When Mark Rippon was in school, he spent extracurricular and weekend hours working part-time in mechanical workshops. Growing up in a family that has been in the automotive industry “for generations”, the work came naturally to him.
Then, after finishing school, he took on an apprenticeship and eventually worked his way up to franchise owner. “I owned my franchise, and I grew that to multi-franchise ownership,” he reflects. “At that point, I thought, ‘I’m going to go out on my own and develop an amazing automotive business system and show them how it’s done.”
Having been in the industry for so long, Mark was familiar with each aspect of the business, which helped him to establish his own independent workshop, Rapid Tune, in 2003. Over the next five years, he developed the business system and franchised it in 2008.
“I placed a lot of focus on having a quality business system,” Mark says. “We are always evolving the business and its marketing strategies. Advertising in the digital media sector has been one of the most significant changes to small business marketing. Sometimes I feel like I’ve seen it all, but the automotive industry will always have a new surprise for me just around the next corner.”
“I feel like I’ve seen it all, but it always surprises me.”
Rapid Tune will pay particular attention to continued growth and development of its products and services over the next year. “We’ve planned for further national expansion without compromising the quality of our franchise network,” Mark explains.
“It is imperative that Rapid Tune fosters excellent relationships with our business owners and continues to cultivate our amazing culture. Balancing these values in 2020 while expanding the chain, installing new POS systems and keeping up to date with automotive technology will certainly keep us busy, but that’s the way I like it.
“Developing the marketing strategies was a big part of our 2019 vision, which saw the development of Rapid Tune’s ‘We’ll keep you moving’ slogan and TV campaign launched by Channel 7. Mapping these together has worked well. It’s great to see our brand gaining so much traction, but we will keep building the brand across Melbourne and Brisbane this year.”
Keeping up with changes in the automotive industry isn’t easy. With technology continually evolving, Mark explains that there are always new products and services to research and incorporate.
“The greatest change that regularly occurs in the automotive industry is, and always has been, vehicle innovation technology,” he says.
“There are always new products and services that we need to research, implement new equipment and provide training to our technicians for. This is an important part of ensuring the correct servicing and maintenance of our customers’ modern vehicles. It’s an ever-changing business system.”
Rapid Tune prides itself on its unique culture. It promotes unity within the group and encourages everyone to support each other and be passionate about the brand. “It sounds a little corny, but we put a lot of effort into this culture,” Mark explains.
“When you attend a Rapid Tune meeting or event you instantly feel the friendly cohesion and supportive nature of the group; it’s an unmistakable feeling. This positive environment could be the reason Rapid Tune has outperformed industry standards year after year.”
The company is selective about who joins and stays in the network. Rapid Tune prefers quality business owners over quantity – members rarely lose their passion for the brand or the automotive industry.
“Many of our franchisees come from within our network, so it’s been a self-generating process,” explains Mark. “Granting approval to a prospective franchisee is always an amazing experience, but if the applicant’s expectations are unrealistic or not in line with the Rapid Tune model, the sweetness can turn sour rather quickly. We know that good communication equals good relationships.”
Mark doesn’t want to expand the company for the sake of expansion. He wants to continue to maintain the same high-quality standards it has had for years. “Brand recognition across the Melbourne and Brisbane markets will be a huge focus in 2020,” he says. “We’ll grow nationally while maintaining the quality of our system. We’ll also continue developing our products and services.”
“We’ll grow nationally while maintaining the quality of our system.”
Integrity is critical to Mark, and he believes that a company should stand by its products. “As a franchisor, if a supplier or consultant isn’t the right match for the group another alternative will be sourced, as this would not be of benefit to the franchise network,” he explains.
“What I mean by integrity is not selling hand over fist. We must build the brand’s strength by way of honesty, product knowledge and consumer trust.”
Mark says that his team is motivated and eager to provide support to the franchise network and business owners. “We run many social events throughout the year, and receive full attendance,” he boasts.
“We run achievement awards for sales, customer service and increasing our database to create fun and healthy competition. We also organise an annual conference. We call it a conference, but it ends up being more like a family holiday.”
As a franchisor, Mark has placed much focus on having a quality business system and notes that brand consistency has been one of the most significant changes the company has made. “We are always evolving the business system, including our marketing strategies. We have evolved into TV, social media, using SEO and SEM contact with our customers, and automated database harvesting.”
The company must also abide by the franchise code of conduct and stay compliant. “Each year the franchise code requires franchisors to update disclosure documents and provide detailed marketing reports to the franchise network.” Mark explains.
“We like to stay transparent and meet all of those requirements because I think that’s very important in the franchising industry today, and we provide all the feedback and information to our franchisees.”
Rapid Tune is a member of the Franchise Council of Australia, and Mark believes peak bodies like these do great work within the franchising industry. He encourages other franchise owners to make the most of these partnerships and focus on the deeper meaning behind franchising.
“I find it a relief that old-school franchising techniques are being stamped out, allowing the franchise industry to recover its reputation,” he explains.
“The true intention of franchising is to provide a business model, marketing assistance, brand presence, group support and mentorship, helping people to overcome their fears and enjoy their dreams of business ownership. There’s nothing wrong with being transparent and showing people that your franchise network and industry experience can honestly help them get a start in business and put them on the path to success.”
Mark believes that, as a franchisor, if you genuinely care about the individuals in the company, and you are trying to help make them successful, the franchise network will recognise this and will be more receptive to the advice given from the support team and the vision of the brand.
“The reality is, I need to be able to dispense our knowledge and advice effectively to the franchise network. This is why culture and relationship building is so crucial to a franchise; if communications break down, nobody benefits.”
Mark works closely with the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA), which represents the entire aftermarket repair industry on many fronts, and has been instrumental in high-level industry legislation issues, the latest being compulsory data sharing and right of repairer campaigns.
In October 2019, the Australian government announced a mandatory data sharing law. According to the AAAA, the law “ensures independent workshops have access to all motor vehicle service and repair information at a fair price”, to encourage fair competition for small businesses and consumers.
The CEO of the AAAA, Stuart Charity, released a statement that said, “This is an incredible result for our members, who came to us with their concerns, put competitive rivalries aside and fought alongside us to have the law changed for their customers, their businesses and the wider industry. It is also an important win for consumers.”
Mark explains: “Manufacturers’ vehicle data sharing had been common practice in the US and European markets for quite a while. It was certainly time for the Australian market to catch up. Thanks to the efforts of the AAAA, this has been achieved in Australia. I’ve been an advocate for technological advances in modern vehicles.
“These innovations require further advances in training and the installation of very expensive software and equipment. However, they also open up additional service and maintenance opportunities for our service centres.”
The AAAA also recently opened an Auto Innovation Centre, which increases the capabilities of Australian businesses and aids in the development of new automotive aftermarket products for local and export markets.
“With new features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warnings and automatic emergency braking (AEB) operated via radars, cameras and actuators, the correct equipment, training and data is paramount to the successful service, maintenance and calibration of modern vehicles,” Mark says.
“Fully electric and self-drive vehicles are a glimpse into the future of our business. It’s a very exciting time to be a part of Rapid Tune and the automotive industry.”
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