When Bruno Leclair, president of Quebec retail tire network Pneus Unimax, received a complaint letter from a woman in Quebec City last year, he considered it a good sign that his strategy was paying off. “She said if she saw another one of our Point S garages open up, she would complain to the government!”
Point S, the network’s new premium brand, was part of a “180 turnaround” that Leclair performed after becoming Pneus Unimax’s president seven years ago. It started in 2012, when, under Leclair’s leadership, the company went from being a tire-buying co-operative to a holding company. “It was time,” says the former engineer. “We needed a strong board that could come up with a strategy and implement it.” Pneus Unimax has grown steadily since and now controls 40% of the Quebec tire market. The company sells two million tires leading to total sales of $350 million.
The same year, Leclair got exclusive Canadian rights to open outlets of the French tire retailer Point S, which is active in 27 countries. “We were looking for an approach to the market that would set us apart.”
In 2015, Pneus Unimax changed the 102 outlets of its premium chain, Unipneu, into Point S outlets. “Killing our own premium [brand] was radical but necessary,” says Leclair. “Point S has 40 years of experience with a value-added concept that we had less of in North America. Customers get competitive prices and one-hour service,” he explains. “For consumers, it’s reassuring. They get transparency, no surprises. Our prices aren’t always the lowest, but customers feel they are getting value for their money.” The Unimax network now has 200 Point S sales outlets across Quebec.
The Point S philosophy also works for the network’s member garages. The network has five brands as well as independent retailers, for a total of 1,000 points of sale. Pneus Unimax supplies members with a “quality challenge” document, common in European tire businesses, which includes 30 pages of good practices for retailers.
“We provide support for marketing and increased services as well as agreements with parts distributors and insurance companies,” says Leclair. “Garages can see if they are doing everything possible to improve the business. It increases traffic for them.”
“Growth has been moderate. Our strategy in Quebec is mostly protectionist, but that is changing. The retail tire market is extremely mature, so we are expanding,” he says. Pneus Unimax is already present in six Canadian provinces, with plans to move into the western provinces. “We will stand out,” he insists. “Most of our competitors just deliver tires with a price list.”