PODCAST EP 35
Simon chats with Sean Buckley, Executive Chairman and Owner of Ultra Tune.
Ultra Tune is a chain of franchise-owned automotive service centres established in 1979. Ultra Tune is listed as the leading independent in automotive after-sales servicing as listed by Canstar. With over 270 stores operating all over Australia, Ultra Tune specialize in the maintenance and servicing of all popular makes and models of motor vehicles.
You can contact Sean Buckley here https://www.linkedin.com/in/seanbuckleyultratune/
Simon Dell: Welcome to the show. This week, we have a gentleman by the name of Sean Buckley who is the executive chairman of Ultra Tune. So, welcome to the show, Sean.
Sean Buckley: Yes, good morning. Thank you so much for having me on board today.
Simon Dell: Now, for those people who are not in Australia who don’t know who Ultra Tune are, do you want to give us the quick 30-second pitch about what you do and who you are?
Sean Buckley: Ultra Tune is a chain of company-stored, franchise-owned service centres, automotive services centres, which are the market leader in the independent category of automotive service in Australia. We have about 280 stores. It fluctuates between 280, 290 range.
We have been around for 40 years setting up in the late 70s, and we celebrated our 40th year this year as a business. We have a roadside, a massive roadside business in another state which is 100% owned by the parent. We provide roadside services wholesale and retail around Australia. We have a very large horse business, which has stud farms in New South Wales and Victoria, then we race horses and breed horses.
We are a very large fleet contractor where we do Forest Service’s fleets, including government bodies, and police services, and ambulance, things like that.
Simon Dell: Cool. And obviously, for those who are in Australia, there obviously is going to be a conversation about the advertising. Because I don’t think we can avoid that, and I’m sure everybody out there has an opinion. I have an opinion. I’m sure you’ve obviously got an opinion. as the Executive Chairman but we’re not going to focus on that. We’ll come to that later on.
I think my first question is, you… And I want to take you right back here because I kind of like to understand the journey about how you got to where you got to. But you originally started off when you went to university doing business and marketing. Before you did that, did you have an entrepreneurial vein in your body? Was that something that really excited you as a teenager?
Sean Buckley: As a teenager, I was very confused. I went to school at a place called Mazenod College in Mulgrave, Victoria. I quit halfway through the final year 12 to become a hairdresser, which I don’t understand why I did that, but I think it was those pretty girls in the hairdressing shop that I was doing part-timing for a little bit.
And then after about a month of doing that, I left that and went back to school and ended up getting my HSC. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure. And then I came out, and I went and worked in Woolworths, packing shelves for the supermarket at night-time, and I went to university after about a year off. I thought, “Well, I’ll do a marketing degree. I’ve got to do something in my life.”
And then I went to Chisholm, which was taken out by Monash University at the same time, I think a year after they were merging. I just stayed marketing. But in those days, I didn’t know what I wanted to do… I didn’t know where my direction in life would go.
Simon Dell: I had the same thing when I was 18, and I got confused and ended up doing a law degree, walked out after three years and thought, “Well, I’m never doing that again.” But what made you pick marketing? Was it just an eenie meanie type thing, or was there something that you saw in that that attracted you to it?
Sean Buckley: My dad worked at Gillette and he was the director of Gillette. And I was always fascinated by their marketing campaigns on razor blades. Dad and I used to talk a lot. And I didn’t want to be an accountant because I found accounting very boring. I didn’t want to be a lawyer because I found legal boring. I thought, well, marketing, business, my dad’s in business, why not do business? I think it was as simple as that. I don’t think there’s any insights there.
Simon Dell: And it’s funny, the amount of people that we’ve had on the show that have somewhere along the line cut their teeth working in Woolworths, or Coles, or something like that. And you were there stacking shelves. Did that give you any insights into the real world as to what you wanted to do?
Sean Buckley: I’ve never lost sight with the real world even now, 30 years on. I’ve always been very in tune with people’s feelings, and I’ve never changed. I still live like I was there. There’s no real changes. I’ve got more money now, but I’m really a very basic person. I was a basic person then. I filled the shelves at night-time. I had to pay — my father was a senior manager at Gillette, and it was still very expensive to go to school. Yeah, and I used to work five nights a week at Woolworths in Glen Waverley.
I used to fill the shelves between about 8:00 at night till about 4:00 in the morning, then go to sleep, and then get up about 10, and go to university. It was a pretty tough gig, but I was young. When you’re young, you’re full of energy. I just did that and I went through my university degree. It was actually quite an interesting time. I enjoyed it. I learned a lot and I’m glad I went that path. But at the time, I wasn’t really realizing how I could use those skills later on. I had no perception.
Simon Dell: I was going to say, again, a lot of people we talked to, it’s quite easy to understand the path looking back. But looking forward at that point, it’s impossible to work out where it is that you might end up. You did a bit of travelling as well. You worked for Thomas Cook, which when I read that was a brand that’s a bit of a blast from the past as well. What did you do for those guys?
Sean Buckley: Okay. After I left university, I got a scholarship at Safeway, who’s a subsidiary of Woolworths. And I went and got a job there as their marketing research manager. And I was in the office, and I my job was to build research on new stores and development of new products. Because they had product divisions, and I spent a lot of time on the ice cream business. They had a plant there and they didn’t know how to market it.
I developed out the first of what you call now the superblend ice creams, like the Haagen Dazs and those sort of ice cream if you’re not on the premium brand. And we put them through the Safeway brand, and that was in ’85, ’86. And then I left there and I had a bit of a turmoil in my life with the stock market. I lost a lot of money. I was playing the stock market and made a lot of money. I lost everything.
So a friend of my dad’s who lived in Hong Kong said, “Why don’t you come over here and become national marketing manager in Hong Kong. We can run all the business around Asia, and set up offices there, and develop the travel business there.” And the county business.
So, I went to Hong Kong. I actually went to your country in England in ’87 in Peterborough. They had their head office, Thomas Cook, the head office at Peterborough. I went there for a one-month training course on currency, and training, and how-to get those current shots as part of the thing.
Also, setting in planned offices in the travel business. So, I’d say Thomas Cook quite a good company, actually. And they are very organized, very professional. And then one day after I’ve been there for two years, they got taken over by American Express and they shut down there one of their offices, and one got retrenched ,and a sub view system there if they bought — acquired them. Yeah.
Simon Dell: It says when I read about you, it says you do a bit of travelling in the Indian subcontinent area? Was it India or…?
Sean Buckley: After I left Thomas Cook, I was still in Hong Kong. They retrenched me and given me to pay up because everyone in the office got retrenched and I decided to move back to America. I got a job there with a food company in America, and they wanted me to go into India and Pakistan, set up some of the food plant operations like Safeway did, like they’ve done with Safeway.
So, I went over there and spent time in Faisalabad and Karachi, at Bombay, setting up some manufactured food goods to them, setting up plans and doing the research to create those brands there. That lasted about two years as well until I couldn’t cope living in the sub continent.
Simon Dell: I was going to say, back then, I mean, it’s obviously still a challenge today, but it must have been a fairly extreme challenge for a young guy, an Australian guy.
Sean Buckley: But it was huge money, and that was the nice thing. I was trying to get back on my feet, so I put up with it for the money. I mean, in those days, ’86, towards the end of the ’80s. Let’s say the average salary for middle manager was, in those days, $45,000 to $50,000. I was getting $110,000 tax free living in Pakistan.
I mean, double the salary, no tax, I mean, you put up with it for two years. If you have nothing to do, really, to be honest just watch television, and go for walks, and throw in the gym, so you save a lot of money, and that got me enough money to get back on my feet.
Simon Dell: So when you get back to Australia, what was the plan at that point?
Sean Buckley: Well, the plan was to try and get back into something that I could really love and do myself. I’ve worked for other people there, I was still relatively young. I was still probably just under 30, and I felt that I wanted to do something and put a stamp on something but I didn’t know how to go about it.
I was still looking. And I went and worked for a science company for two and a half years, which I enjoyed a lot, actually, setting up a new division for them with posters and special 3D posters. I created that for them. We built a plant. I finished that and I was pretty bored after. I like the process of getting things set up, and I got really bored after that. So, I set it up for him so he could make money out of that, the owner.
And then I got offered a job as a general manager of Ultra Tune to come in and work for them. And that’s when I started to have some fun, being able to develop things the way I wanted it.
Simon Dell: What was Ultra Tune like that day you arrived? What were you inheriting as you walked in the door?
Sean Buckley: They didn’t actually tell me the truth of how bad the company was going. It was about 1994, and Ultra Tune I walked in. On the first day. I had some guy walking in fucking wanting to beat me up. He told me that Ultra Tune owed him $40,000 and he was going to kill everyone in the office. That was my first day greeting, you know? “Welcome aboard.”
He calmed down. He was upset and the company did owe him the money. We ended up having to pay for it. I went to the accounting office. I sat down and asked how much money we had in the bank? Oh not much. So I felt like I was ambushed a little bit, but we worked through it. And then the company, I worked there for six months on all this financial pressure. And it wasn’t the business wasn’t profitable. The leases had been created in those days where the leases had no opportunity of going down.
So, the market reviews were never taken. Let’s say our property was worth $50,000 a year in rent. It’ll go up to 3% per year. It’ll be a 10-year lease. When you got the ten years, the rent will be 70. And you say, “Okay, it’s $70,000, I want a market review.” The market says it’s worth 40. “No, sorry. Can’t go down, it’s on the clause, you have to pay 70.”
So, you had all these franchisees with leases who were above their ability to pay across the board, and it was probably — in those days — probably 80, 90 stores. We had all these guys go broke. A couple guys committed suicide over their problems. We’ve had people run away from their debts, went out of the country all because of these leases. To the credit, the government changed the laws after this, after this disaster in 90s, said it has to go back to market. There was no more one-way clauses where the clauses could go up and not down.
And I still remember the day we… One of the rents, we had the rent review done. And there was an office in Silverwater, a building in Silverwater where the franchisee was struggling very badly. And he had a good turnout but he couldn’t make any money. Couldn’t feed his family, and we got a market review. He was paying $79,000, $80,000 for this building, and the market review said the site was worth $27,500.
And we kept telling him, “Get out of the business.” But he didn’t have the money to get out to relocate. In the end, what happened was the company then sold the business across… They had to get out — all the directors were going to go broke, and that’s where I got involved. And I said, “Look, I’ll buy the business” with, at the time, my girlfriend, and we combined a little bit of money and we said we’ll buy that together. We’ll just take the leases you want.
So, the business was sold across to a new entity. And that made us then have the ability to renegotiate all the leases. So, that’s when the fun began because we’ve gone back to the landlord and said, “Okay, that company’s gone under. Now, give us the leases back. Here’s the market review.” Mate says, we’re not going to let you go under 25. Well, there’s two market reviews, take it or leave it. And of course, a lot of them will take it because they were forced to, because they had no lease.
But it took that level of dramatic action, drastic actions to be able create a fair environment for the franchisees to be able to make some money.
Simon Dell: From a marketing perspective, they were obviously doing something well. They got to 80-90 franchisees, which you don’t do by being rubbish at something. What did you inherit from a marketing perspective as well? How was the brand position? What were they doing to drive customers in? I guess this was a day where, back then, you could just open somewhere and people would come in the door, I guess.
Sean Buckley: We had a unique proposition. We started in ’79 and the big kick that got the stores — and this is 40th year this year. The big thing in the early-80s, in late-80s, was a thing called dyno tuning. And all the marketing related to dyno tuning in the car, which is a car getting on four wheels, spinning wheels, driving the shit out of it, revving the car up, the customer can sit in the car, revving the shit out of it, and it’s tuned at a high speed
And they used to have queues at the stores. There’s 20 or 30 cars backing up with all the young kids, even older guys, wanted to go and get their cars dyno tuned. That propelled the business, so it’s a great marketing ploy. By the 90s, he’s given the 80-90 stores to grow their business from that particular unique selling proposition which they got into first, which is a very clever move.
And that generated the customers. That then got old, but everyone else did it. The new angle was to service manufacturers car warranties, not void your warranty, and that was in the 80s. And at that time, warranties were only six months for a car. So after the car came out of warranty, there’s no service schedules, the cars would come across to us. And the stores were booming. The car numbers just kept growing. It was that problem because of the fact that so many people wanted to come to get the new car service.
The problem was, the rental market and the way the rental market got, there was a point no matter how many cars they did and no matter how much money they dragged in, they had to pay these enormous rents across the board. The marketing is pretty good. It was nothing to do with me, by the way.
Simon Dell: Was there a light bulb moment from you, that you suddenly went, “Right, this could be…” I mean, it was a big business, 80-90 stores. Now, it’s approaching that 300 mark, but was there a light bulb moment for you when you went, “This is going to be big” or “This could be big”?
Sean Buckley: I always aspired of being big in the business. I was taught in university, one of my professors there said, “What you got to do is you got to write down things on your notepad on what you want to achieve. And you just keep reinforcing that behaviour psychologically.” So, I would write down every couple of days how much tune overhaul I wanted, how many stores I wanted, how much money I wanted to make, what were the benefits of the money.
I stood there every week. It was like positive reinforcement for my brain about trying to set my brain up to achieve. And what I did was, I set up that I wanted to have 250 stores, I wanted to make x million dollars a year, I wanted to have X house in this suburb. I wanted to drive these cars. I wanted to have this type of girlfriend, and I wanted to have all this sort of stuff.
And that was a positive reinforcement that the professor had told me to do. He said, “If you do that and you keep propelling your brain to do that, you should drive toward it.” And I drove toward those goals. And I was very single-focused. It was just absolute, almost like manic behaviour to get to those goals. And no matter what happened, those goals I would push towards. And sometimes, the behaviour was pretty ruthless to get there, which I’m not ruthless, I’ve changed. I’ve just mellowed. That’s why I’ve got old.
In those days, I was very resistant. “Get those goals.” I just remember all those goals kept ticking up. Those goals kept increasing, what I wanted. And the wants went more. The qualities and the success has got better. And that’s what ended up happening. The stores drove up. And when we got 80 stores, 85, we cut a lot of stores out, because a few of the stores, we couldn’t get back because of the lease, they’d walk away and give up. And we went down about 50 stores.
I mean, we’ve got 672 stores in Victoria now. I remember we took over let’s say 35-40. I cut almost 35. That was our biggest day. I cut 15 to 16 people out straight away, but then we got down to 15 stores because they weren’t going to play the game and they didn’t want to be that because they had lost everything with leases, and they hold the company somewhat responsible for it.
And then we went down to 15 and then we just started building again. I went down to 15 stores. But quickly propelled up every year, 10-12 more stores, then 20 stores. And then before you know, we’ve broken 200, and before you know it we’ve broken 250. We were celebrating about that. We ended up towards 290. We celebrated that and then went back to 280-281. It was processional growth over many years, and that was because the brand was good. They were making money and the marketing was good along the way. We felt that the franchisees were making money. A lot of them made so much money.
Simon Dell: I’ve got questions about franchisees. The question just on what you’ve just said there… Do you still have goals? Do you still have written-down goals?
Sean Buckley: I don’t.
Simon Dell: Is that something that you try and teach your junior people within the business? I know you’ve got a family. Is that a lesson that you impart to them?
Sean Buckley: I try to do that. But what I found is that, and this is not being negative at all, and this is the way it is, people don’t… Whereas I took my professor’s words, and listened to him in university, and followed his rules of success, I find that when you try and impart that to others, a lot of the young generation, these millennial’s, they really think they know more.
And you try and guide them a little bit. They’re very hard to deal with, with the sense of entitlement they have, and maybe they’re not driven by being very successful. They’re just happy being in a slide of working. Because I think it takes a lot of effort to be pretty wealthy. You have to be very, very driven. You have to sacrifice a lot of your personal life. You have to sacrifice a lot of your friendships.
You become manic with the business. And a lot of the other part of your life will suffer. I thought we can make sense to it. We totally do. If you spend 18 hours a day thinking about your business, 7 days a week, what time have you actually got to spend in a relationship? You haven’t. You’re too busy worrying about your business. So, therefore your relationships suffer. Your personal life suffers. Your personal relationships suffer.
That’s what you do to drive yourself to that point. And then you reach a pinnacle, and you say, “Well, I don’t need much more money. I’m fine. I’m good.” And then you start to focus back on those relationships. And that’s what happened to me. I was maniacal. I don’t think many people are willing to live that. They’re more interested in a cosy life. There’s very few people I meet that are like that.
I have one horse trainer and he his maniacal. I see his maniacal behaviour and that’s out of all the horse trainers I know. He wants to be wealthy, and be successful, and do anything to do it. I won’t say who his name is. It doesn’t matter, but he’s one of the only guys I’ve met recently who has the maniacal fortitude to do it.
And that’s the reality of life, I think. So, I do try and impart that knowledge of writing your goals down, that sort of stuff. But their goals are more… See, my goals were wealth-driven. They were, “I want to be this rich. I want to have this house. I want to have this holiday house. I want to have these cars. I want to have this, this, and this.” That were wealth-driven within the business, to drive the business, because I want to be wealthy.
Whereas other people may have the attitude of saying, “Well, I just want to be happy. My goals are happiness, a beautiful wife, five kids, a white picket fence.” Their goals are a little bit less than what I was aspiring to. And there’s nothing wrong or right either way because I’ve sacrificed a lot in my life to be successful. I’m not sure… I would do it again. I’m that kind of people, I don’t need anyone. I’d much rather have relationships now instead of build other things.
Simon Dell: We talked about your franchisees. One of the things I’m interested in… And out of those 270, 280 franchisees, what are the successful ones doing well? What do you see that they’re doing every day that makes them stand out from you?
Sean Buckley: That’s a really good question. That’s a really good question that we deal with every week. And I’ll give you an example of one guy. He was a young guy. We funded him into the business, gave him a little bit of help. He took over store turning over $200,000 a year, then 12 months was turning over $1 million. In two years was turning over $2 million. He took his second store.
A store he bought. He paid $80,000 for it. It wasn’t a particularly good store. It was turning out $400,000. Now, it’s turning over $1.5 million. That guy is so driven to be wealthy out of our franchisees. That’s different to the staff we talked about before in our head office. They were talking about a business owner that owns his own business. He is driven, that guy. He had a third store at the end of the year.
He’s one of my most successful franchisees and he is hungry as fuck. He wants a jet ski. He wants the fucking beautiful house in the water. He wants the beautiful family. He wants it all. He’s getting it all. And he’s motorized. He’s unbelievable. I’m not going to say his name. Again, it’s not my business to say that, but he’s one of those.
Now, for every hundred… It’s like a curve. For every hundred people, I estimate you get 5 to 10 of those guys. He’s exceptional. He’s one out of 300. You might get 5 to 10 that are motorized a little bit like that. Then you get the other 50 or 60 who are motorized a little bit who don’t have the ability… Like, this guy’s got to be able to convert sales.
Because come back to what he does good. He’s got his goals but he knows how to charm people. He knows how to deal with people. He’s got people skills. He’s loved. People love him. They adore him. And he can get what he wants. And he doesn’t rob people. People want to deal with him. He’s got the drive to be wealthy. He’s got the business knowledge to run the business, but he’s got the personality, a killer personality. People love him.
He’s been totally successful. But you know what? He could be cleaning garbage and he’d be successful at that, too. That’s the character he is. He can do anything. I’m lucky I’ve got him in my business. But for every 1 out of 300, you got the other guys who are less motorized like him, and don’t have the people skills, and you might have the guys who are really good people skills but haven’t got the business skills, haven’t got the killer instinct to want to be wealthy.
So, you get these weaknesses in their characters, and it’s very hard to pick it. I remember when I had my second daughter. I was in the operating theatre looking at my wife, at that time my first wife, having a look at the baby popping out. And the matron said to me, “Oh, Mr. Buckley. My husband wants to buy an Ultra Tune franchise.”
And mind you, my baby’s popping out of the mother’s stomach, I’m being asked for a franchise. I said, “Please, I’m a bit busy at the moment. I’m really focusing here.” “Yeah, Mr. Buckley, can I get your card after this?” So, I came out of the waiting room, there’s blood everywhere washing down. I’ve just experienced a beautiful thing, my second daughter being born.
So, I give him a business card, I happened to have one. So, I give in. He says, “I want to buy a franchise.” So, I had a meeting with him. I said, Look I don’t think you are up for it, I really don’t think you are. In those days, I was very close to busy, so therefore I deal with selling myself. So, I said, “I don’t think you’re up to it, mate. I’m sorry. You’re not Ultra Tune material.”
And I rated him to scale. I didn’t think he was up to it. So, he came back a week later and said, “Look, I really think you’re wrong. I really want to be a businessperson.” I said, “I don’t think you’ve got it, buddy. Here’s whatever you got.” I can’t remember what the reasons were now, I think it was deficient. And he said to me, “I really want to.” “Let me think about it.” He rang me fucking insistently. Annoyed the shit out of me.
So I came down a meeting in the office, “Look, you’re pretty annoying, really. You’re really quite annoying but you’re very persistent. I’ll tell you what I’ll do, I’m going to let you have the business.” I can’t say which store he is again. He took one. He took two. He took three. He’s been one of the most successful franchisees in the country because he was persistent.
That persistence made up for the lack of other things he had that he didn’t have, I didn’t think. But the persistence overrode everything because he wanted to be successful. He didn’t care. He was going to be successful. And the more I rejected him, the more he fucking wanted it.
And it wasn’t a tactic. Sometimes, you might do that tactic by saying, “No, I don’t want you. You’re no good. You’re not up to it.” And they come at you more. This guy I wasn’t doing that. I really believed he wasn’t up to it. I was wrong, and that guy proved me wrong, and he still ran the system. Now, he’s still doing good numbers. He’s still making a lot of money. He’s got three houses, three cars, and is doing really good.
He holidays every year overseas. You know what? He’s done really well, so that’s when you sometimes misguide and he just really wanted it. So, it’s really hard to pick people. I mean, you’re just… It’s really hard to get that going straight. And then you have at the other end the failures, and you get those guys.
The guy sells the business for $200,000. He buys it for $200,000, sells it for $30,000, blames the world, everyone’s fault. Someone takes it over and they triple sales within 3 months. And that’s not only people skills. It’s the ability to have people skills.
Simon Dell: Do you think those people skills are something people can learn? Do you think that’s something they’re born with?
Sean Buckley: A really good question. That’s a really good question.
Simon Dell: The reason I ask that is because, again, a lot of the people that I’ve spoken to on this podcast, when they say they’ve worked at Coles and Woolworths, they often say that that as a teenager helps them understand people and helps them relate to people. And they always credit that in some way that that’s helped them later on in learning to deal with people in other walks of life.
Sean Buckley: I agree with that. I think that would help. I agree that it could possibly help, yeah. I think that… Able to convince somebody of your idea or selling them something without ripping them off is a fine line. And they’re more persuasive, probably, in dealing with people, they get to see their point of view.
It’s all about seeing other people’s point of view. And I often argue with my staff like that. I’ve had a couple of managers that you’d never see the other person’s point of view. I said, “Put yourself in his shoes.” But they don’t say, “Put themselves in their shoes.” I always put myself in other people’s shoes and see what they’re thinking. That makes me very sensitive to what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling.
And that’s why I’ve been really successful. But a lot of people don’t see it that way, or they don’t want to, or their personality or any mental conditions they might have, narcissism or things like that, it stops them from being that way. Can you learn it? Up to a point, but you’ve got to be sensitive to the other person and where they’re coming from.
And if you don’t have that mental ability to do it, the person’s got no hope of relating back to it.
Simon Dell: My last question on franchising. Franchises are getting a bit of a kicking in the media at the moment. There’s obviously some that have done less than a sterling job looking after their franchisees, and so on and so forth. What makes you guys different from a head office point of view in the way that you approach that franchisee — those franchisee businesses? What do you guys do differently that you think perhaps the others aren’t doing?
Sean Buckley: Well, lets not guild the woolie here. We got fined by the ACCC so we did make an error. One of our staff members made an error, so we don’t always get it right. I won’t go into the particular case because we’re repealing it, and we did get penalized a bit. Two of our staff members probably weren’t trained that properly to deal with the situation.
And unfortunately, I was overseas setting up offices in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. So, I didn’t have my finger on the pulse. I took myself part of the responsibility for that because I wasn’t around. But notwithstanding that, to grow from 80, down to 50, down to 280 and have turnover stores and have that same power in the marketplace, you’re doing something right. Mistakes make in every business. There’s always mistakes made. We make mistakes with people now.
But what I have found, by the way, on this point is that franchisees have become more litigious. And the reason they’re litigious is they’re not making the same money they used to, and I blame that on the cost of doing business these days. It’s very hard to make money. It’s harder to make money than it used to be.
But let’s come back to what we do right. We have a good marketing system. We have a very good computer system that we give to our franchisees very cheaply which enables them to mark jobs up and make sure they make a profit on their jobs. We have a good head office support mechanism. We have, if you like, our state and technical managers who perform the role of helping them fix cars but also councillors, if you like, people want people to talk to them, bounce ideas off of business.
If you’re not doing well, who do you talk to? And these guys, our people, staff members, are councillors to our guys. I hear stories where the guy’s going through a difficult time. And they’ll ring our technical manager, support managers, and they’ll pull their hearts out for hours to them about their problems, let it be wife problems, children problems, whatever.
So, we provide that ability to do that in the field. You’ve got to have staff to do that and we do have a lot of staff like that to help our franchisees through. We’ve got a lot of training, that I think of a lot guys I feel don’t do. So, the training mechanism is helping them how to… I’ve got the guy next door opposite me now, he’s writing now this training course on telephone techniques to help them with the telephones.
We’ve recognised that a lot of their sale… A lot of the car dealers are a bit deceptive the way they market their prices, so I come in for a $99 service, the customer will say it’s $500-$800. It’s all a lie, and we quote that service in dollars, the customer loses. So, we’ve got to learn telephone techniques better. So, we’re on board that as phone weakness.
We do a lot of things right, that’s why we’ve grown. We’re always striving to do better. We’ve made some mistakes along the way. We aren’t always perfect, but we’re doing a lot better. I mean, when I started off even at 50, Midas had 170 stores. They’re down to 70 and we’re up to 280+. So, we’ve done something.
Our opposition Goodyear’s and these ones who had 400 stores. They’ve gone down, we’ve gone up. That’s support. And I look around those centres and those businesses. They don’t have support mechanisms for their franchisees. So, I think we do that really well.
Simon Dell: I think the other thing which is going to lead me to the advertising thing is that you guys have invested in the brand. I think some of the people that you see, some of the franchises that you see being up these days have left the brand to languish a little bit. Certainly, some of the food ones at the moment.
Sean Buckley: I agree with you 100%.
Simon Dell: They’ve not spent time with brand and the marketing, that kind of thing.
Sean Buckley: You are so correct about that, and that’s one thing we do. Whether you agree with what you do with the brand and whether you agree with our advertising and what we do, we develop our brand: brand awareness, brand mechanisms. Whether we’ll have this debate later, probably, I’m sure you are going to come at me about that, but at the end of the day, we do invest in the brand. That’s part of a reason, after 40 years, we’ve got such good brand awareness when people come to us.
And we see stores and they say, “We don’t want to be with you anymore. We want to pay you 10% royalty on you. Fuck you. We’ll do it ourselves.” And 9 times out of 10 when they go, when we close that off our website, their sales languish because they can’t generate new customers. They have no brand confidence. They have none of that.
And they go down. That’s the way it is. We’ve built up this strong national brand, and that’s been invested millions of dollars every year developing that. And I’m proud of that.
Simon Dell: And it echoes to me one of the first things that I learned when I moved from sales years ago into marketing. I read a book called Punk Marketing by a guy called Richard Laermer. He’s based in New York. One of the things he highlights is that brands that want to change, revolutionize and grow, one of the techniques for them is to have an enemy.
He cites Richard Branson in that. Because Richard Branson, through his entire career, has often gone out and picked fights with either bigger competitors, or bigger institutions, all those kind of things, driving a tank into Times Square in New York, having a go at British Airways, etc. That feels like with Ultra Tune, there’s an echo of that Branson esque, “Let’s go out and…” Not necessarily pick a fight, but maybe it’s going to help you from a brand perspective riling up a few people.
Is that true, or is that…?
Sean Buckley: Absolutely. We had this discussion yesterday. Again… You’re a really smart man, I should say.
Simon Dell: You have to tell my wife that.
Sean Buckley: I’m telling your wife, “Wifey, he’s very smart.” No, with the advertising, let’s just go through it. There’s a group of core people in their 20s and 30s that are wannabe rebels. Nike’s got it here. I don’t know if we talk about this stuff, but I’ll talk about this.
So, Nike did this thing the other week where they put out that American shoe. And then it was a total disaster. That idiot Colin Kaepernick, the rebel ex-player, kneels on his knees, says, “I want you to pull it off.” And this is disgusting. And we say, “Yeah, we’re doing a recall.” Do you really think that was just orchestrated off the cuff? It was pre-planned. Of course it was. No one knows that.
So, in Nike, it’s trying to take over that rebel market, where the enemy is the conservatives. “We’re the radicals. We’re the young guys rebel groups coming through. We want to make a change.” And that’s exactly where they’ve gone. And a lot of people criticize them, but I’d like to see their sales, how they’re going because I reckon it’s the market that got it.
In that case, and to a lesser extent and to this extreme, we’re advertising… And so, what we’ve got, we’ve got a group of political correct #MeToo movement who are probably 5% of the population, maybe 7% of the population, and they jump up and down every ad before the ads even play. They don’t even know what’s in the bloody ad but they’re jumping up and down.
And the advertising standards board, up until the last ad of Charlie Sheen, were pretty much on our side. About a year ago, they changed a few things and they changed the set up so that they could pass the buck to independent reviewer on appeal who you don’t know who it is, you can’t appeal it, and this one person has a say over a national campaign under their one opinion.
And when they gave the opinion that it was done, their opinion was rubbish. What they were really saying was, “Hey, Charlie Sheen beat the shit out of his wife once, pleaded no contest. He’s a domestic violence abuser. In his lifetime, he slept with heaps of women. Therefore., we don’t judge him as a person — he’s a character that shouldn’t be on TV, therefore we want the ad banned.
Now, the problem is with those ads is you can’t appeal that decision. It’s a board of all the TV stations, and Foxtel, and they group up and they all joined up. So, they take what the independent umpire says. So, that’s fine. The independent umpire has said, “No, it’s not good.” But really, if I had the weatheral to do it, and I haven’t because I’ve only got Charlie for a year contract, I’d be suing them.
And I wouldn’t sue them under the ad. I’d sue them under the fact that they discriminated against the person the right to earn income, because what they’re really saying is Charlie Sheen shouldn’t be allowed to be on TV. Now, at the same time they do that — and that’s a real thing, what they did. You can coat all the other stuff they’ve done, sugar-coat it, put blankets over it, and put a mask over it, but that’s what they really do.
Because he’s a domestic violence guy. He’s slept with heaps of women. He’s got HIV. He’s not appropriate. Yeah, and we don’t think he is. But by the same time, every night at 7:30, you got your Two and a Half Men. Same gags and everything else. That’s okay. That’s no problem. But for the advertiser, you can’t put this bloke on.
And what we’ve done with our ads is we’ve created, and coming away from the legality of it all and take it off the air, that one, what we’ve created is a brand that is a little bit more controversial, a little bit more rebel, a little bit more antagonistic. And I was looking at the numbers yesterday on our market. On our market between 24-40s is so high. It’s just rocketing. That’s our future market, the rebels. Men love it, and most of the women actually love it.
It’s just that one little group you see in the research that comes up all the time, the vocal minority. They’re the ones screaming up and down.
Simon Dell: And I think if people don’t believe that, one of the things they need to do is — if they jump on your Facebook page and they open up the comments on any of the ads that you’ve shared, it is a mix of male-female. The people who are depending you are a mix of male or female. There’s no particular male skew in that respect.
Sean Buckley: And it’s only that minority groups who are trying to push it. Like I said, I sat through an ad agency yesterday planning our next one which is — we’ve just signed up someone for that, and I just sit there, with the research on them, on the latest research I will follow.
And if it was bad, I would take it off the air. I wouldn’t have it. I wouldn’t be so stupid. I’m not sitting here on a business that’s turning over $250 million dollars a year, sitting here as the owner, as the 100% of the business — it’s my business. I live or die by this business. If I thought it was the wrong thing to do, I have it off the air. But I don’t because I really believe it’s what we’ve got to be as a brand. We’re investing in the brand.
And what’s going to happen after another three or four of these ads where it had all these celebrities come on? People will remember the different celebrities. They’ll remember the chaos. They’ll remember the… So, everything these people do, the ban, cause any grief, will just go into the pot and help me be that rebel, like you said, Richard Branson is, at a smaller scale.
Simon Dell: I’ve had the conversation with one of my guests that come on this podcast quite frequently. He’s a professor from QUT, professor of advertising. She would always sit there and say that these ads are a master class in knowing your target market, and identifying your target market, and mimicking the brand in a way that the target market has that real strong affinity for them. You are effectively creating a brand that people can aspire to be, that demographic aspires to be.
Sean Buckley: That’s what we’re trying to do. Some of my franchisees don’t get it. A lot of our franchisees do, some don’t, and it’s been hard to convince them. I mean, I’ve got a degree on marketing 30 years ago, maybe more. I’ve got experience in marketing and business for over 25 years right. I’d call myself a marketing person who’s actually done a lot of this in real life, and grown-up a business successfully.
My business was going shit. You can say I’m an idiot. Okay? But my business is not going shit. And these things are checked and rechecked with our advertising people, experts, research people. And I come up with the ideas, and I come up with a lot of the trends, what do I do.
But they’re culled by people that have told me — I mean, I’ll give you an example. We had OJ Simpson in our pick. And you remember the Bronco going down the freeway?
Simon Dell: Yes.
Sean Buckley: We had an ad that was prepared with a puncture-proof tire. And you remember when OJ went down there and he had the puncture thing and it blew up the tires. We got an offer from one of the publishers who said, “What about OJ?” So, we thought about mimicking that ad with OJ, driving down the freeway, in the wide Bronco, with the rubber girls being chased by police.
It was as funny as fuck. It was so funny. I looked at the end. I was in tears. We went back to research. We had looked at the Kim Kardashian, how he’d been there, involved in the last Kardashians young demographics. Everything ticks the box, but I couldn’t go with it. I don’t even feel right.
Because I felt even though you got off and the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit. Even though the glove didn’t sit, I always suspected and I watched the trial and I’m always just thinking his son was involved. Who had the small hands and was involved in the murder. And that’s why it didn’t fit. So, I couldn’t morally put that on TV. I didn’t think it was right. But all the parameters that would have fit, we went no.
It’s not as if I’m putting people on… I mean, Charlie Sheen has the biggest following in Australia and America. After he did our ad, he did a peanut ad for the Superbowl. Hilarious, okay? In Australia. Tyson was always an idol of mine. Yes, he raped somebody, and I believe he did rape, but that’s irrelevant. He got convicted.
But I felt he was a guy who had really changed his life, set that image out to people, “You can fuck up in your life. You can make a mistake and you can bounce back.” I hold a lot of affinity with him because I fucked up my life up in my twenties and I came back, so I can relate to him.
And Van Damme was good, funny. He started off — he had no real markets against him. He was just a famous person who was in movies. There was no real tinge of controversy about him. Tyson and Charlie were, but that also produced that rebel group, the boxing group, the young men who fought Tyson through when he was younger, when they were younger, and they follow him on his fights. Now, he’s an old man and it doesn’t matter. They have that memory. It’s a memory of the brand.
Simon Dell: We’ll wind this up. Otherwise, you and I will end up talking all day.
Sean Buckley: Am I boring you, by the way?
Simon Dell: No. I’ve only got through about half the questions here, but I realized we’ve almost been going an hour now. I guess my final three questions, my normal final three questions… The one I want to ask you about is: Are there brands that you look at and really respect and admire what they’re doing? And hopefully, I can ask you that and get an answer that isn’t within your scope of reference, so not necessarily in the car industry or the racing industry, but something that you see outside of your industry that you look at and go, “You know what? I like that brand. I like what they’re doing.” Perhaps even aspire to mimic some of what that brand does.
Sean Buckley: I’ve mentioned already Nike. That’s one I think. I don’t watch much TV so I don’t get to see much. The ads I see on TV bring no real joy to me. They’re making a statement. They’re all politically correct. They’re vanilla. I love Nike advertising. I love where they’re heading. I love what — just how the PC movement doesn’t shut their ads down, what they’re doing.
I don’t agree with the people they’re using, but it creates controversy and I remember the ads. I love the way they’ve approached it. That’s probably the only thing off the top of my head now that I really like.
Simon Dell: I think some of the video stories that they’ve done recently have really been emotive stuff. It’s hard to… I mean, at the end of the day, all good advertising produces emotion, whether it’s laughter or whether it’s sadness.
Sean Buckley: That’s what I said to my franchisees about ads. Ads creates emotions. On the front page of the paper, they’re arguing about it. Everyone’s bitching. It’s conflicted values left and right. Do you give a convicted rapist a second chance? Do you give a sex offender or [INAUDIBLE 00:57:05] HIV a second chance? That’s all about that playing on emotions.
Simon Dell: Absolutely. My second to last question then on this is: What have you got? I know you’ve mentioned in passing that you’ve got a new set of advertising that’s being planned out. But for you guys as a business, what’s next on the horizon? Is there any other business ideas that you guys are implementing? For the second half of the year, what’s on the horizon for you?
Sean Buckley: I’ve got a big project I’m working on. I can’t really say or talk about, really. It’s a big investing. We’re putting $5-10 million involved in that to set up a vertical integration business with our business, but I don’t want to say right now. We started the process. It’s probably… We’ve made baby steps. We’ve been working on it for a couple of years and now it’s starting to take fruition which will help the business in the future generate income and generate a lot of profit.
We’ve just introduced a new software. The second thing we’ve developed is new software for our franchisees, we launched last month. That software has been internationally-acclaimed, so I just had a software guy to take that software around the world. We think the software will probably be able to get into a lot of workshops around the world so we’re very excited about that. Sorry I can’t mention the first thing. I just don’t want my competition copying me that’s why. It’s a big thing. It’s a big investment. A big set up. A very lucrative thing for the franchisees themselves.
Simon Dell: The last question is, if people want to get a hold of you, if people want to ask you a question for whatever, if people want to nag you about buying a franchise, what’s the best way to get a hold of you?
Sean Buckley: I’m on Facebook, Sean Buckley, Ultra Tune Facebook. You have the Ultra Tune page. And so, message the Ultra Tune page. I’m on Instagram, Ultra Buckley.
Simon Dell: I noticed you’re a bit active on Twitter as well.
Sean Buckley: I don’t control Twitter. Twitter is run out of England for me. I don’t really get involved in that, but I look at it occasionally, but I control the Instagram and Facebook ones. I’ve got two administrators do all that for me to be honest with you.
Simon Dell: Mate, thank you very much for your time today. Sorry we couldn’t talk… As I say, with most of the people we talk to, we end up going on for way too long and we could probably do a part two.
Sean Buckley: I could talk with you for another two hours about marketing. You’ve asked very smart questions and I appreciate taking the time to talk.
Simon Dell: Mate, thank you very much for being on the show and good luck with everything that you’ve got planned for the rest of this year.
Sean Buckley: Thank you. Hopefully, our paths will cross again very soon.
Simon Dell: Definitely.
Sean Buckley: Take care.
PODCAST EP 96
Apéro Label’s branding and eCommerce journey with Laz Smith
Simon chats with Laz Smith, Co-founder and General Manager of Apéro Label, about Apéro's branding and eCommerce journey.Listen Now