The tow truck business is a $5 Billion dollar annual market. However finding a tow truck (if you are not a member of AAA or CAA) is usually a very painful experience.
If you are broken down in the middle of an intersection your number one priority is to find someone who can come rescue you quickly. Unfortunately doing a search on Google will only find you the closest Tow truck office and not the actual tow truck. This usually means that you need to call a few tow truck operators before you find someone with an available truck that can come get you in less than an hour.
Price is usually a secondary concern and you are not in a great position to negotiate anyway. Not surprisingly most tow trucks have a 100% close rate on incoming calls for help (if they have an available truck).
The solution to these problems is to use an “Uber for Tow Trucks” app. Only recently have such apps become open for business:
- Urgent.ly – Available nationwide (USA) and fully integrated with MapQuest.
- Honk – Available nationwide (USA).
- AvailableTow – Canada only. Currently only available in Ontario, but more locations coming soon.
- RapidTow – Canada only (currently only available in Toronto but expanding nationwide). Subscription based model that requires 48 hours for account activation. Forces you to plan ahead for the unexpected.
- TowChoice – Currently only available in Hawaii and Portland. Not much progress since initial launch.
- TowDeals – Web based search.
Tow Trucks are a $5Billion market
…and uber-like towing apps benefit all the players involved:
- The consumer looking for a tow gets a tow truck in the shortest time possible and sees the fares/rates before they commit to the tow truck.
- The Tow Truck has shorter tows as most of their tow calls are nearby. More tows per day means more revenue in their pocket.
- The environment is happy because shorter tows means less environmental impact.
- AAA or CAA (in canada) – Although both Urgent.ly and Honk seem to want to disrupt these automobile associations more than partner with them. AAA and CAA could also be strong competitors if they ever get their stuff together.
- Apple Maps and Google Maps – Either of these two partnerships would be huge. Integrating directly into Google or Apple maps would open up access to millions of smartphone users without the customer ever needing to install the app (since it would be integrated into the Maps software installed on your phone). I suspect that Google is holding off partnering with anyone until Uber enters the towing space.
- Uber – Probably more of an opportunity to be acquired by Uber once they decide to enter the towing space, but it’s hard to resist getting access to their existing customer base. Uber is also a killer competitor if and when they enter this space.
Right now it seems to be a 2 horse race between Urgent.ly and Honk. However there are some big questions looming on the horizon:
- Will Uber enter the towing space? I believe it is just a matter of time before they do.
- Will Google Maps / Apple Maps integrate with any of the providers? I believe Google Maps is going to wait until Uber enters the space (since they already integrate with Uber for ride sharing).
Back in early 2014 my car broke down and I was faced with a task that I had actually never attempted before: Call a tow truck. At first I was confused and not sure how to proceed.
- Who do I call?
- How do I get them here the fastest?
- How do I know they are reputable?
I eventually went the Google Maps route and found the nearest locations (this was the nearest tow truck OFFICE and not the nearest tow truck). After being bounced around a bit, I was finally referred to a towing company that was available, and 20 minutes later they showed up.
Turns out that this tow truck operator converts 100% of incoming calls into sales. When you are stuck in the middle of an intersection you don’t care about price, you just want a tow ASAP. (There is also an opportunity here to setup click to call AdWords campaigns for tow truck operators)