Mike Welch has been involved in the tyre industry ever since he was a teenager. Establishing the renowned Blackcircles.com business, he is now applying his expertise in the US market with Tirescanner.com
The Internet is a powerful tool. Not only has it revolutionised the way people communicate but it has also heavily affected
consumer buying habits. Tyre tycoon Mike Welch spotted this from an early age as he set about revolutionising the tyre distribution market.
Welch left school at 15 to become a tyre fitter but was soon made redundant from the role; so just two years later at 17 he started-up his first business MW Motorforce, selling tyres online and via mail order. This quickly took off and Welch’s stock began to rise. Tyre giants Kwik-Fit approach him and asked him to head their e-commerce.
“I agreed to do that which resulted in a move from Liverpool to Edinburgh,” Welch told Scots Auto Scene. “Ford then bought Kwik-Fit so I found myself between Detroit and Edinburgh as a 19-year-old which was surreal, but I learned lots. I worked at that for a couple of years but then got frustrated with having to rely on others to get things done so I left and started my own business in 2001, Blackcircles.com.” Blackcircles.com proved to be a revelation. Beginning with a modest turnover, the business soon began to generate swelling profits, looking after over two million customers from its base in Peebles; even forging a working relationship with Tesco. But 14 years after Welch’s Blackcircles.com adventure started, he would be off seeking pastures new.
“I was looking to raise investment in 2015 to internationalise Blackcircles.com and was speaking with various private equity houses, when out of the blue Michelin made an approach,” he explained. “Michelin are one of if not the most recognised and respected brands in tyres, so it made sense to listen to what they
had to say. Within weeks they had made an offer that was good for shareholders but more importantly provided Blackcircles.com with a great platform to scale internationally; Michelin provided assets and relationships that money can’t buy plus the support of a world-class leadership team that I still have the utmost respect and admiration for today.”
Blackcircles.com was sold to Michelin for over £50m five years ago, leaving Welch with time to contemplate what he was going to do next. The United States piqued his interest as it provided an interesting challenge regarding selling tyres online.
“I decided that if I was to take the ultimate challenge it would be to develop an online model that suited the US market, a $50bn annual opportunity,” Welch added. “The US market lagged behind Europe in its evolution but the sophistication of its consumers and supply chain are unparalleled. The two
markets are very similar in terms of customer expectation but the US is over 20-times the size and the product mix is more premium
with larger tyres on average. Spurred on by this challenge, I moved over to the US with my family at the start of last year with a blank sheet of paper and a vision to create the best, most customer focused online tyre business in the world.”
Tirescanner was therefore born in 2019 with the simple aim of being the world’s best online tyre service. And within just a single year, the business has made significant strides to doing just that. All tyres for all vehicles can be ordered in a matter of clicks with next day installation at thousands of locations in 45 states.
“My day starts and ends thinking about whether we cold do more for our customers,” Welch said. “My team are exactly the same: it’s customer, customer, customer. I would say this time around we have an even more customer-focused ethos as a team than we did at Blackcircles.com because I now have the benefit of understanding just how powerful that is as a strategy.”
But Tirescanner’s impeccable service is of benefit to tyre brands too who can utilise Tirescanner’s vast network of supply chains via its retail partners: “We work closely with brands to help them move more of their tyres through our retail partners by engaging the right consumers,” Welch continued. “They make more money through us than any other online channel and we spin that integration with our retail partners around to be able to offer our customers the fastest nationwide install offering on the market.”
As vehicular technology evolves tyre technology will too, but Tirescanner’s relentless push to be the best will stand it in good stead. Above all else, Welch wants to keep pushing to create “a true legacy we can all be very proud of” and has the drive to make this happen in abundance. By having meaningful engagement with all the key stakeholders, Tirescanner is guaranteed to be a trusted ally going forward “right in the middle of what is good about the changes we see ahead of us.”
Welch is creating positive waves outside of his Tirescanner business as well as along with his wife, he set up his own charity called The Welch Trust in order to give back into projects that really matter to them. Welch explained: “Our focus is adoption, fostering and critical illness in children. We have also built a couple of schools with a focus on educated in deprived areas of the world.”
As a consequence, Welch can now proudly call himself Mike Welch OBE and he was also honoured as a Doctor of Business by Edinburgh Napier University. “That’s ironic,” he said, “given the reason I started my first business was that my poor qualifications prevented me getting into college!”
Now aged 41, Welch has diligently become one of the big players in the tyre industry and that standing shows no sign of crumbling. Working with brands such as BF Goodrich, Bridgestone, Continental, Cooper, Falken, Firestone, Goodyear, Hankook, Michelin, Pirelli, Toyo and Yokohama combined with its bulging network of retail partners, Tirescanner is the place to go to find the best quality tyre at the best price. Tyres made simple, that’s what they do.