Having played on rugby pitches in both France and Canada, Mark Llewellyn is now running vehicle repair franchise Revive! to the try line
A serendipitous meeting in Mark Llewellyn’s former life as a rugby player led him to the idea that would one day become Revive! UK. Going from scrumming on pitches to serving as managing director of a vehicle repair business mending the nation’s scuffs and scratches, he has grown it to a 65-strong franchise network set to turn over £8.5m this year.
Given Llewellyn was born and bred in Rugby, the birthplace of the sport, it’s hardly surprising that he grew up with a real passion for the game. “I used to play for Coventry and Saracens,” he says. Whilst studying for a degree in literature and French at Hatfield Polytechnic, he received several offers to play for clubs in France once he’d graduated. Being something of a francophile, he soon decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up. “Going to France had always been an idea that really appealed to me,” he says.
Once Llewellyn finished his studies, he relocated to Sainte-Foy-la-Grande in the Gironde region, playing for its team Stade Foyen for the next five years and helping it to climb to the top of the league. “We actually won the second division championship,” he says.
However, it was when new player Richard Bice joined the team from Canada that Llewellyn’s life took a different turn; as Llewellyn had helped him to settle into the new opportunity, Bice offered to repay the favour. “He said: ‘I know you’re looking to move on with your career – I’m sure the rugby club in Canada would sort you out, if you were interested?’” Llewellyn recalls. “I thought: ‘what have I got to lose?’”
So, in 1992, Llewellyn moved to Vancouver and began playing for the Vancouver Rowing Club. But it wasn’t to last long. When Llewellyn was introduced to Bice’s brother-in law, he discovered that he owned a franchise that provided a small to medium area repair technique (SMART) service – a system that effectively allowed him to fix minor vehicle damage on the go. And it’s safe to say the idea really excited him. “It’s a great business concept in a busy world,” he says. “You can have your car repaired to an extremely high quality wherever it happens to be. That convenience factor really appealed to me.”
Just six months after moving to Canada, Llewellyn found himself moving into a spare room in his parents’ house back in the UK and trying to scrape together enough money to launch his business. “Because I’d been away for so long and I’d never really had any savings, starting a business was tough,” he says.
Fortunately, he had some luck: both his grandfather and NatWest agreed to lend him the funds he needed to buy his first van and a master license from the Canadian operation.
Getting a new business off the ground is never easy but, fortunately, there was plenty of demand for the service Revive! was offering. “Ultimately, it’s about solving problems and fixing cars,” Llewellyn says. Focusing on minor repairs – including scratched paintwork, damaged alloy wheels, scuffed bumpers and dinged single-panel doors – Revive! is able to mend customers’ cars wherever they may be. And because these services are very much in demand, the franchise can capitalise on multiple different markets. “We do work for dealers fixing up used cars before they get sold, fleet and insurance companies who have damage to their vehicles mid-lease and the general public when their cars have been scratched,” he says.
In light of this, it was relatively straightforward for Llewellyn to start securing customers for the new company. “With it being a mobile business, you could basically turn up at a car dealership, introduce yourself to a sales manager and show him the work that you could do,” he says. Thanks to this proactive approach, Revive! was able to quickly build up a roster of clients that were hungry for its services.
But even with a bunch of new clients on the books, not everything was cut and dried: there were still plenty of parts of the Revive! system that needed tailoring to the UK market. “For example, the paint system that they used in Canada wasn’t available over here so I had to switch to a completely different one,” says Llewellyn.
And there were even more significant cultural adaptations that had to be made: when he started out, his franchisor expected him to ape the Canadian model, which required larger franchisees to work from home offices rather than commercial premises. “If you’re building a bigger business, people in the UK will expect to be able to come to an office,” Llewellyn says. “They don’t want to come to your house.”
After working out these kinks and successfully piloting Revive!, Llewellyn passed his territory and van on to his brother before turning his attention to recruiting franchisees. And, thanks to the buzz surrounding the franchise, he was able to start bringing new recruits on board without significant financial investment. “The initial ten or so franchisees were all word of mouth,” says Llewellyn.
During training, each of these franchisees stayed with him at his parents house, something that allowed him to rapidly expand without worrying too much about pulling in revenue. “When you’re first starting a business, it’s not about money: you’ve got to get those bodies out there,” he explains.
It was during this period that Revive! began to define the blueprint that all future franchisees would follow. As well as having a degree of drive and determination, he believes that those working for themselves need to be able to look inward to find solutions to problems, rather than looking outward to apportion blame. “Our franchisees need to be capable of a certain amount of introspection,” says Llewellyn.
Some of Revive!’s most successful businesses have gone through periods where they’ve questioned whether they were doing the right thing. “But, with introspection, those guys can push through that,” says Llewellyn. “They come to understand that they are doing the right thing and it just takes a bit of time to grow a business.”
And Revive! franchisees receive plenty of help in achieving their goals: the franchise has developed a comprehensive training package that supports them every step of the way, from trainee to high performer. “There’s different support tailored to them at each stage of the journey,” says Llewellyn. Starting out, new recruits are given four weeks’ technical and business training before being launched in their territories; after this there are periodic reviews to ensure they’re on track.
However, this is far from the end of the road: franchisees are subsequently provided supplementary business modules to help them grow and further their operations. “The first thing that the guys need to learn is how to paint cars but the second is how to run a business,” he says. “They’re completely different skills.”
Whilst this training package saw the business go from strength to strength, by 2004 Llewellyn’s relationship with his master franchisor had begun to sour. “It became clear there was a significant difference of opinion on how I wanted to run my business and how the Canadians wanted me to do things,” he says. “Things weren’t particularly amicable.” As a result, Llewellyn staged a management buyout of the UK business and brought on board Terry Mullen, the NatWest bank manager who had leant him the initial capital for the franchise, as his partner. “From 1994 to 2004, it was all about learning about the business,” he says. “But when Terry came on board, we really started to make progress.”
Perhaps a measure of just how much progress Revive! was making was when it began experiencing pushback from the body shops, which started casting aspersions on mobile SMART repairs. Thankfully, the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) was a little more open-minded. “They realised that SMART repair skills themselves were a significant part of the sector,” says Llewellyn. Because of this, the IMI put together a focus group – to which Llewellyn was the only SMART repairer to be invited – eventually resulting in the creation of an accreditation for businesses providing the service. “For years, we’d had to hear the body shops saying ‘this is a load of rubbish’,” he says. “Having an accreditation gives us something to fight back with.”
And fight back it has. Not only has Revive! grown its network to 65 franchisees and 148 technicians on target to hit a combined turnover of £8.5m this year but it’s aiming to hit £20m by 2020. Moreover multiple franchisees turned over £100,000 last month, meaning that they’re all in with a chance of being the first in the network to top a £1m annual turnover. “All of a sudden that takes us to a completely different level,” Llewellyn says.
Given this success, it’s hardly a shock that Revive! has won a whole host of awards in recent years, including the HSBC Franchisee Support Award 2010 and Express Newspapers Brand Builder 2013 at the bfa HSBC Franchisor of the Year awards. “I’m really chuffed that we won those,” says Llewellyn. Not only this but Adam and Nathan Holmes, the franchisees for Revive! East Anglia, are up for the Customer Service category in the upcoming bfa HSBC Franchisee of the Year Awards this September. “We don’t work to win awards: we work to do the best that we can,” he says. “But it’s a great pat on the back for them and for the work that they’re doing.”
And whilst Llewellyn is no longer lifting trophies on the rugby pitch, he’s still pushing for the burn and has transferred much of his energy into running marathons. “With a busy business and a young family, sometimes the only time that I get peace and quiet is when I’m running so it’s actually quite therapeutic,” he jokes.
Sharing his time between family, fitness and his firm, it does seem like Llewellyn has managed to strike the perfect balance. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years now and I’m still having fun and enjoying coming into work,” he says. “That’s a testament to the fact that something’s going right here.”