Stand­ing the test of time

In the tough world of the scooter in­dus­try, it’s dif­fi­cult for any busi­ness to sur­vive. One com­pany has though, and for sev­eral decades...

Scootering - - Kickstart -

Of­ten, when do­ing re­search on any Lam­bretta-re­lated ar­ti­cle, one name fre­quently crops up: that of AF Rayspeed. Since the 1970s their name has been as­so­ci­ated with a host of pop­u­lar prod­ucts, many of which have been ground-break­ing. The ‘S-Type’ brand has be­come iconic within the scooter scene, repli­cated a count­less num­ber of times, the peo­ple be­hind it mostly keep­ing out of the lime­light. Any busi­ness takes years to gain a good rep­u­ta­tion and stay­ing at the top is even harder, so what is the se­cret to their suc­cess?

The driv­ing force be­hind it all is Ray Kemp, a house­hold name through­out the Lam­bretta world. The roots of the busi­ness go all the way back to the early 1960s un­der the name of ‘Fran­cis and Wood­head’, which went on to be the fa­mous ‘Arthur Fran­cis Lim­ited’. Hav­ing started work­ing there in the late 1960s, Ray Kemp would take the com­pany over in the mid-1970s as trade died off fol­low­ing the demise of In­no­centi. Though Ray had es­tab­lished a good name, the busi­ness it­self was strug­gling. How­ever, it was his goal to see it suc­ceed.

First came the con­tin­u­a­tion of the ‘S-Type’, orig­i­nally in­sti­gated by Arthur Fran­cis in 1963 with the TV200. Now bas­ing it around the Grand Prix, Ray would clev­erly mar­ket it not only as the ‘S-Type’ but as the Ex­tra and then the Su­per. The Su­per would be the Leg­endary 250cc Lam­bretta, a con­ver­sion that no one else at that time of­fered. Though it was a com­pli­cated en­gine to pro­duce and could never be mass-mar­keted it showed a state­ment of in­tent. Many Lam­bretta own­ers would flock to the shop just to see one. The 250 ‘S-Type’ was a great mar­ket­ing tool which in­vited cus­tomers in.

Keep­ing the busi­ness go­ing was Ray’s main pri­or­ity and to­wards the end of the 1970s, a change of premises was re­quired. Rather than stay in Wat­ford where the busi­ness was lo­cated, a move was made to North York­shire. To some that may have seemed strange as Ray was from down south. But the ma­jor­ity of his cus­tomers were from the north of the coun­try so it seemed right to move there.

It was a brave and bold de­ci­sion but one that would hand­somely pay off. With busi­ness now grow­ing stronger by the year and with the in­flux of new cus­tomers from the post-Quadrophe­nia boom, the next chap­ter of AF Rayspeed be­gan. This be­gan with the in­tro­duc­tion of the TS1 kit in the 1980s. There’s no need to go into that though, as the kit has be­come a leg­end in its own right. What it proved though was that Ray was pre­pared to take a gam­ble, al­beit cal­cu­lated. Nev­er­the­less, it was a big in­vest­ment back then and could have spelled trou­ble had it failed.

Since then the suc­cess has con­tin­ued, with prod­ucts like the Rapido and the RB kits, ex­hausts, cranks, gear­boxes, clutches and ev­ery­thing else re­lated to the Lam­bretta en­gine. It il­lus­trates how Ray is never pre­pared to rest on his lau­rels or past suc­cesses, but in­stead con­stantly de­vel­ops prod­ucts that en­hance Lam­bretta own­er­ship, and mass pro­duc­ing these items so they are con­stantly avail­able. It’s at­tributes like these that have been re­spon­si­ble for the busi­ness be­ing so suc­cess­ful over such a long pe­riod.

With the in­tro­duc­tion of Ray’s son Ben into the busi­ness, it stays a fam­ily af­fair. While no one can pre­dict the fu­ture, with Ben’s ded­i­ca­tion to the com­pany, just like his fa­ther, things look pretty se­cure. There are lit­tle an­noy­ing things that frus­trate cus­tomers like the prob­lem of get­ting through on the phone, or lack of on­line pur­chas­ing… but noth­ing in the world is per­fect so per­haps they can be for­given for that. It must not be for­got­ten that the com­pany has al­ways sup­ported other scooter busi­nesses by of­fer­ing good trade dis­counts. By work­ing with oth­ers within the in­dus­try, it ac­tu­ally makes a busi­ness grow stronger.

This may seem to some like read­ing a bit of ‘prais­ing up my favourite scooter dealer’, but the truth is far from it. When a com­pany within the dog eat dog world of the scooter in­dus­try has been go­ing this long it de­serves some kind of recog­ni­tion. AF Rayspeed has done this by be­ing pre­pared to take a fi­nan­cial risk even in times when the fu­ture was uncertain; con­stantly evolv­ing rather than rest­ing on what has al­ready been achieved.

The com­pany has pro­duced a wide ar­ray of prod­ucts over the years, not re­ly­ing upon just one to bring in­come in, a vi­tal part of any busi­ness. Both Ray and Ben Kemp may be rather elu­sive and rarely spot­ted within scooter­ing cir­cles, but chances are that your Lam­bretta will have a prod­uct made and sold by them fit­ted to it. AF Rayspeed has stood the test of time and I’m sure will do so long into the fu­ture.

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