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Heffernan’s: First on the MAP in Ireland

(Clacton, U.K./Tyres & Accessories) It was back in January 2005 that Michelin launched its Michelin Accreditation Programme (MAP), aimed at recognising excellence in independent tyre dealers and raising standards of professionalism and customer services to the highest possible level.

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Then in February, MAP crossed the Irish Sea when Heffernan’s Tyres of Kildare became the first Michelin Accredited Centre (MAC) in the Irish Republic. Heffernan’s is a family-run business, founded in 1952 by Joe Heffernan and now run by Thomas Heffernan and his wife Linda.

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The road to MAP accreditation is not an easy one – initially the Michelin Account Manager conducts a Gap Analysis, which essentially outlines the gap between the way the centre operates now and the standards required to become a MAC. When the centre believes that it has reached the required standards, a mystery shopper puts it to the test and, if this proves satisfactory, a full audit is carried out. Success in this leads to accreditation, but the story does not end there, as further mystery shops are carried out and, a year after accreditation, another full audit is conducted.

For Heffernan’s Tyres, this process was not as onerous as for others, as the centre had already come out top in a survey of Irish tyre centres, carried out by an Irish trade magazine. Thomas Heffernan maintains that it was his intention from day one in the tyre business to present the best-possible image to the public – he was conscious that the image of the tyre trade left something to be desired and was determined that Heffernan’s would be different. He said: “Our premises are designed with high service standards in mind and based on principles learned from practical experience and consideration of what a customer really wants.” Thomas Heffernan also paid tribute to the part played by his centre staff, saying that most of the credit for achieving accreditation was down to them.

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Jonathan Brett, programme development manager for Michelin car tyres, echoed this when he revealed that Heffernan’s had recorded one of the best-ever scores at the mystery shopper stage. “They far exceeded consumers’ expectations,” he said.

Of course, meeting the high MAP standards is only the beginning – they have to be maintained and Thomas Heffernan is well aware of this, although he is confident that his staff will be able to maintain standards. It is, he added, not just a one-sided commitment as, if a scheme such as MAP is to have any credibility, the tyre manufacturer needs to keep it going – standards need to be monitored and maintained.

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Jonathan Brett agreed, saying that the whole process was “a team effort” and that an eye will be kept on all MACs to ensure that there is no slackening of effort. For both tyre dealer and manufacturer, it is not just a case of putting up the MAP signage and then forgetting all about it. As an aside, the MAP signage itself typifies the thought and detail that has gone into the programme – each centre’s sign has a four-figure number, unique to that company and recorded by Michelin. This is to avoid any unauthorised centres appropriating the sign and proclaiming itself a MAC. Not that would-be souvenir hunters would find it easy to remove the sign, as they are designed to shatter if taken off the wall.

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Any Practical Value?

The stated aims of the MAP are laudable, but surely any business that serves the public should be operating to the highest possible standards anyway? Heffernan’s is a good example, as their existing procedures and facilities were not that far away from MAP requirements.

Heffernan’s, it seems, is the exception rather than the rule and even they had to make some changes to qualify. The MAP, Jonathan Brett pointed out, is about much more than having a clean waiting room with TV and other facilities – it covers every aspect of the business, including training, Health and Safety, record keeping and much, much more.

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So what’s in it for the tyre dealer? Thomas Heffernan believes that accreditation will be recognised by the public as a sign of high standards, plus there is a feel-good factor among the staff (who incidentally looked very smart in their brand-new MAP overalls). On a more practical level, MAC was one of the factors contributing to a five per cent reduction in Heffernan’s insurance costs.

What additional costs were involved in achieving MAC? These were negligible, said Thomas Heffernan, making the point that you have to have certain standards anyway. “Besides,” he added, "formalising your systems is a good thing.”

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The MAP is very much a UK and Ireland-based initiative, so is it likely to be adopted by other European countries? Jonathan Brett revealed that Michelin UK had passed on details to their colleagues in mainland Europe but there were no plans that he was aware of to introduce it in the near future.

And how is the scheme going in the UK? Jonathan Brett was pleased with the way things were progressing, while making the point that the nature of achieving accreditation made it a long process, but it was important to get it right. “We want to support good customer service and get the public to recognise it,” he said, adding: “The MAP is a case of encouraging more people to raise their game; it’s not about numbers, it’s about standards.”

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