agreements that will expand the shops’ offer portfolio with the introduction of a comprehensive set of products and mechanical engineering services. As the Network Zone Manager confirmed – “We are working on creating partnerships with the best mechanical engineering providers that can offer the Network products, equipment and training; for tyre specialists that means introducing new but structured business. Basically, the main strategic objective is to become Italy’s reference point for tyres and car care and maintenance. With this in view, we are also preparing a 360° training programme that can count on a Bridgestone excellence in Italy, the European Technical Centre.” Situated south of Rome, it is the hub of excellent research into designing tyres, using new materials, making prototypes and experimenting. “Theory and practice for partners that concern not only the tyre world, training will focus also on vehicle diagnostics and repairs: experience that puts retailers in the position of being able to present their offer to customers in a way that is much more complete an effective”.
Apart from training, a large part of First Stop investments goes into initiatives for creating outlet traffic and profit: national campaigns, communication actions, local promotion of the Network and an e-commerce-dedicated website ( Ivac said: “We are investing a lot in the web. In Italy it is a niche, but abroad it is already very important. We want to ride the wave so that customers who already shop online and those who are approaching this world for the first time will go to the outlets where we can build customer loyalty: when tyre specialists see new faces in their shops they immediately understand the value of the initiative and, more generally, First Stop’s commitment to applying all possible leverage to create value”.

• Business facilitator: the network’s central role

The re-launch of the Network in Italy and at European level coincides with two events. The first is First Stop’s operating autonomy compared to the previous model. The second is the on-going strengthening of a structure that has been in the hands of Davide Ivac for about three months. “Our role today” – he said – “is primarily that of a facilitator that has a privileged view of the market, listens to the requests of tyre specialists and helps them to develop business by expanding the list of initiatives for responding to the numerous demands of end-users. The priority at the moment is to work alongside local retailers who are not asked to give up their identity and are always present and very visible”.  In any case the chain’s image seems to be its hallmark and this was demonstrated by the recreation of an outlet at the Autopromotec stand. Communication and marketing, but also buying, e-commerce and training are being handled by a team of four professionals who work at the Italian headquarters in Agrate (MB). In the field, however, four First Stop operators are spreading the word and providing consultation and support.

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