Warren Caves joins Turps Tippers to talk about company growth and branding
When you are out on the road you get to see different companies doing their thing and soon become accustomed to seeing the familiar names as you cross paths on a regular basis. Sometimes there seems to be really rapid fleet growth over a short timeframe, as almost overnight you can notice the increased presence of an unfamiliar company name adorning the sides of an expanding number of trucks. At this point it seems to me as though some large corporation has invested heavily into a transport project, explaining the increased presence of these trucks and the high visibility of the brand.
It’s not until I’m tasked with interviewing these company owners or directors that I can gain a more in-depth understanding of how these companies have increased their visibility and presence on the road.
In many cases, the growth in a company’s presence on the road and more visible public image come from natural expansion. Having operated older vehicles for years, perhaps as a one-truck business, the time has finally come for the family to branch out and purchase new vehicles, increasing its fleet and, at the same time, increasing its visibility to the public.
There comes a time when having established a trucking business with one truck, the owner, who has been slogging away in the background, gradually over time adds more used trucks to the fleet. One morning, while sitting down to their morning cuppa, they realise they now have 32 trucks and 29 permanent drivers on the books.
This is basically how it happened for Ian Turner, of Turps Tippers.
“I started out 19 years ago in a Ford Louisville, working that truck all week and spending the weekend under it doing maintenance. This went on for years until a friend of mine who was also in tippers said to me, you’ll never make a dollar in this game until you buy a new truck. I thought, that can’t be right, I can’t afford a new truck, to which he replied, if you can’t afford a new truck you’re doing it wrong”.
It took a couple more secondhand trucks, and as many years, for Ian to do the numbers and see the light, finally purchasing a new truck. Ian says, “I haven’t bought a used truck since. My mate was right. The numbers just don’t add up when you factor in maintenance costs, breakdowns, downtime and YOUR time”.
Today, Turps Tippers runs a mixed fleet of trucks including Kenworth, Freightliner and Western Star.
“In my business, price dictated what I got in terms of equipment, and while our latest trucks coming in to operation are Kenworth and a Western Star, I cannot knock Freightliner. Without Freightliner I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am today. At the time they were simply $30,000 to $40,000 cheaper to buy, and this made a huge difference.
“I like running a mixed fleet of trucks, I’m a bit like the democrats, I like to keep the bastards honest”.
According to Ian, Turps Tippers has grown massively over the past three to four years, securing major contracts with large companies. This growth has seen fleet expansion figures running at approximately six to seven new trucks coming into service each year, Ian says he expects the fleet to reach a total of 50 trucks over the next two financial years.
Work involves transporting bulk gravels, sand, soil and profile to concrete plants and subdivisions as well as operating asphalt conveyor trailers for road infrastructure works, from the company’s Bargo, Unanderra and Goulburn yards.
A new 23-acre site at Bargo has recently had development application approval for a purpose-built depot incorporating servicing facilities and truck yard requirements for the rapidly expanding business. This will allow the move from the current Bargo location, which Ian says they outgrew some time ago.
“We have 10-15 of our quarry trucks dedicated to our contract to a major supplier of quarry products, with the remainder operating on various quarry tasks and asphalt conveyor trailer work.
“We have our own fuel storage in our yards and we have a contract mechanic who works exclusively for us. You can’t work any harder, you have to streamline your costs and work smarter,” said Ian.
“Innovation drives this industry, and if you don’t move with the changes you’ll get left behind, which is why we have a strong presence with PBS accredited vehicles. In my time I have seen increases from 39-tonne payloads to 57.5 tonnes, and we are currently in discussion with manufacturers and looking at going out to 63-tonne payloads, not that this means we’re getting a higher rate per tonne than we did ten years ago.
“You don’t get anywhere in this business without good people around you, whether it be suppliers, industry contacts or staff, you need good people supporting you”, said Ian.
It’s with this business philosophy, that Ian explains, “We do things a bit differently to some”.
In the early days, as many spouses do, Ian’s wife looked after the administration role up to the point of managing five or six trucks. This then became too much for one, so another person was employed. A pattern soon emerged, with Ian identifying the number of six trucks per admin manager to be a manageable workload. Now the company has six young women managing fleet movements and compliance, including Ian’s two daughters, Jayme-Lee and Madison.
This presented a potential problem for the company, to which Ian took an unusual approach to address, particularly for a small business.
“I looked at the gender and age of the office staff and reasoned that they are probably all going to have children at some stage. This would mean 12 months maternity leave and the possibility that they may not return to work, as the cost of childcare may be prohibitive.
“We didn’t want to lose any of the girls this way as they have gained a broad understanding of our business. So, we have put in a childcare facility at the office to allow the staff to return to work sooner and benefit from the childcare service provided. They get a benefit, and, as far as I’m concerned, the cost of a childcare worker for a week is far out-weighed by the benefits of retaining good staff,” explained Ian.
Driver retention rates are also an area of concern for most transport businesses. To combat this Ian offers a profit share programme for his drivers. With this, Ian sees increases in productivity, with some drivers reporting delays in unloading, as they are keen to keep moving. They also have a one-truck one-driver policy, and unused sick pay is paid out annually.
Gilbert & Roach Trucks at Huntingwood have so far supplied three new T610 model trucks in conjunction with Muscat Trailers for PBS, truck and quad dog work, with another four units in various stages of completion and a T409 on the way as well.
All these trucks are equipped with the Cummins X15 engines. Currently, new trucks are being ordered with Eaton Roadranger manual transmissions, although Ian admits that this may need to change sometime in the future as some potential job candidates are coming through without the necessary skills to operate these transmissions.
“I believe that Kenworth trucks are the best equipment for the work we do “says Ian, “and the combination of service we get from Gilbert & Roach and Muscat Trailers is great.”
“I simply get a quote, decide on a particular product, give the go ahead and sometime later it arrives here, registered and ready to work, that day. Spencer Richards is the salesperson we deal with – he knows what I like and what I don’t like.
“I can tell Spencer what I want the truck for and what type of work it will primarily be doing and he already knows what specifications I’m going to need for the truck in relation to compliance for work sites. The big jobs are demanding unprecedented levels of safety features, like reverse cameras, painted step treads, door alarms, lights under door openings and orange seat belts to name a few. If you don’t have these items you don’t get on the site, it’s that simple. With prior experience in these areas, Gilbert & Roach sales get the options right, first go”.
The feedback from drivers about the T610’s is also positive, and they take a good deal of pride in their trucks appearance, as is evidenced by the presentation of Brad’s truck for PowerTorque’s photo shoot.
“As I look back now on how things progressed for Turps Tippers, my only regret would probably be that I didn’t buy a new truck sooner. I don’t think that I would have prospered any sooner or grown any further, it’s just I think I may have done it a little easier,” concluded Ian.