The path to a multi-million dollar family run franchise location.

Mark and Bev Bartlett have structured their multimillion-dollar family operation to fit in with regular overseas holidays...

Mark And Bev In Paris

Think SafetyQuip and you think industrial site safety supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE). From hard hats and work boots, first aid and defibrillators, to signage and uniforms — SafetyQuip is all about keeping your staff safe in the workshop and home. A bloke called Gary Shearer started the business on the Sunshine Coast in 1992.

When he decided to franchise the operation 10 years later, one of the first people to jump on board was Mark Bartlett, now owner of SafetyQuip Melbourne East. “I was the third franchisee.

In the business 15 years

We’ve been doing it for 15 years now, my wife, Bev, and I,” says Mark. “There are now 13 franchises around the country — three here in Melbourne.” He has found a profitable niche market targeting the Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) requirements of small to medium enterprises.

“Our specialty is small to medium companies with less than 100 staff, says Mark. “Big companies tend to have their own professional buyer or OHS person. We’ve got 15,000 lines of product — and then the customer still asks for something you’ve never heard of! We estimate 80 per cent of our stuff goes out with a courier after a visit by a rep or an email query. Some of my best customers have even seen the sign out the front and walked in. One bloke was getting his car windows tinted a few doors away one morning and was just filling in time. He’s still a customer.”

Melbourne City

No safety related background

A chartered accountant by profession, Mark had been helping run the family business in Melbourne and found himself out of a job when that business was sold. He credits the state government for sparking his interest in WHS.

“The government in Victoria at the time was pushing the point about health and safety to such a degree that if you were the business general manager, you’d go to jail if someone got hurt,” he says.

“I was interested in getting a bit more information so I went to a trade show and Gary Shearer was there, advertising what was at the time, this mobile safety business. I thought ‘you beauty’, that’s what I want to get involved in. That was in October, and we started the training the following January. Once I’d found what I wanted to do, that was it.”

“It started off as a great idea, but good ideas need to be sold to somebody (building a customer base),” says Mark. “You need to find your customers and we didn’t have a single one. The original model (at the time they joined SafetyQuip) was to run it as a small business from home and then graduate into a shop over time. So you’d start with one van, working out of the garage with an office in the lounge room. But working from your garage, it’s not like someone’s going to drop in.

The Family Team Bev Mark And Ryan

Growth was incremental

You’ve got to physically go out the door every morning. It was hard because there’s only so much you can do delivering everything yourself. We realised pretty fast it wasn’t going to work. So we started a shop about a year or so into the business. The moment we opened a shop, sales doubled.”

Working from home initially, has now been replaced by a small ‘blind shop’ however, the SafetyQuip business model requires the Safety Centre to be open within 12 months.

The Bartlett’s also quickly realised the Melbourne market wasn’t going to roll out the red carpet for SafetyQuip.

“The market in Melbourne didn’t know anything about us,” says Mark. “It was different up on the Sunshine Coast (where the business started), but they didn’t have a Bunnings Warehouse on every corner!

For the first five years, it was hard, a lot of trial and error, a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and not a lot of money coming back in. Plus, we had four teenagers, which didn’t make it that easy, either.”

Shopfront Onto The Warehouse The Perfect Mix

Expansion brings a new location

The first step out of the garage was to a warehouse close to home in the semi-industrial suburb of Nunawading in east Melbourne.

“Moving into new premises and then employing my son Ryan were my next major steps,” says Mark. “We’d tried to employ an on-road salesperson but operating from home it didn’t get traction. People didn’t want to work for a business based in someone’s garage. They didn’t think we were serious. Nunawading was a good introductory spot because a competitor had just moved out of that area, leaving a bit of a vacuum. But the place was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. When we moved there, we only had one van, but when we moved out we had seven staff, but only two parking spots. We outgrew it.”

Mark is pretty chuffed with his most recent move and reckons SafetyQuip’s new HQ ticks all the boxes. “Now we’re in Bayswater, which is very much the commercial centre of our territory. We’ve got a nice place with proper office, proper lunchroom and parking for staff — it’s a good place to come to work.”

Now turning over an in excess of $3 million a year, Mark notes it took time to build the business up to where it is today. As many business owners will attest to, lessons get learnt along the way.

“We weren’t capitalised correctly at the start,” he says. “Initially we thought it would be a little more cashflow-positive than it was. But after those first years, it’s been good to us. But it’s still hard work. In hindsight, if I was to do it again I’d come in with a bigger pile of cash and do that initial churn to get it up to speed — maybe start with three people instead of just me plus one other.”

Mark Bartlett

Family succession plan

Mark is looking at getting all of his SafetyQuip’s ducks in a row to future-proof the business for sustainable growth — and factor in a bit of well-deserved holiday time for he and Bev. Moving to the new premises and setting up a succession plan were the first stages.

“About five years ago, we set in train a plan to escalate Ryan to take over managing the business,” says Mark. “Four years ago, after completing his Masters of Business Development, he was promoted into the role of General Manager and now looks after the day-to-day running of the place — the staff, customers and suppliers. After (all the hard work building it up), my wife and I basically took a year off. I went back to part-time for the year and she didn’t come in at all for a year. We took a couple of months in NSW then nine months in Europe. It took us two years to set all that up.”

Mark reckons the time was right to seize the opportunity for a bit of much-needed downtime.

“We were very lucky that all the boxes got ticked — our parents were healthy, our kids were healthy and working, everything on the personal side was good, business was good. It was a sign telling us to take advantage of the position we were in. That said, we cut our expenses back to bare bones so that we could do what we wanted to do. We bought a 14-year- old motor home and bummed around Europe. We liked it so much we left the motor home there so hopefully we can go back every year for a couple of months and potter around.”

After that initial break, Mark returned to the company in a different role. His first order of business was sorting the move out of the old premises at Nunawading.

“Since we’ve been back, we aren’t needed in the day-to-day operations,” says Mark.

“But I can now concentrate on more long- term matters. For example, in 2017, I decided the business was big enough to be set up elsewhere for the future. That took a whole year — to find somewhere, outfit it, move and not disrupt the customers. Putting on and training up new people also takes a lot of time and effort.”

The Bartlett’s made a conscious decision they were going to enjoy life while they were still young, but Mark says that’s easier said than done — running a successful company while factoring in regular holidays is still a juggling act.

“My wife and I want to be able to enjoy walking in Spain in our fifties rather than going on a cruise in our eighties. But there’s a cost. I’ve had to employ someone to look after the place when I’m not here. Out of our $3m plus turnover, I’ve got to pay someone, say, $150,000 to do the work I’d normally do.

Sure, in 2018 we had a couple of months off, but in 2017 we didn’t have any time off at all. I worked six days a week for 12 months on the transition between the two sites. Which meant our profitability dropped because we had double overheads — but it was an investment in our future.”

Safety Quip Bayswater

How his franchisor helps

While the Bartlett’s own their franchise, Mark remains appreciative of the input from the SafetyQuip Headquarters office.

“We get fantastic marketing resources from the franchise system. (SafetyQuip Australia General Manager) Wayne Johnstone liaises with the majority of our suppliers and what he doesn’t know in the industry isn’t worth knowing. He negotiates the pricing and knows the people.

OK, we don’t have a huge marketing department — we’re not a Donut King with racing cars running around with our branding all over them — but we do get good support on the supply front and a lot of support from the branding. One thing I like is that the name says it all and the logo is clear-cut and descriptive with its hearing, head and foot protection graphics. It’s obvious from the name — as opposed to, say, Mark Bartlett & Sons!”

For Mark, one huge advantage for his business over his potential competitors is the buying power clout that SafetyQuip has with big-name suppliers such as Bollé and 3M.

“We can get 3M products at what we are assured is their best discount structure — we get the right brand at the right price. That enables us to meet the competition head-on. There’s always someone (a competitor in the market) saying, ‘Oh, I can’t do it at that price’. We rarely have to come up with that sort of excuse. They’re the premium suppliers in the country and I have the ability to go direct to them and get their products to my customers, the small to medium end of the market. I can actually get 3M’s industrial safety expert to come out and help my small to medium business clients. That makes me look good, but it also helps the customer solve his problems.”

Interested to know more about Mark?

Feedback Session With Wayne Johnstone Safety Quip Hq