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...
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.