Rankin Transport grows its customer base by providing high levels of local support to its customers. Words by Ed Higginson.
Within the Australian transport industry there are a handful of well-known trucking names that come to mind, but, for every one household name, there are hundreds of small family operators across the country known just as well by their local communities.
Rankin Transport is located in the small Victorian town of Katunga, 40 km north of Shepparton. With just 300 inhabitants, the local farming community has enjoyed tremendous support in its transport needs over the 17 years since the company commenced operations, testimony to the high level of customer service that corporate business cannot match.
Leigh Rankin founded the business in 2000, along with his wife Kerry and his father, Gary. Their first truck purchase was a new Isuzu Giga 425 hp prime mover to pull their flat-top trailer and curtainsider.
The decision to go with a brand-new Isuzu Giga proved to be a wise choice, as the big Isuzu enabled them to set up their business and has paid for itself many times over. At the time, it was a low-cost truck, but it came with the security of being backed by a five-year warranty and did a great job going off-road onto farms. Leigh knew it would be hassle free, and over the 15 years and 1.1 million kilometres with the family the truck had no breakdowns and was only sold after a neighbour asked to buy the truck knowing it had been well looked after.
In the beginning, the Rankins concentrated on farm freight, such as concrete, hay and machinery from the surrounding areas, delivering out across Victoria. The return loads were products for the community, subsequently supplied through his father Gary’s farm supply store in town, which again continued the local relationships with their customers.
Leigh says he has always been a strong believer in loyalty for his customers, which has been the key for the business growing steadily whilst fighting off strong competition from the major transport companies. As Leigh drives a truck himself, it is also a great way to continue the daily face-to-face relationship with each of his customers to ensure they are happy and everything is as they expected.
Not long after the Isuzu began running around the local area, brother Jarrod joined the business and two new Western Star 4800s were purchased through Hartwigs of Shepparton to tackle the longer B-double runs and higher weights. Powered by Caterpillar C15s rated at 550 hp with 18-speed Roadranger gearboxes, they again proved just as reliable as the Isuzu, both on and off-road, which meant the family could remain focused on their customers.
In the initial years, Rankin transport began to use B-double bulk tippers to move grain, but as competition became ever more fierce, the dollars started to disappear, and so they took the decision to get out of that specific grain work and focus on a select group of customers with great potential to themselves to grow in the years ahead.
In aligning his business with others in the local area, Leigh knew by offering a loyalty that national companies couldn’t, he would have a strong business case for the future. It’s an operating premise that has worked very well to the present day.
After the initial three trucks, next came a new Iveco Powerstar in 2012, with a 500 hp Cummins ISX and ZF-AS Tronic AMT chosen and driven by his brother Jarrod. When the work continued to grow, the business wanted to stay loyal to Hartwigs and the Western Star brand that had served them well, so decided to buy a 5800 Western Star with a Caterpillar C13 rated at 485 hp for single farm work, then a 4800 Western Star, with a Detroit this time, fitted with a slimline sleeper to haul a 48-foot Maxi-CUBE fridge van.
With the additional trucks, Leigh called upon local guys he knew well and could rely on to serve his customers to the same standards as the family had established. So, with the help of John, Brett and Greg, the business was in a great position and began to focus on taking wholesale produce to Melbourne and returning with whatever the local farmers needed.
When Leigh decided to hand over the Isuzu to a neighbour, and it was time for him to pick a truck for himself to drive, it was an easy choice to purchase the Western Star 5800SS. As it would be the first truck that he could option up from scratch, Leigh was able to build a very impressive unit through dealing with the guys at Hartwigs.
The 5800 Western Star came with a Euro 5, Detroit DD13 EGR, rated at 450 hp for single work. With 1650 lb-ft torque at 1150-1600 rpm, it could easily meet the task of running to Melbourne and back each day with their 48-foot Vawdrey refrigerated curtainsider loaded to 45.5 ton under HML. With a spec that includes an Eaton UltraShift PLUS and running with Meritor axles and being covered by a five-year warranty, Leigh knew it would be just as reliable as the first truck that set up the business, and the Western Stars that subsequently joined the fleet.
As well as the standard features, Leigh’s Western Star comes with the WABCO anti-lock brake system (ABS) and traction control on all axles fitted with drum brakes. Drum brakes are fitted to everything in the fleet these days to give them the best results when operating in rural areas such as with constant runs onto dusty farms.
The dust and rough roads are further reasons that all their trucks come with JOST ballrace turntables, with the new unit getting a JOST JSK37C Z. JOST is also the choice for the landing legs and pins.
As the whole fleet runs with HML in Victoria, they use Right Weigh systems linked to the drive and trailer axle airbags. These are simple to use and give accurate axle weights so they know everything is compliant before heading out.
One of the benefits of the 5800 is that it already comes with a lot of impressive chrome, but, as the business needed a flagship truck, they opted to add a few extras. Special additions include the Alcoa Dura-Bright alloy wheels, FUP Texas ‘Conway’ bumper from Kentweld in Ravenhall, and the custom-built toolbox plus airtank cover, with steps to match the diesel tanks, from Kyzer Kustoms in nearby Shepparton.
On the inside of the truck, Leigh also added a few extras like the Fresco 3000 cab cooler, Alpine stereo with integrated Bluetooth, the GME TX4500 UHF radio and, most importantly, a Uniden dashcam. As the trucks run down to Melbourne each day, a dashcam has become a must-have insurance policy for the drivers. Something I personally never leave the depot without either.
The new Detroit DD13 is giving great performance and is also a great truck to live with on a daily basis. In terms of fuel, with only 41,000 km on the clock Leigh is already seeing excellent fuel consumption at around 40.6 litres per 100 km (2.45 km/l), which compares extremely well to their other trucks in the fleet. The Western Star 4800 with a Detroit, runs at 46 litres per 100 km (2.17 km/l), whilst the other Western Star with the Caterpillar C13 runs around 49 litres per 100 km (2.04 km/l). Considering all three trucks run similar routes each day, the new truck is doing really well, and this is expected to improve further as the engine beds in.
All the trucks run on fully-synthetic Gulf Western lubricants, enabling the transmissions to go to 300,000 km between changes. With the Detroit engines, Leigh finds that 40,000 km drain intervals using fully-synthetic lubricants are without any issues, but has kept his older trucks with the Caterpillar and Cummins engines at 20,000 km oil drains, just to help them reach old age a little easier.
As with many small family businesses, the general maintenance is performed in-house, once a truck is out of warranty coverage, so being able to double the oil change intervals on the new Detroit’s is a real advantage.
For the tyres, Leigh again stays loyal with the suppliers that have served him well over the years. Numurkah Tyrepower has been there since day-one and always ready to help. As all the trucks run off-road on a regular basis, Leigh has found that Toyo tyres have stood up well. New tyres are purchased on the steers and drives, then, after a regroove, get placed on the trailers until run out. Other brands have been tested, such as the Michelin’s that arrived on the new Western Star, but Toyo has been the best performer all-round.
Rankin Transport has a solid base, with much of the equipment owned outright, and plans to continue to grow with its core customers that grow great produce for the Melbourne wholesalers. Leigh may start to look at PBS options to run with larger refrigerated trailers as customer volumes increase and as new ones come on board, but, needless to say, the Western Star will remain the truck of choice.