As a dominant player in the trailer manufacturing sector in Australia, MaxiTRANS continues to grow and develop its offering to the Australian trucking industry. PowerTorque sat down with MaxiTrans CEO and Managing Director Dean Jenkins to talk about how the trailer business is travelling.
The effects of the pandemic on operations like MaxiTRANS have made life difficult for the operation to function as it should. The trucking industry has been very busy simply keeping the economy going and needing the equipment to do it. At the same time, the lockdowns and distancing regulations to minimise the risk of the virus spreading have made actually manufacturing and repairing the trailers and bodies a much more complex process.
“The last six months have a been a particularly trying time for us as an industry,” says Dean. “Both for the heavy vehicle manufacturing side, but also for our customers.”
Dean has been in his role with the trailer maker for the past four years. Originally an aeronautical engineer, he worked for the Government Aircraft Factories in Melbourne before taking on a series of roles in Qantas, eventually running the engineering and supply chain side of the business.
Later, he worked for UGL in its train manufacturing business and then had a stint in Scotland working for the Weir Group, which is a global provider of engineering solutions for the resources and power industries.
A return to Australia to make sure his children were brought up as Australians saw Dean move to his current role at MaxiTRANS. This was like a return to his roots, as he had grown up in Ballarat, home of Freighter Trailers and MaxiTRANS main manufacturing facility.
“MaxiTRANS has great people and when I joined the basic business was sound,” says Dean. “We spent the first two years getting the company’s IT system right and then the next two working with a slowdown in the 18 months before Covid-19 happened.
“We had to take some pretty hard decisions and take some people out of the business. It was tough times for everyone. It was probably a combination of a severe drought, as we are quite exposed to agriculture, and then a series of infrastructure project delays.
“70 per cent of our sales are to people with less than 15 trailers and they make decisions based on confidence. Before the pandemic, there was a lot of concern about the future, which slowed things down, especially on the East Coast.”
In the period after the start of the pandemic and the announcement of the JobKeeper payment there was a lot of uncertainty for the company. The market was confused and MaxiTRANS were facing some daunting decisions, making calculations about survival.
“If it wasn’t for JobKeeper, I think we would still be here, but we would be a completely different business,” says Dean. “It enabled us to take a step back, to take a deep breath, tell our workforce they had jobs and would be able to work through the issue together. That really helped.
“Then with the asset write-off on the back of that, it helped to generate a bit of momentum and a bit of demand. So, we had JobKeeper as a back stop, but then we started to get orders coming in. Because the first phase was planned to the end of June we experienced a big rush with an extra 100 trailers ordered in the period.
“We were lucky, across our four plants, we only had four stand-down days across the whole period. That’s what JobKeeper was for. It helped us and our staff, it helped our suppliers. We also had one service centre in Dandenong which went to three days a week for around ten weeks. We were lucky, and are classed as an essential industry, which was important in Victoria during that period.”
Stable demand returned and as the situation had settled down by August/September as trailer buyers, who had remained busy throughout, began to understand what the pandemic trucking industry would look like. The freight task adapted as import/export volumes changed and domestic freight realigned to the new-normal, with the modal mix changed.