PowerTorque visits Clifford Brick and Tile of Ballarat.
When we talk about the transport industry, we tend to generalise and treat it like we are all doing the same job. In essence we are, but within that job are many different niche roles. Quite often it’s those companies that find a niche, and stick to it, that become the greatest success stories. While it might seem risky to commit to only one type of freight, if you do it well it can pay dividends in the long term. One company that has proven this theory, over many years, is Clifford Brick and Tile Transport.
As the name suggests, Clifford Brick and Tile Transport specialises in the distribution of bricks, pavers and roof tiles. From its large 12-acre depot in Ballarat, Clifford’s services all areas of Victoria and southern New South Wales, delivering building products from a variety of manufacturers. It also operates a five-truck fleet in Adelaide, and a single truck in Sydney servicing the same market. In all, the Clifford Brick and Tile Transport fleet includes 40 trucks, most of which are Freightliner and Mercedes-Benz product. The relationship with Mercedes-Benz dates back to 1978, with that original truck remaining in the fleet until 2001.
“In the last three years, we’ve bought about 20 trucks, and that’s been about half and half between Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner,” Peter Clifford said.
“All the Freightliners are powered by either the DD13 or DD15, and we’ve had a good run with them. When we heard that the new Mercedes Actros was going to have basically the same engine, we thought we’d give it a go and bought one of the first new-generation Actros delivered in Australia.
“That truck has now done around 37,000 km (at time of writing), and has returned an average fuel consumption figure, so far, of 42.9 l/100 km. That’s running 70% of the time loaded, and 60% on metropolitan work,” Peter explained.
Given the heavy nature of the freight, Peter was pleased to say that the in-dash weight display is also very accurate. Clifford’s run Mass Management, and so the weight gauges need to be calibrated every month, but, as Peter explained, “Every time we check it, for the Mass Management, it’s within 40 kg of what the weighbridges says.
“The driver wasn’t prepared to trust the dash weights too much in the beginning. There’s a weighbridge next door, so he’d take it into the weighbridge and come back saying it was right again. Now, after a couple of months, he knows it’s right”.
This helps in getting the weight spread right first time around, without the need to weigh the truck and return to the yard to move the load.
“Carting bricks and tiles you are normally up on your weights, but it is good that you can be so confident, and by pushing the button you can see that everything’s right,” Peter said.
In terms of trailers, Clifford’s runs an all Barker fleet. This is another relationship that dates back to 1978.
“When John bought that old Mercedes back in 1978, he bought a secondhand trailer. Barker’s modified it for him, when nobody else was really interested,” said Peter.
“Every trailer we’ve ever bought since has been a Barker, apart from a couple of secondhand trailers we’ve acquired over the years”.
While the relationship started through good service, Peter said that Barker trailers also stand the test of time, and stand up to the work very well. “I sold a 1984 model back before Christmas, and it still never had a crack in the chassis or anything. But still, you’ve got to upgrade eventually,” he said.
All new trailers into the fleet are fitted with EBS braking, but Peter said they still prefer to stick with drum brakes over discs.
“Disc brakes, while they’re a very good brake, you don’t get the mileage out of them that you do with drum brakes,” he said.
“We’ve always tended to run with BPW drum brakes. You do get really good mileage, and really good reliability, and they are a good brake”. He also went to comment on how driver behaviour can be influenced by things such as disc brakes, saying, “People that drive with disc brakes, because they are so good, they tend to drive to them”.
Due to the fact that most of their deliveries are into newly established housing estates, Clifford Brick and Tile Transport doesn’t run any PBS combinations.
“PBS isn’t really any good to us,” Peter explained. “You can’t run into a subdivision on PBS. It is a great thing, but it’s no good to us,” he said, matter of factly.
The third important piece of equipment in the puzzle is the forklift, with Clifford’s again sticking with a one-brand policy.
“They’re all Kubotas,” Peter said. “For what we do, because we cart for different manufacturers, they’re the best overall. Some of the others work well for a particular job, but, to work well for everything, the Kubotax with the four-pronged front is the best for us”.
The four-pronged attachment on the Kubota not only allows for two packs of bricks to be moved at a time, but also brings safety benefits when handling longer loads.
“We also move a lot of kit garages. They might be five metres long, but you can pick them up with the forks spread to 2.5 metres. With the normal forks, you’ve only got a 1.0-metre spread, so it’s a lot more stable,” Peter explained. “They’re also much better off-road, because they’re articulated”.
Most of the servicing on equipment is carried out at the Ballarat depot, with a well set up workshop and full-time mechanics to ensure the job is done properly. A full-length pit means a truck and trailer can be driven into the shed in one piece, with easy access underneath to enable efficient turnaround times.
“These days, the cost of a breakdown on the road is huge. The first thing it does is cost thousands for a tow, and you’re letting your customer down, it’s just easier to do it here,” Peter said.
The depot also has refuelling facilities, which Peter says keeps things simple. “There are two things – you don’t lose the time with people winding up at fuel bowsers elsewhere, but you also don’t have thirty-five drivers going around with fuel cards”.
While the history of Clifford Brick and Tile Transport dates back to 1976, the original people are still active within the business. The company’s relationships with its suppliers also go back nearly as long, proving that good equipment and service really does pay off in the long term. It also shows how the Clifford brothers got it right from the start, choosing good equipment to build their business on.
Operating in a niche market has proven to be a good thing for Clifford Brick and Tile Transport, but, using the right equipment, even though it may not be the cheapest option, has also reaped rewards.