Ed Higginson charts the growth of Millers Transport Group from a single horse-drawn trailer to major container handlers

There’s something very special about interviewing a family-owned transport business, especially when there’s a rich history relating to the ancestors that started the business from zero.

Back in 1923, Syd Miller recognised the need for reliable transport services in the East Melbourne area, and, with his horse and cart, he founded Miller’s Transport and began transporting firewood, ice, briquettes and furniture.

As Syd’s reputation grew, the business branched out to include warehousing and distribution. In the 1970s, the second generation of the Miller family, Malcolme Miller, expanded the business to include wharf cartage, distributing containers to and from the docks precinct in Melbourne.

Thanks to the family’s foresight in appreciating the potential for the growth in containerisation, the company focused on this aspect of transport and it remains today the core business of the company.

Under the guidance of third-generation family members Glen and Sue Miller, the Millers Transport Group continues to prosper from its headquarters in Dandenong South. For those unfamiliar with southeast Melbourne, this area has experienced significant growth in recent years in both residential and industrial properties.

The five-acre site at Dandenong South includes the head office and workshop, truck and trailer parking areas, as well as a hard standing that provides space to store up to 600 containers.

Quarantine facilities are also available on-site for the packing and unpacking services Millers offers its customers, and Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service officers (AQIS) are on-site most days inspecting freight. This link with AQIS is both more efficient and cost effective for customers, especially when compared to the alternative option of completing these tasks at the wharf.

The range of goods typically handled by Millers Transport Group varies greatly, but can typically include timber, steel, grain, raw plastics, as well as many consumer products.

On arrival at the Dandenong South facility the freight is unpacked from the containers and then distributed to customers on either flat-top/drop-deck open air trailers or alternatively in curtainsiders. This benefits the customer as it saves them from the laborious task of unpacking the container, while also reducing costs by negating the need to double handle the container and return it when empty to the Millers’ facility. The customer is therefore exempt from the additional expense of container rental fees or secondary loading or unloading costs at the customer’s site.

Millers operates a fleet of 30-plus prime movers, which include trucks from Volvo, Iveco, Scania and Mercedes-Benz.

The recent purchase of six Fourth Generation Mercedes-Benz Actros prime movers was one of the reasons PowerTorque Magazine met with business manager, James Vine, to find out more about the business and the decision-making process behind the company’s decision to once again include Mercedes-Benz in the company fleet. Although in previous years Millers had operated a number of Mercedes-Benz 1418, 2228, and 2235s, it had been many years since the three-pointed star was adorned in Millers’ livery.

The decision to trial the new Actros resulted from the enthusiasm of Mitchell Hynd from Whitehorse Truck Centre, who was convinced the Actros could make a difference to Millers’ bottom line. On this basis, Millers commenced an Actros evaluation programme of the three different engine options, with the 11, 13 and 16-litre models joining the fleet.

In a relatively short time, the Benz’s were proving themselves in both driver satisfaction and also in fuel economy. Against the other trucks in the fleet, Millers witnessed a 0.4 km per litre fuel economy gain on sideloader operation and a 0.2 km gain per litre on skel’ and curtainsider operation while operating the 11-litre Actros in both 430 and 460 hp guise. On the B-double operations, a 0.2 km per litre fuel gain was proven, with the 2651 Actros with the OM471 13-litre engine at 510 hp.

The 2651 Actros is currently undertaking standard B-double work at 68.5 tonnes gross, but Millers intends to utilise them in the future on its Super B-double work at a gross weight of 74.5 tonnes.

When queried on the decision for relatively low horsepower rating for these high weights, James explained that, although the 16-litre engine was trialled, Millers found the 2651 more than adequate for the work, given the high torque rating of 2500 Nm and also due to the traffic conditions frequently experienced on the Monash freeway, which limits speed significantly.

In addition to the fuel economy gains, the other reasons behind the decision to purchase Mercedes-Benz included Euro 6 emissions standards, which are demanded by some of their customers, the safety package including proximity cruise control, and also the complimentary BEST BASIC service plan with additional warranty provided by Mercedes-Benz compared to its competitors.

According to James, the new Benz’s have been well received by the drivers in the fleet with positive feedback with regards to comfort and ease of operation.

James confirmed that, while the initial purchase price of the Mercedes Actros was higher than its competitors, once factoring in the total cost of ownership, including the reduced fuel consumption and the standard BEST BASIC service plan, the total cost of ownership of the Mercedes was actually less than the other trucks in consideration for purchase.

In the Millers fleet the company anticipates running its trucks on a seven-year life cycle before replacement, with all vehicles covered by a repair and maintenance contract provided by their respective manufacturers.

For the 100-plus trailers in the company fleet, Millers itself carries out maintenance in its own on-site workshop. A long-standing tyre service agreement has the supplier’s technician on-site daily, checking trailer tyres for pressures and replacing and rotating them as required.

The trailers run by Millers include a range of skels in both single trailer and B-double application as both Super B and regular tri-tri axle configurations. Due to the route covered from the Melbourne ports to Dandenong, the highest permissible gross weight is 74.5 tonnes. In addition to the skels, Millers runs a range of sideloaders and also flat-tops, curtainsiders and drop-decks for distribution of goods. Trailer brands are varied but include Vawdrey, Steelbro, Krueger, Barker and CIMC.

When summing up the success of the group and the reasoning behind its continual growth, James Vine explained that Millers prided itself on its service.

“We allocate one point of contact at Millers to each customer for day-to-day operations,” said James.

“We have multiple sites in the southeast and Port (Melbourne) area, meaning we can run efficiently with Super B-doubles between depots, keeping costs down for customers yet still delivering on time”.

James went onto explain the success is also down to the staff Millers employs, with a large number of long-term employees: “Just last week we had a driver celebrate 28 continuous years with Millers, which is testimony to the strong working relationship the company has with its drivers”.

Summing up, James stated, “We are a family business that never says NO, with a can-do attitude that is continually investing in its staff, equipment, systems and customers to provide an ever-increasing level of service to our customers”.

Millers Transport Group is a family business in its fourth generation that was founded upon high levels of service and its commitment to an integrated logistics package with quality customer service. The newly-formed relationship with Mercedes-Benz trucks seems an ideal fit, as both businesses continue to push the boundaries on finding efficiencies and ever-improved service levels for their respective customers.

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