Using a state-of-the-art control system and working out of a yard where the outer north-west of Sydney’s sprawl meets the farming land it is swallowing wholesale, Parklea Sand and Soil is one of the many fleets busily ferrying bulk materials around the Sydney region, supplying everything from sand and gravel to mulch and topsoil to large-scale developers, landscapers and the weekend warrior.
The operation has been running its innovative telematics system for more than two years. Over this time, the process has been developed and slowly integrated into the business.
Mitchell Schembri represents the second generation of the family to get involved in the business. Two brothers, Michael and Ray, have been followed into the sand-and-gravel game by Michael’s sons Luke and Mitchell, as well as Rhys, Ray’s son.
“We have been fully running the new system since March,” says Mitchell. “We did a lot of changes all at once – we introduced the Allotrac Transport Management Software system and at the same time converted the business accounts from MYOB to Xero.
“If we had our time again, we would definitely have staggered the introduction, but it just didn’t work out that way. The Allotrac system, we have been working with it for two-and-a-half years and before that we were researching a system for about two years.
“Up until then our entire operation was on a handwritten, paper basis. Everything went in a carbon book and then was passed to an allocator who moved pieces of paper around, clipping them onto particular day runs.”
When an order was phoned in it had to be handled in a number of different ways. It had to be allocated to a particular type of truck, then to a delivery date. There were also notes about any special requirements, whether the product needed pre-mixing or paying for via credit card, for example. The delivery note would go with the driver and they also had to create an account note on site. When the truck returned to the office, it was all handed over to the people handling the accounts.
“One of our biggest problems was when dockets went missing,” says Mitchell. “We would have customers who had been with us for 20 years phoning and saying they had ordered something from us and had not received an invoice. It’s very simple for the drivers, the office staff, for everyone to lose one small piece of paper. We had grown too much for it to be an efficient process anymore.”
This is a point many trucking businesses reach where they are trying to retain the small-business relationship with the customers, but need to move to big business–type systems.
“When we started to look around the market at the kind of system we would need, we found a lot of the stuff on offer didn’t fit with our business,” says Mitchell. “We were looking for something tailored to us. What we liked about the Allotrac system, when we started to talk to them about it, was that it was and is being developed every day. The bare bones of what they had looked amazing to us.
“The interface looked simple and we knew that if we were going to get the drivers – my father and my uncle – to use the system, it would need to be easy to use. When you look at the system now, it looks completely different to the first one we saw.
“Their support is probably the biggest thing – we are on the phone to them all the time. To begin with it looked like a very big risk but looking back on it, it was the best decision we ever made.
“Allotrac has allowed us to grow with them. We come up with new ideas and talk to them. We are trying to make things more efficient and it’s all industry based. We go to them and tell them that in the transport industry we need to be able to do this or that.”
The telematics provider will also come to Parklea with ideas and get their feedback on whether it would work in the transport environment or not. The process of development is a constant to and fro of ideas and practical solutions.