The express parcels business imposes its own demands on customer service – Words by Brenton O’Connor.
The core business for Queensland-based Followmont Transport is founded upon the express parcel service, with the aim to service every town in its network every day. Now in its second generation, the company is currently directed by Mark Tobin, whose father started the business in 1984 delivering magazines from a small store in Stones Corner, Brisbane.
Fast forward to today, and Followmont has developed into a major player in the Queensland freight market, competing with the ‘big boys’ for the major contracts. Followmont has 18 sites across Queensland, and 5 sites in NSW, which all play their part in managing the 120,000 consignments a month that pass through the Followmont organisation for delivery.
Followmont’s fleet of 180 prime movers is very diverse with a mix of North American, in both bonneted and cabover guise, as well as European models. The K200 Kenworth has been the default linehaul B-double (and road train capable) prime mover for Followmont, and, according to Mark Tobin, it’s so flexible it can do anything.
In these typical applications the K200 can pull a set of full-length B-double fridge vans, along with a bullbar, something that is mandatory for outback Queensland due to the larger numbers of kangaroos and other wildlife. Amidst these constraints it still features a decent cabin for driver’s rest period.
Mark does have a preference for bonneted trucks due to their ease of maintenance, and a standout performer in this area for Followmont has been the Kenworth T610, praised by Mark Tobin for its fuel economy, and overall driver acceptance. So far, Tobin has recorded the T610, with its Cummins X15 engine, as producing the best fuel economy figures for the entire fleet – no mean feat when the company also runs industry benchmarked trucks for fuel economy including Volvo and MAN.
Mark feels the European trucks, namely the Volvo and MAN, are more suitable for East Coast running on set routes and does not have the same degree of faith in them to undertake the heavy outback running, where that work is entrusted to Kenworth, and in some cases Mack. In the harsher conditions where Followmont Transport operates in Western Queensland, there is a hesitation regarding the durability of European brands, aided by the concern raised in the event of a breakdown, as there is less likelihood for parts and service to get the vehicle up and running again. Given the freight carried by Followmont is extremely time sensitive, as it’s predominately parcel freight, this means any delays lead to both penalties and also upset customers, something for which the company has zero tolerance.
The Followmont business is built around service and its reputation of delivering on time in full. Mark Tobin’s key statistic that he monitors is DIFOT – which means DELIVERY IN FULL ON TIME.
Mark’s attitude to the principle of DIFOT is unquestionable, and after spending time speaking to him, its obvious how passionate this is to him to promote the reputation of his company. Furthermore, Mark views customer retention as being of paramount importance. Any event that might result in a customer being lost to a competitor is brought directly to Mark’s attention, triggering a full investigation of how to maintain customer confidence.
It is rare for a Followmont driver to sleep in his truck – all of Followmont’s major depots across Queensland feature driver’s quarters, where drivers are able to shower and sleep after arriving into the depot after their nightly trip. The majority of Followmont’s long-distance travel is done at night, with the fleet typically covering 85,000 km within each 24-hour period, which in anyone’s book is an impressive task. During the days those linehaul drivers are resting, while the truck can be used for local pickup and distribution or have servicing and other work such as cleaning undertaken on site.
The vast majority of Followmont’s repairs and maintenance work is done on site in its own workshops, both for cost savings and the convenience of not being reliant upon the availability of the workshops of the various manufacturers. Such is the standard of Followmont’s own workshops that they are authorised to carry out warranty work on the equipment they run, and then charge it back to the respective manufacturer.
As a matter of policy, the company specifies automated manual transmissions (AMT), both in its North American and also European trucks. This is for ease of operation, and, like most transport companies, there is a continuing difficulty in sourcing drivers with a preference for manual transmissions.
Mark Tobin’s operating philosophy reflects that of many organisations – that people make (or break) your business. As such, he believes in constantly investing in his staff through driver training, and other programmes designed to engage with staff and constantly improve their skills.
For pickup and distribution work (PUDs), the company has just purchased its 150th UD rigid vehicle. While a few UDs have been purchased as prime movers, the majority are configured as 12 or 14-pallet rigid trucks. As a testimony to their reliability, a total of 130 UDs remain in operation in the current fleet.
Queried on the decision to purchase UD, Mark explained, “UD has been able to retain the cost value, considering the safety and product improvements. I can’t fault them.
“Mechanically we’ve experienced minimal breakdowns, and our workshop finds UD accessible for ease of mechanical repairs, assisting with servicing time,” added Mark.
The company head office in Eagle Farm, Brisbane, also houses a drive-through truck wash to ensure the company’s trucks always look presentable and represent the brand in the best possible way.
The majority of the company fleet of over 320 trailers is supplied by Vawdrey, with FTE supplying the fridge van segment. To facilitate ease of service and maintenance, the preference for the running gear remains with drum brakes wherever possible, particularly when operating in the outback. The background to this decision is that the sourcing and replacing of a component such as a 30/30 brake booster remains more likely in a remote area between Brisbane and Darwin than a booster or calliper for a disc-braked axle.
Mark Tobin is a firm believer in being able to leverage the business relationship from Followmont with its suppliers and customers in order to create ways to continually improve the business outcomes for all parties. The company recently purchased Towers Transport in New South Wales, gaining a strong footprint into the NSW freight market. Due to its strong brand recognition, Towers Transport will continue to operate its fleet of 90 vehicles, varying from one-tonne couriers to B-double semitrailers, under the Towers name.
Looking into the future of road transport, Mark Tobin highlighted a number of challenges facing the industry as a whole and the importance of reinvesting in your people and your business. These challenges include attracting the right people into the industry and to demonstrate to the community that professionally trained drivers act responsibly on our roads, and professionally operated businesses are conducted efficiently and safely. If you don’t invest in people, training and safety, then you won’t survive.