finance

Tyre mogul Michael Welch reveals extent of American ambitions



Entrepreneur Michael Welch has revealed his ambitions to create the first national tyre retail brand in the United States, following Tyrescanner’s recent merger with Tirebuyer.

Speaking exclusively to Insider, he admitted his initial plan to invent a new market model would have taken many years to gain momentum and if an opportunity presented itself to expand internationally he would still be pulling that business plan together in his seventies.

Welch explained that any further expansion outside of the US could become a “major distraction” at the moment, unless there is a “business case that goes over and above” the current project.

“We’ve moved there [the US], you need to be immersed in it because cultures vary from state to state, so you need to understand who your customers are and what they want – it’s a lot more complicated than I think people might anticipate.

“This is not a Scottish business trading in the states, we are an American business trading in America, building an American team, but powered by a lot of international knowledge – and not least some of the team that I brought in from my old days at Blackcircles.”

Welch’s US company Tyrescanner merged with Tirebuyer, a subsidiary of American Tire Distributor (ATD), in March.

ATD is one of the largest tyre distributors in the world and is backed by Goldman Sachs.

The new company will operate 11,000 installer partner locations all over the US, with offices in Edinburgh, Seattle, Philadelphia and Charlotte.

Due to the online nature of Welch’s businesses, the pandemic has been largely beneficial, with lockdowns changing the way many Americans research and shop for products and services.

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“I really think the timing is special and the market changes happening with customers are really intersecting,” said Welch.

As for why expansion has been across the pond more so than in the UK and Europe, Welch criticised the “mentality” of UK investors and argued that the entire funding ecosystem needed to change.

“They’re [the US] confident they’ve got a winning mentality; there’s a give it a shot mentality,” he commented. “The fear of failure here seems to be way more greater than it is there in my experience – there seem to be much more grave consequences here, from a pride perspective, than out there.”

Welch also pointed out that the size of the UK makes it harder for businesses to scale up and raise cash, with many limited to the valuations offered relative to their size at that time, which is lower than in the US, as “it takes a lot more to convince an investor that you can truly be global”.

He called for better alignment from entrepreneurs to banks and governments, with more support being made available to growing companies from both the public and private sector.

Welch compared his experience building Blackcircles to walking along a minefield with a blindfold on, unlike in the US, where her claims businesses find it easier to have a path to success drawn out.

“It’s a cultural thing – that will only improve with behavioural change, if you facilitate a clear and obvious path to these operators.”

Welch revealed that he was initially planning to expand Blackcircles internationally and was seeking private equity money before he was approached by Michelin and decided to sell his company.

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“It was a bit of a punctuation in my journey, but it came down to the money – the business could scale much better from within the Michelin organisation.”

Welch has also launched a new brand called Treadsy, which acts as a subsidiary to Tirebuyer, with its own vans and plans to release other services and solutions.

He is still mulling over what exactly the offering will look like, from business-to-business solutions and tyre e-commerce, adding that it provides an “angle to start to look at how we can play into the infrastructure of the market”.

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