Updating Retail Week Knowledge Bank’s Halfords profile brought the opportunity to reflect on Halfords’ move earlier this year back into car servicing, acquiring Nationwide Autocentres with 224 servicing and repair centres.

They are being rebranded as Halfords Autocentres, with 80 additions planned by 2013 and 200 over seven years, implying further acquisitions. This after the ill-fated investment in car servicing in the 1990s, when more than 100 Halfords garages were off-loaded to Centrica’s AA in 2001.

Halfords is now under different ownership and management with an increasingly service-focused core offer, arguably making car-servicing a logical extension. It is a key focus for growth after withdrawal from embryonic retail chains in central Europe. It can be argued that rolling out Halfords Autocentres is more logical and offers greater short-term potential. Designed to be more competitive than franchised dealers and with the Halfords brand reputation to put customers at ease, Autocentres apparently offer real potential to extend Halfords’ appeal.

But will it work? Halfords Autocentres’ focus is the general servicing, repairs and maintenance market. Can it reinforce higher levels of consistently reliable service? There is much to play for but the challenge is substantial too, for a conventional retailer that hitherto has only slowly, modestly and piecemeal been evolving towards increased servicing elements.

Is Halfords biting off more than it can chew? Is Nationwide Autocentres well enough established with sufficient critical mass and positive reputation to feed back into Halfords mainstream stores’ newer service elements, on ‘wefit’, for example? Or could it be

déjà vu, plus lost opportunities for Halfords superstores in the Czech Republic and Poland?