With enough activity in the Taree area of the North Coast of NSW for operators like Kevin Bakewell to develop solid long-term relationships with local manufacturers and distributors, to enable the business to be both stable and expanding.
Based on the New South Wales Mid-North Coast in the small town of Wingham, just outside of Taree, regional trucking operation Bakewell Haulage consists of 30 trucks and 30 trailers.
There are 10 semis going into Sydney every day, one in Melbourne every two days and one into Brisbane every day. There is also a contract bringing eggs into a processing plant in Taree from further inland. As an example of the scale of the business, in the week before Christmas, 552 tonnes of alcohol came into the Bakewell warehouse, for onward delivery.
“We service all the Liquorland stores in the area and all of the Bunnings stores,” says company founder Kevin Bakewell. “Currently, we are doing around nine trailers a week, into Bunnings, but last year, during the pandemic, we were doing 16 trailers a week. Over the past six to eight years, Bunnings have become very big for us.
“We don’t say no to anything. The only thing we do say no to is eBay, because they expect things to be picked up from a house with a semi-trailer We have over 600 customers on our books, and we reckon we service 400 of them every month. We go from customers who do one colour the week to others which do well over 100 pallets per week.
“Up until two years ago, Port Macquarie was the fastest growing area in regional New South Wales. The market was there and we went with it. Our philosophy is, ‘don’t say no’.”
The operation does concentrate on freight which is going in or out of the area. There is very little freight which is going from Sydney to Brisbane, for example, handled by the operation. There is a warehouse in Taree and another in Sydney, 7000m² altogether, plus a receiving depot in both Brisbane and Melbourne. The warehouse in Taree is the alcohol receiving depot, from which all of the alcohol is distributed into the area, keeping a team of five people busy on a full-time basis.
Altogether, the business employs 40 people full-time. There are also five subcontractors who are working most of the time, supporting the Bakewell business.
When it comes to finding drivers to work in the business, Kevin comments that, “the quality is not where it used to be”. However, he finds that the one driver, one truck policy does attract more reliable drivers. Often, the problem can be that the drivers have been used to working on interstate full time and find the wages are lower when they’re working in a job where they get home every night.
“I lost a bloke a couple of years ago, when he came to me and said that his wife had lost her job and he would have to go working interstate,” says Kevin. “Then sometime later he came back to me and said, ‘my wife’s got a good job now and so I’d like to come back’. Now, he’s back on the job and he’s either home for breakfast or home for dinner every day.
“However, the quality is not there and I would rather park up a truck and put a ratbag in it. Everything is GPS, so we can keep an eye on people. We rarely get a driver complaint, but sometimes we do. Sometimes they are justified and sometimes they are just ridiculous.”
Getting the right team
The drivers on the semis all working under the Basic Fatigue Management scheme. Due to the different loading and unloading schedules, drivers can be working on dayshift or nightshift. There are quite a few prefer working at night and the scheduling can enable them to work on permanent nights.
Kevin has a reliable team working for him, with a couple of drivers coming up to 15 years’ service. Unfortunately, he lost a couple of his more experienced drivers, who passed away with health problems. The average age of drivers is relatively high, but Kevin has been willing to get younger drivers a chance and has recently taken on a 21-year-old as a driver.
“I approached my insurance company a few years ago and told them that it was too hard to find experience drivers,” says Kevin. “I told them that I had enough experience drivers to ensure that a young fella I want to put on would be trained properly and they would keep an eye on him. I asked them not to penalise me for employing a young person with higher insurance, and they came back to me and agreed to it.
“We could have one driver under 25, and they will work with it. We also have a brilliant young lady who has been with us for a few years. My older drivers took up under their wing and she is doing a great job. I also put a driver on who had just turned 70 last year. He had been retired but got bored with it, so I put him on. We have 29 curtain siders and one flat top, so our work is not particularly hard.”