Queensland-based Future Auto Service Centre provides independent mechanical repairers with an alternative to the traditional franchise model, offering many benefits without big costs

Ron Atkinson

In 2005, Ron Atkinson followed his dream to create a network of ethical, independent, mechanical businesses that provide quality repairs and excellent customer service. Future Auto is the result, and today the organisation is one of the industry’s great success stories.
“Future Auto Service Centres started out of frustration with how the industry was being represented, and how many good people in it were being treated,” Ron said.
“The tags ‘grease monkeys’ and ‘parts fitters’ had worn thin given the skill sets of today’s technicians and the level of expertise required to maintain our client’s vehicles. For Ron Atkinson it was time for a change.”
At the time, Ron was a member of another group, but after becoming disillusioned with that organisation, a friend asked him, ‘why not start your own group?’
“You don’t say that to a Queenslander and expect no response,” Ron said.
“I thought it wasn’t a bad idea, so we put the wheels in motion and away we went. It’s been hard, but we’ve done everything the right way, the ethical way.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved. We’ve got good quality workshops, we do all our own marketing, manage our own websites and we’ve got all the benchmarking tools we need.
“We know the hours you should be selling if you’ve got two or three hoists. We worked all that out ourselves. Our brand is a down to earth brand because it was developed by mechanics for mechanics.
“It wasn’t developed by an accountant because the first thing the accountant would do is put his ‘cop’ in there before anyone else gets anything. We’re really, really proud of how we have developed it.”

While the business has evolved over the years, Future Auto remains true to its core beliefs.
“We started with the vision of a network of quality workshops and that hasn’t changed,” Ron said.
“What has probably changed the most, is how we do business in the connected age, which can be difficult and time-consuming.
“Clients have access to more information and choices through technology, but we have turned that into a positive, because working as a network has given our member businesses the ability to be seen and considered when customers choose who services their car.
“We believe the advantages of being in a network have placed us in a better position than a ‘go it alone approach’.”
Ron and his network believe that automotive training for their staff is essential to their business success and that’s why Future Auto trains on a regular basis using only the best and most informative trainers in our industry.
“It’s simple,” Ron said.
“We train, we fix problems, we create profitable businesses.”
To join the network, Ron says you need to run a good, ethical business and be prepared to contribute to each other’s success. You must have a strong belief in the motor trade, a desire to have great staff and a passion for customer service.
“Trying to find people who have the same values as I do was a risk, but I have been privileged to get to know, and work with, incredibly talented people who share my passion for the industry and the people involved in it,” states Ron.
“So, while it was a risk at first, our network of people – business owners and staff who want to be successful and are prepared to work together to achieve success – has become our competitive advantage.”

While the group has experienced great success over the years, it has also faced challenges.
“I suppose our greatest challenge has always been finding businesses prepared to make the step of joining a franchise network,” Ron said.
“We understand it is a big step for a business owner to take, because they’ve seen troubles with other ones.
“Our business model is different, we charge a membership fee rather than royalties, so we don’t take a percentage straight off the top of your turn over. We don’t make any money out of the brand.
“We’re unique in that we have preferred suppliers, so, if you spend money with them, you receive a rebate that contributes to your membership fee, which means you can be a member of Future and have your suppliers contribute to your membership fee.
“I don’t know of any other franchises that do that, but we still have trouble getting workshops on board because the businesses don’t understand how we do things.
“We would love to see the network expand on the East Coast, but we also believe the expansion must be based upon quality businesses, not merely numbers.
“Every business that joins our brand has already established a reputation for excellent quality and service. These businesses entrust us with their reputation. Adding our brand to their business must compliment that reputation.”
While the group’s core customer base is independent workshops, the members’ target market are families that own two late-model cars and aren’t happy with dealerships.

Ron says the group appeals to these car owners because it commits to a high level of customer service.
“These customers have a quid to spend on the car if it needs repair,” he explained.
“We haven’t got desperados coming in on shopper dockets who have got no money, who want a service and tune for their carburetted Magna with 350,000km on the clock.
“It would take our workshop twice as long to service and tune that car as it would a new Mitsubishi Outlander because there’s that much wrong with the old Magna, and you can’t get it running right. Those sorts of jobs create a lot of drama because owners don’t want to pay any money to repair them.
“I’ve run a successful business for years because I do it ethically. I know how to be fair to people, but I’m funny about a few things.
“I don’t discount because there’s no need to do that when you offer quality work. I come to work every day focused on the customer’s experience and our future members know to focus on the same thing, because we have learnt the rest will fall in to place.
“If you don’t offer great service, you’re going to be in trouble because everyone can fix a car. It is all about the customer experience. If they’re happy, they’ll come back. If they’re not happy they’ll hit social media and let everyone know.
“The other thing that we’re very focused on is turning negatives into positives.
“If we find issues, we don’t paint a picture of doom and gloom by telling the customer, ‘I hope you’re sitting down, here’s what’s wrong with your car’.
“We say there is some good news here because we can get it all fixed for you today. There are some important things that need to be done, so let’s get them sorted out for you.”

While Future Auto has built impressive systems, it still greatly values the services provided by AAAA.
“Future Auto Service Centres are members of the AAAA because like us, the AAAA’s people are people of action, they don’t just talk about what needs doing,” Ron said.
“The AAAA actively works for change. If the industry is to remain strong and proud, mechanical businesses, whether they are part of a network or not, must support those who actively bring about change in the industry. For us, the AAAA is a voice for our businesses in the ears of people who need to hear the message.
“The AAAA staff keeps us up-to-date with industry changes through newsletters and personal visits. Our members can use the HR and legal assistance departments when required, giving them the ability to make informed decisions. For us, it is a proud association that we are honoured to be part of.”
Ron also speaks highly of AAAA’s senior management.
“Stuart Charity and Lesley Yates just inspire me so much,” he said.
“Prior to meeting Stuart I’d had little to do with AAAA, but after having a chat with him, and learning what they were doing for this industry, I joined up.”
The Future Auto Managing Director is also impressed by the AAAA’s work in helping to secure independent repairer access to OEM repair and service information.
“I’m excited because it adds a future to our industry and people won’t have to take their car back to the dealer,” he said.
“Once we have access to the info, we’ll be flying high with it, we really will. So when we have a level playing field just sit back and watch our brand grow.”

For more on Future Auto Group, visit www.futureauto.com.au