E-commerce expert epyx is looking to recruit independent garages for its 1link Service Network to help tackle the MOT and maintenance bottleneck created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 1link Service Network is used by fleets totalling four million cars, vans and trucks to buy and manage service, maintenance and repair (SMR) from nearly 9,000 franchise, independent and fast-fit garages.

The recruitment drive is prompted by the shortage of garages to meet the pent-up demand for SMR created by the pandemic lockdown, as well as demand from existing customers for a wider choice of outlets and from new customers who want to continue to use existing suppliers not on the network.

Debbie Fox, commercial director at epyx, said that the pandemic “has had an obvious impact on SMR, especially with the six-month MOT deferrals creating the potential for a glut of demand for testing from the end of September, alongside widespread delays in maintenance creating a backlog.”

She said other factors were also driving demand. “There’s perhaps a tendency to look at this recruitment drive and conclude that it is a result of fleets wanting to buy more SMR from independents.

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“Rather, what has happened is that more SME fleet business is being transacted through the platform as a result of new epyx products designed to target these users.

“Many of these businesses tend to want to still use their local independent with which they have a longstanding relationship while embracing our technology.

“We are also seeing increased demand for SMR services in places where geographically, no local franchise option exists and in these places, we are looking for high-quality independents.

Fox added that independent garages already formed an important part of 1link’s SMR proposition.

“A large proportion of our network has always been drawn from non-franchised dealers and they have always been part of our proposition. Currently, they account for more than 46% of the SMR suppliers listed on the platform, and they are widely valued by our fleet customers for the services they provide.”