The key to growing a trucking business is keeping your options open, being as flexible as possible and doing the job right and this is true when running express, out West. Diesel News speaks to a Perth-based operator who seems to have hit the right note with customers, learning the lessons from problems early on.
The area around Perth airport is where it’s all happening in Western Australian trucking terms. Anyone who is involved in carting stuff anywhere in the sandgroper state almost inevitably has some kind of presence in the area.
In an expansive industrial area jammed in between the Kewdale Fright Terminal and its rail yard, and the junction of the Roe and Tonkin Highways, is the base for a small but growing operation, Sullivan Logistics. The name may sound grand but the company’s owner, Tim Sullivan, registered the business name when working as an owner-driver with big ambitions.
In fact, the business is better known under the brand of Kalexpress, a name which gives away the roots of the business, growing from a one-truck operation running overnight express from Perth to Kalgoorlie every night.
The operation has only recently taken possession of this yard, having grown out of several in the area over the years. At first glance it looks like the business is struggling to fill the available space, but, in fact, at its current rate of growth, the decision to move should pay off in the next couple of years.
Tim Sullivan himself is one of those personalities who make up a big part of the trucking industry. He’s a straight up and down sort of a guy, not afraid of hard work and loyal to anyone who does right by him. As a result, he has built up a strong team to keep the business growing.
Tim started in the truck game when he was 19. Like many people in the trucking industry, Tim comes from a farming background. When his father sold their farm, he invested in a truck for himself and for his son. That first truck was an Isuzu KS 21 and Tim plied his trade doing multi-drop work around the metropolitan area.
“After a couple of years I saw an advert in the newspaper for a company called Overnighters to do a run south out of Perth,” says Tim. “They were offering 52cents per kilometre, I agreed to do it, then I didn’t get the gig.
“A few months later a job with Couriers Australia came up. The deal was you had to buy an Isuzu FSR. When I started on that contract it was 6000 km per week with this 160hp truck. With a 22 foot long, 8 foot high pantech on it. You didn’t set any world records with it.
“After four and a half years, I then owned the truck and used it to start carting wild emus. I carried them in the pan. I had it ventilated and fitted it out with fans inside. The trick with emus was to try and load them quietly. You had to wear leather chaps because they would kick out and have sharp nails.
“I was only in my early 20s and used to run out into the paddock and catch them. When you caught up with them, as they ran along the fence line, you could get hold of their little wings and steer them up into the race. Once they get into a covered-in area they settle down. I was also carting kit homes at the time. We used to go all over the state with that work.”
At this point, a major change for Australia Post meant a wide variety of post distribution contracts all over Southern WA came up for tender. Yet again, Tim did not succeed in his tender, but did get a chance to get to know the Australia Post manager in charge of contracts. During this changeover period there were a number of industrial actions where the drivers went on strike. When these occurred Tim was called in to handle some of the mail runs. Six months later, the contractors who had won the Kalgoorlie mail contact went bust.
Heavy Lifting Macks
These days the heavy lifting in the current fleet is handled by the five Mack Superliners. These are turned over after four years on the road. At that point they will be close to 1,000,000 km. All of the trucks are rated at 90 tonne enabling them to handle any of the tasks within the fleet.
There is also a wide selection of rigid trucks in the fleet, five 12 tonners, five nine tonners plus a swarm of light duty trucks to handle the running around in the city. There are also a few vans in the fleet to handle express jobs and smaller parcel pick-ups.
A wide selection of trailers ensures the kind of flexibility the fleet needs. There are curtainsiders, flat-tops, floats, but there are also a couple of tipper and some livestock trailers to add to the flexibility. However, surprisingly, there aren’t any emu trailers.