Semi-Skel Hire hits No. 1000 with Barker Trailers – Report by Ed Higginson
When it comes operating environments across Australia the trailer rental business must be high on the list. One company that excels in this area and has thrived on the challenges is Semi-Skel Hire based in Yarraville, Melbourne.
Formed in 1991 by Geoff Kelly, the company has expanded from an initial 9 trailers to over 1000 trailers, comprising refrigerated, dry vans, skels, curtainsiders, side loaders, and tipping skels.
Semi-Skel Hire is a family business with Geoff Kelly as the MD, his daughter Kim Kelly in the position of general manager, and his son David Kelly as the workshop manager. With some of the largest Australian transport companies amongst its long-standing clients, Semi-Skel Hire now operates one of the largest fleets in Victoria.
As Geoff Kelly explained to TrailerTorque, the business started by chance.
“We originally ran a small trucking business, and when the recession hit back in 1991 we decided to sell our 9 trucks and 14 trailers. It didn’t quite go to plan, as, after we sold the trucks and half the trailers, a couple of guys then asked if they could rent the other trailers. As they weren’t selling we decided to take up the offer and we are still here today,” said Geoff.
Kim Kelly explained, “As a family business there is no hierarchy, so we can all make decisions quickly to get a customer’s trailer on the road as soon as possible. We have a great team with everyone in operations working well together, and, as we all know the equipment and can look out of the window to see what is available, we can all give the customer an answer straight away”.
Geoff added, “We don’t employ a receptionist like others in the industry, so when a customer phones for an urgent hire, anyone in the office can give them the quote knowing exactly what we have available and what will do the job. We don’t let calls go unanswered either, we all answer the phone when it rings”.
This point was made a few times during our interview, as, when others in the office were on calls to customers, Geoff would pick up the phone if it continued to ring in case a customer needed something urgently.
As Semi-Skel Hire itself started out as a trucking business, Geoff and the family have always focused on making sure they give out quality equipment to their customers. “We buy the best equipment available, we maintain it to the best standards and we don’t rely on others to look after the gear,” Geoff explained.
The business stays with the two brands that have served it well over the years, mainly Barker and FTE. There are a few other trailers that have been acquired over the years when secondhand equipment has been too good to pass on, but testament to the strong relationship with Barkers has been the recent addition of the 1000th trailer.
“The 1000th trailer was a marker for both businesses to show we’ve evolved with new ideas to make them hard wearing and idiot proof,” said Kim.
“Geoff spends a lot of time with Barker’s engineers and Rob Benson, its technical manager, to incorporate our ideas and to make trailers that are built to last. We also brought both teams together after the 1000th trailer was delivered to celebrate the occasion,” said Kim.
“The first Barker trailer was purchased back in 1995 after one of our customers suggested that they made a great drop-deck trailer with a strong neck. The trailer was number 27, we still have it in the fleet and its still going strong,” said Geoff.
“We have seen Barkers become reinvigorated in the past six months since the new CEO, Simon Meadows, has started. They have always had the best trailers, and now they have the best service too,” he added.
Semi-Skel Hire’s team members pride themselves on focusing on their customers. Opening hours are 6:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the week, and several hours on a Saturday, but most importantly they also have 24 hours site access for all of their major or regular customers.
When purchasing equipment, the company focus is for maximum equipment strength to ensure it can be relatively trouble free over its expected 20-year lifespan with standard inclusions such as BPW axles with drum brakes and spider rims, JOST legs and Hella lights.
“We’ve found that these specs give us the best run, and we also get great support from these suppliers,” said Geoff.
The strategy of operating equipment built to a similar specification also helps when all of the maintenance is performed is in-house. In Geoff’s view, the company has never liked to rely on others for keeping its equipment maintained to the highest level and it also gives the team the ability to focus on turning jobs around quickly.
Workshop manager, David Kelly, employs a team of 16, with 10 mechanics covering the maintenance, plus labourers, wash guys and the company’s own tyre fitters.
The benefit of building its own workshop team has helped Semi-Skel Hire stand out over the years and offer a high level of service that ranks above the competition. For its large account clients the company can arrange for its own mechanics and tyre fitters to visit the customer’s premises to maintain the long-term rental equipment, ensuring it’s in top condition.
“If we can’t fix it on-site we’ll use our own trucks to swap the trailers out. Sometimes the customers don’t even realise we’ve been, they just need the trailers ready for work on Monday morning,” said Geoff.
Lainie Nitz, the sales and customer service co-coordinator for Barker Trailers commented:
“An order of 70-plus trailers placed in 2017 meant that Barker Trailers had the opportunity to build the 1000th semitrailer for Semi-Skel Hire, a milestone of which Barker Trailers is extremely proud.
“Barker Trailers is also a family-owned business, with 40-plus years of family experience and commitment, reflecting similar company values to Semi-Skel Hire,” Lainie added.
Brothers and skilled tradesmen, Arthur and Ernie Barker, manufactured the first custom-built Barker Trailer in 1974. Today the company occupies two purpose-built design and production facilities in Victoria and has over 150 team members. A recent new member of the team is Rod Cunningham, in the role of general manager of sales and marketing. Rod is well known for his specialist knowledge of the trailer industry, and in joining Barker Trailers he brings with him a wealth of industry experience.
The range of Barker Trailers’ products is extensive, covering curtainsiders, refuse, recyclable and chip aluminium bins, flat tops, drop-decks, extendable, skeletals and alloy vans, together with converter dollies, and a range of rigid bodies, dog and pig trailers. The company is also a leading supplier of PBS-approved trailers.
At the function held to celebrate the handover of the 1000th Barker Trailer to Semi-Skel Hire, Barker Trailers made sure that the 1000th trailer, which was a B-trailer spec’d curtainsider at 13.72 m long and 4.3 m high, came with a few more additions.
The axles were BPW 10-stud with drum brakes and automatic slack adjusters riding on Hendrickson HT230 suspension with airbags. Barker fitted alloy rims for a bit of extra shine, JOST supplied the 50 mm king pin and A400 landing legs with compensating feet, and LED lighting came from Hella to match the rest of the fleet. To complete the trailer spec, Attard’s Supa strip load-restraint-rated curtains were fitted with the 1000th trailer branding to make it stand out amongst the fleet.
Geoff and Kim are both happy with the recent additions and are looking to add more in the future. Kim believes the fleet will have increased to 1100 trailers by Christmas, with the company currently looking at expanding into Brisbane with the opening of a new depot in the coming months.
“The trailer rental market is getting bigger and we can’t see a limit to the number of trailers required,” said Kim.
“In the past the demand was seasonal, but now customers use rental trailers for years. They have their core fleet, but use ours for the non-contracted work and volume changes. Because we look after the maintenance, it’s also trouble free for them”.
“We currently welcome around four new customers a day starting with us in Melbourne. Although we may look at expanding our IT systems to help us manage the day-to-day operations, our continued focus on customer service will ensure we continue to offer top-quality equipment,” she added.