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Getting His ACT Together

(Bangkok Post) AutoCare & Tire was born from the acquisition of Shell Autoserv by tyre manufacturer Bridgestone.

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The deal went through earlier this year making ACT the newest kid on the block in the fully integrated car-care business. Bridgestone inked the deal with the Shell Group of Companies in February, with the management handover taking place on Feb. 26, which gave Bridgestone only about two months to rebrand all the old Autoserv units – a feat it accomplished ahead of schedule, just before Songkran.

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The price paid for Autoserv is ”highly classified” which is why Winij Prungpanich, managing director of Bridgestone ACT (Thailand), would have to kill me afterwards if he were to be so indiscreet as to actually disclose such information to a member of the Fourth Estate! (Shell chairman Tiraphot Vajrabhaya had informed me earlier, however, that he was ”very happy” with the transaction.)

Motoring’s exclusive with Winij was scheduled to take place at the company’s Lotus Rama III branch, just off Rajanagarindra Road, but apparently no one had thought to inform the staff there of the MD’s impending visit!

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”Khun Winij is coming here? [receptionist whispers to store manager] … I don’t know [replying to inaudible question]. He’s supposed to be meeting that person over there [points to yours truly, who’s pretending he hasn’t heard a word]”.

Having turned up 15 minutes early for our appointment, I had time for a good look around and the first thing I noticed were tyres made by BFGoodrich and Michelin (to name just two) – which explodes the myth that car-care centres run by tyre manufacturers only ever stock own-brand products.

”We had all the Shell logos and signs removed but we’ll need more time to implement the entire rebranding concept; there’s to be a change in company colours … mostly light blue with some red.”

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And to ensure that regular clients weren’t shell-shocked (pun intended) by the transformation which has occurred since February, ACT contacted them via SMS, postcard (about 300,000 were sent out) and, what Winij terms, TV ”documentaries” (programmes commissioned for TV, actually).

”We’ve re-employed Shell Autoserv people so any customers who are acquainted with these staff members will have heard about the change [in ownership] by this stage.”

ACT has guaranteed, however, that no changes will be made to any product warranties, sales promotions or customer benefits offered by Shell. The products and services on offer remain the same, too: tyres, batteries, brakes, shock-absorbers, windscreen wipers, additives and a maintenance package covering periodical vehicle check-ups.

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After side-stepping the issue of market-share figures (a subject most tyre-company executives shy away from) Winij said that ACT is aiming for total sales of at least 1.3 billion baht this year, with a monthly vehicle-service rate of 35,000 nationwide.

On the issue of fuel price increases, he noted:

”ACT offers a service. The cost of utilities might have increased slightly, but it hasn’t affected our operations that much. Custom may have fallen off a bit, especially after an inflation rate close to two digits was announced, but eventually the customers will come back. Every vehicle needs servicing, after all; it’s a necessity.”

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Even though operating costs have gone up a little, Winij confirmed that ACT has no intention of bumping up its fees.

Of the 64 ACT branches around the Kingdom, the majority (42) are in Bangkok, the others located in major population centres in the provinces.

”We’ll be expanding our presence in the southern region in the future,” Winij declared, ”but there’s still a lot of [ground]work to be done.”

Prior to assuming the top post at ACT, Winij worked in the marketing division at Bridgestone Sales Thailand where he was mostly involved in wholesale deals with tyre dealerships. His new job will bring him into contact a lot more with the end-user of those tyres, the motorist.

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”The emphasis is on safety, to show that we offer a ‘real’ and professional service; that’s what will make us successful. By ‘real’ I’m referring to the trust that customers put in our technicians and tyre fitters.

”It’s important to be professional because then the customer is more likely to believe them [technicians] if they recommend a tyre or brake change.”

Shifting gears back to ACT’s decision to stock a wide range of tyres, Winij explained:

”Well, we have a pretty varied customer base which is why we have to sell other [non-house] brands. We’re a retailer so we have to look at things from the viewpoint of the customer.’ (Tire Review/Akron)

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