Mike Welch, the founder of online tyre-fitter Blackcircles.com, is expanding the Borders business into Asia following its £50 million takeover by industry giant Michelin.
The Edinburgh-based entrepreneur, who last year moved into the fashion world by resurrecting the Atterley platform for independent boutiques, is flying out to Singapore in March to scope out the market as he eyes a potential global presence for Blackcircles, acquired by French group Michelin in 2015.
It’s going to be very exciting to build a business that’s truly globalMike Welch
In an exclusive interview with The Scotsman, Welch said: “Part of the reason we sold the company to Michelin was because our objective over the coming ten years or so was to establish it globally.
“I was initially planning to do that with private equity money, but Michelin came along and said they could give us the investment as well as a platform to expand.”
READ MORE: Blackcircles bought by Michelin for £50m
Welch added: “Since they bought us we’ve working on how we internationalise.”
Peebles-based Blackcircles currently has a network of 2,500 independent garages across the UK, a figure that has almost doubled since the Michelin takeover, and Welch said he was aiming for a similar market presence in each of its new territories. The firm is targeting the entire Asia Pacific region, including Thailand and New Zealand, as part of its first foray overseas.
Welch said: “It’s early days, but the first phase is to go out to Asia to look at how we can develop the Blackcircles proposition over there. The timeframe from our visit in early March to actually seeing a Blackcircles in another geography will be about 12 months.
“I would expect it to be equivalent in coverage for each geography we enter. We’ve got an investment approach that gives us a fairly immediate coverage that represents what we’ve got in the UK.”
The entrepreneur left school at 16 to become a tyre fitter in Liverpool and launched his first tyre business in his teens before being headhunted by Kwik Fit and moving to Edinburgh to develop a website for the group. He also spent time in the US helping car giant Ford with its online strategy following its £1 billion acquisition of the Kwik Fit business.
READ MORE: Mike Welch resurrects fashion site Atterley
Last year he bought the intellectual property assets of Atterley after the online fashion brand fell into administration. The website aims to help small boutiques increase their sales in the face of tough competition on the high street and internet, where e-commerce giant Amazon has made a high-profile push into fashion.
Atterley had been backed by Sir Terry Leahy, the former Tesco boss who was also a major investor in Blackcircles.
When asked whether his expansion plans stop at Asia, Welch said: “We’ll just keep going. That’s the whole point. It’s going to be very exciting to be able to look back years down the line at a business that’s truly global.
“We’ll build it in a responsible way. The approach is quite smart because we’ll be working with partners in each region who know the local market to give us the best chance of success.”