It was in April 2020 when Bangalore-based Pitstop introduced contactless doorstep car repair and maintenance. This was the time the national lockdown had been enforced and this initiative was a godsend to those seeking to service their cars.
“Last year, we grew almost 25-30 percent primarily driven by doorstep service business,” says Mihir Mohan, CEO and founder, Pitstop. This time around, the resurgence of infections presents a more challenging situation and for Pitstop, the top priority is to first ensure that its garages and mechanic partners are safe.
“In moments like these, business can wait and take shape as and when it comes. For the last 2-3 weeks, we have told customers that we will not be available because our crew is unsafe and has not been vaccinated,” says Mohan. The company has also set up a small helpline across all cities to make sure they get the right kind of medical aid and can help them as a group to find hospitals and ICUs if needed.
Health insurance will be taken care of for Pitstop’s mechanics and a small pool has also been created for additional needs. Going forward, the plan is to ensure that a larger set of mechanics is covered by health insurance. “We aim to support vaccination for over 2,000 families primarily in Bengaluru while extending support to other cities as well,” adds Mohan.
In his view, doorstep services will continue to do well with people reluctant to move out — sanitisation, AC cleaning, oil change etc will grow. “Last year, the lockdown was in April-May, and we started getting business back from June. I think it will take a quarter or more to get people back on ground now,” says Mohan.
Future growth road
Pitstop has also identified “a lot of things” to be built as part of its growth plans. These include the spare parts business — a new tech platform “that we are building” to ensure that garages get genuine spares. The aftermarket offers huge potential and Pitstop has been gradually building an ecosystem for itself and its garage partners. It plans to come up with a private label by end-FY2022.
“We have almost around 25,000 SKUs (stock keeping units) right from washing to lubricants and running repair parts like clutches, suspensions etc. We are now expanding that portfolio and building more fulfilment centres to cater to a larger base,” says Mohan. At present, there are six such centres in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Gurgaon, Pune and Hyderabad.
Earlier this year, the company raised $3.5 million (Rs 26 crore) taking the total investment thus far to $9.7 million (Rs 72 crore). Part of this is being used to “solve the whole value chain problem” in the automotive segment comprising mechanics, service advisors, drivers, spare parts retailers, distributors and so on.
The bulk of the funding has gone towards building Pitstop’s tech platform. While marketing expenditure has been “very frugal”, the experimentation around doorstep servicing has been growing. Technology is another focus area for investment and Pitstop had launched an OBD (on-board diagnostics) product two years ago where vehicles can be easily diagnosed at the customer’s doorstep.
Training mechanics to be the best
The other priority area is skilling to ensure the “best training” to mechanic partners who are the ones “delivering the right kind of experience” to the customer and therefore need to be incentivised. “We have set up small training centres and some part of the funding will be used to create a professional set-up with multiple partners,” he says.
Collaboration will likely happen with “a large number” of automotive brands to ensure that the right kind of training is imparted. While Pitstop will bring in the technology as well as behavioural and communication tools, the partners will chip in with technology.
“We want to create a network of certified mechanics from reputed organisations and plan to set up virtual classrooms,” adds Mohan. There will be a small number of physical touchpoints too. Beyond automotive and soft skills, the goal is to provide skills in electronics/electric keeping in mind the future landscape of electric vehicles. At that point in time, there will be a huge demand for skilled mechanics.
Plugging into the EV market
“We see EVs becoming more relevant with big announcements coming in from the likes of Ola. Our doorstep programme will increase in this space across two- and three-wheelers and commercial vehicles,” says Mohan. Pitstop is “in active discussions” with three EV companies and an announcement is likely by end-June.
According to him, most start-ups in the EV space do not have a big network and this is where Pitstop can play a part. “By the end of the day, a two-wheeler OEM needs a network to service its vehicles which it cannot do now being a new player without an established network. We see a lot of opportunities in partnering with them,” says Mohan.
Pitstop plans to have over 2,500 garages in place by March 2023 with more than 500 vans by March next year. The company is also exploring spreading its wings overseas.