Tightening The Nut – on the auto after-markets

Azam Shaikh

Co-founder, TIGHT THE NUT

The garage. The place where you give your car or bike to get fixed. Generally manned by men who lack automotive degrees, but are probably even better than one. And possibly their attire, their demeanour, denies them the label of a business owner. And so, they prod on, generally discounted, till your car starts acting up.

How many people think of opportunities in the unorganized sector? Azam Shaikh and Gaurav Sandhya, co-founders of Tight The Nut (TTN) two graduates from COEP did. Says Azam, “after graduating in production engineering, I started working with Tata Motors and Bajaj. We were looking after the dealerships for those four years. At that time, we realized that no one really bothers about the after-market.”

According to Azam, India has more than “300 million vehicles (both two and four-wheelers) and one billion vehicles need servicing every year. Of this, only about 30-35% is taken care of by the OEMs. The rest 65-70% of the need is catered to by the unorganized sector, aka your garagewallah.

“We thought, what can we do to improve the service delivered by independent garages? How can technology assist them to increase their revenues, build customer loyalty, increase efficiency?

In 2018 the duo studied a few garages and understood a few things that could help independent garages. “We observed that often the garage owner has worked with an OEM for two to three years and then started his own business. But when he gets started, he gets so sucked into the daily grind that he doesn’t get a grip on how to think like a business owner. He ends up thinking like a mechanic.”

Gaurav Sandhya

Co-founder, TIGHT THE NUT

Azam and Gaurav started by building a simple app that helps digitize some operations at the local garage. There was no system to build customer loyalty, no control over costs and efficiency. Most people send their vehicle to the garage on weekends and the rest of the days there is little or no work. “We sat with them to see how things would work.”

Initially, they built on existing apps and made a very simple version that could help garage owners send reminders to their customers and digitize their invoice. “We gave our MVP to 19 garages in Pune and noted how much time it took to fill the job card, customer’s reaction after seeing the invoice and so on.”

Azam and Gaurav hired two tech people who further worked on their app, and they were ready to go to market. The duo had a three-pronged attack to hit the market. Says Azam, “we first did an app SEO before putting it on playstore. Then we had strategic tie-ups with mechanic associations. For example, we tied up with the Maharashtra Federation Garage Owners Federation. This federation had 15 different associations in different geographies. And lastly, we opened a referral channel. Those who referred our app got some cashback.”

Did this help? What started with 19 garages in Dec 2019 added up to 12,000 now. “We saw a growth of 32% month-on-month. Of this, 65% are two-wheeler garages and the rest are four-wheeler.” Growth must mean money, and TTN has a subscription model that helps them earn. “When we onboard a client, we offer him 10 days free use of our app. After this, he is charged Rs. 4,250 per annum that is inclusive of GST. It adds up to Rs. 300 per month (without GST) and that’s not a big deal for any garage owner. Once he has signed on, he gets unlimited jobs cards, unlimited reminder SMSes and his own app for booking. We have all the features, but just the nomenclature changes. This he can share on any platform, WhatsApp, Facebook etc.”

How has this changed the business for the garage owners? Says Azam, “On an average, they have seen more than 30% growth in revenues in six months. The top 10 customers have seen 36% growth in revenues in six months. This is a natural fall out of technology use. It automatically helps a garage become more efficient, more profitable.”

TTN is a TiE Nurture mentee and Azam says “the help we got from our mentors Pratima Kirloskar and Advait Kurlekar is immeasurable. They told us about using data analytics that helps us give better insights to our customers regarding the efficient use of manpower. When you start a business one never really takes the legal aspects too seriously as you are so focused on the product or service, but we learned and followed our guru’s advice regarding terms, conditions, privacy, etc. I think we must’ve pitched about 10-15 times to get it right.”

TTN raised Rs. 60 lakhs from Indian and US angel investors. “We used this to improve our app, hire two people for sales and marketing and expand to other countries.”

TTN has now forayed into Indonesia and planning on Myanmar. “The situation for the auto industry is almost the same in South Asian countries. So basically, the solution we offer is pretty much the same. The only issue we had was communicating because of the language barrier. So, we hired a translator and spoke to some garage owners in Indonesia. Also, we had to tweak our app regarding the currency, the invoice amounts – you can never get a bill for One lakh for a two-wheeler in India, but in Indonesia it’s common. Besides, there were some legal aspects to change, but mostly it’s pretty much the same.”

TTN has onboarded 50 garages in Indonesia and is readying itself for the Myanmar market. Their future plans include digitizing the entire unorganized automotive chain. “We are planning to get into the spare parts, tyres, lubes, batteries and others. “We have already started with the spare parts businesses. We want to digitize the operations for all the players in this field.” The duo sure are tightening the nut on the unorganized after-market auto sector.

The Proof of the Pudding:

TNT’s customers share their experience:

Lalat Tukaram Mehtras

Lalat Tukaram Mehtras, Sharp Auto:

Lalat was working as a senior mechanic with Hero Honda before starting his own garage for two-wheelers. Says he, “I am very happy with the TTN app. With this, I can send a reminder automatically to my customers, it prepares my accounts, does my billing, what materials I will need, how much inventory I have, everything. It’s made my life easy. I haven’t done the maths, but I think my business has grown 20% since I have been using TTN.”

Atul Budhraja

Atul Budhraja, Sainath Auto:

Atul took over the business from his father. He also owns a spare parts business that is next to his garage. Says he, “I started using the TTN app two years ago, and it has helped me a great deal. Today, I feel that if the app is not there, then I don’t want to work. It has simplified my work tremendously. If a customer comes in for repairs, all I have to do is fill in the details. It will prepare the job card, do my billing and everything. If their car is due for oil-servicing, the message will go out to them automatically. If the customer calls with a complaint, at the click of a button, I can see what was done in the past with his car. It’s wonderful! It’s helped my business grow by about 25-30%. If they bring out an app for spare parts, I will be the first to use it. It’s very useful.”

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