Bevan Tennant has based his business on customer service, and it works
At a time when most drivers are considering their retirement options, Bevan Tennant was thinking outside the square, putting his knowledge to the test and giving up the driver’s seat for an office desk.
Born in Wales, Bevan left school at the age of 16 to shovel ten tonnes of coal each day into a tip truck. The tipper then headed back to the local coal yard where it was dumped, at which point the teenager then shovelled it into individual sacks, which were then delivered to the local households.
“I was really fit in those days. It was hard work but we didn’t know anything else. You bagged the coal and then carried the sacks on your back down the side of each house and tipped them into the coal bunkers,” said Bevan.
Arriving in Australia at the age of 18, Bevan started driving a bread truck. When a friend suggested upgrading to drive a tanker carrying waste products he jumped at the chance, increasing his salary and opening up the opportunity to move into what became a lifelong career in the waste industry.
“It was about 1971 that I shifted from driving tankers to front-lift units. As the industry developed I bought my first Volvo as a subbie in 1996 and specialised in walking-floor work,” said Bevan.
“In 2006 I decided there was probably more to work than just driving for other people, and when I moved from Collex to WSN, now rebranded as SUEZ, I bought my own walking-floor trailer.
“Looking back I can honestly say that at the time I had no forward plans. I was already 56 years old and I had always just been a driver for larger companies. I had never seen a computer until I started this. I am now employing experts in different fields to ensure we realistically move forwards. We know what we are doing but we need to document every aspect of the business. Now I wish I had made the move 20 years earlier.
“What I had in my favour was that through working as a driver I knew what needed to be done to provide the right levels of customer service. I offered something that wasn’t already there in terms of integrity and service, and that’s how I built my company.
“In the following ten years I kept finding new contracts and growing my business. I spoke to other companies looking for better service and bought four new MANs and four trailers and dived in at the deep end with walking-floor trailers. Bulk Waste Transport is now the largest in its field of independent operators as the leading waste transport operator in the area.
“Today we operate 35 bulk transport vehicles, the oldest of which is only three years. Through having been a driver I knew what was possible and how we could provide a better service. I have always been focused on the customer but I also make sure the drivers are well looked after. We have a great relationship with our drivers, so much so that if I retired I would want to come and work for me.
“We employ a lot of older drivers with ages between 65 and 72 years and find them more reliable and consistent. Payments are based on a load rate and linked to an hourly rate. A typical ten-hour day would involve four loads with the first 7.6 hours at normal time, the following two hours at time and a half, plus 0.4 of an hour at double time.
“It is easily understood by the drivers. It keeps the wheels moving, and if there is breakdown or bad weather and they are held up they revert to the hourly rate. If they get a flat tyre they get paid the hourly rate while they wait until the tyre is fixed.
“We do everything by the book and we do it right. I’ve built the business by being very honest, and as a past driver myself I look at things from a driver’s perspective. One of my sons drives for me and another is working with a major interstate operator. It remains to be seen whether they want to become more involved in the future.
“When everyone else was buying old Leaders and International Trucks from Collex, I was the one out buying new Volvos as well as the MAN trucks. The Volvos were on contract maintenance and I ended up with 16 MANs. What a good truck they were, and superbly quiet to drive, but they suffered from low resale values.
“It was when I traded the MAN Trucks in to purchase new vehicles that I swung over to the Mercedes-Benz product. The local Daimler dealership gave us the best offer on the trade with the MANs and that started our relationship with Mercedes-Benz.
“There was a period when we needed ten new trucks in a hurry to satisfy a new contract, and at that stage we bought ten CAT Trucks in 2012. They proved very expensive to keep on the road and we consequently disposed of them after three and a half years of a five-year lease. At that point through the relationship we had with Mercedes-Benz we were able to increase our fleet to include 25 Actros units and 10 Volvo FM450s,” said Bevan.
With an eye on minimising fatigue, the units in the fleet are all powered by the 480 hp Daimler engine and feature the PowerShift automated transmission. The Volvos are also all fitted with the I-Shift automated manual transmission.
“Operating costs in this business are something you cope with. You can have damage coming from loading or unloading in the tips. I’ve always aimed at getting a vehicle that can do the job rather than analysing every single cost factor,” said Bevan.
“We run our vehicle leasing programmes with Mercedes-Benz for five years and for our servicing requirements we work with the local dealership, which monitors the service intervals and organises the scheduling. We also have our own full-time mechanic that monitors service requirements on the fleet. All the vehicles are additionally satellite tracked, plus we use a programme called Service Tracker that is a workshop-based programme as part of the certification process.
“The semitrailer fleet comprises 6×4 prime movers coupled to tri-axle walking floors and we also pull quad-axled 48-foot long EJEKTA semitrailers built by MaxiTRANS that are owned by SUEZ.
“All our trailers are EBS equipped with disc brakes under NHVR accreditation, while the 48-foot EJEKTA quads are PBS approved, with disc brake sand roll stability. The tonnage of a quad is 50.5 tonnes and our prime movers had to be approved by NHVR in order to pull quads with approval.
“There is no advantage in operating quad-axled walking-floor trailers as with bilk green waste it’s all about volume. You could put ten axles under them but you still can’t get more than 23 tonnes maximum payload. Twin lids operated hydraulically cover the load.
“The Volvos are handled differently as these are all on contract maintenance and that gives us the benefit of knowing the all-up costs at any stage. Their service schedules result from the on-board computer data while the NHVR accredited trucks have a monthly service requirement,” said Bevan.
As well as running standard 6×4 Actros prime movers, Bulk Waste Transport also operates four 8×4 hooklifts.
When asked if the company had considered 6×2 or 8×2 units, Bevan replied that the difficulty of maintaining traction when operating on the poor surfaces available in some tips made traction a cause for concern.
“It can be very wet and slippery in some tips and even with load apportioning valves and lifting axles there’s no substitute for a tandem drive.
“Customer service is what it all comes down to. I believe that it’s the people in the service position that make the difference. If you get the right people in charge of service it can work very well. If you get the wrong people it lets them down,” he added.