When a business is approaching 130 years of operation it’s a sure bet they’re doing something right. For South Australia’s Koolunga Garage Farm Supplies, it’s a case of moving with the times and delivering quality service.
Situated 200 kilometres north of Adelaide in a rich agricultural area, the Koolunga township boasts a population of 195; seven streets (named first street, second street and so on); and a pub. Right next door to the pub, surrounded by gum trees and late 19th century dwellings, is Koolunga Garage Farm Supplies. At a time when businesses in tiny rural townships are struggling country-wide, this gem has been in the same family since doors opened. In its time it has operated as a blacksmith, a workshop, a farm machinery repairer/dealer and now a car and truck mechanic and agricultural chemical and merchandise supplier.
The fifth generation is now at the helm, a band of cousins who each have their role, including Brad Jones who heads up the truck side of operations. According to Brad the business’ success is down to relationships, quality workmanship and reputation.
“We know everyone we work for. We’ve got a lot of loyal customers and word of mouth is growing every year,” said Brad. He explained that most of their customers are local farmers from within a 50 kilometre radius, but word is spreading and some customers are now travelling up to 130 kilometres.
“I pride myself on doing a job properly. I also understand how the farming game works and know that sometimes a job has to be done now,” he said, “We work until it’s done and during busy times, like harvest, we work day and night. Our customers support us all year because we support them when they need it most.”
Brad’s cousin looks after the cars, leaving Brad and his apprentice to concentrate on trucks. Aside from a couple of owner drivers, most of his customers are farmers who have their own trucks, predominantly for grain transporting, with some also carting stock and hay.
“In the last 10 years a lot of farmers have gone from having nothing to having two trucks. They’ve also gone from singles to B-doubles, so it’s definitely growing as farm businesses get bigger.”
Brad grew up on a farm but, like many country kids, fled to the city and then overseas for a while.
“There wasn’t an opportunity to stay on the farm so I ended up going to Adelaide and doing my apprenticeship with CMV Trucks, which is Kenworth. From there I went to Canada and worked as a mechanic on a harvest crew,” he said.
He then headed to the mines in Queensland, where he concentrated on highway trucks, including a fleet of oil tankers, before a cancer diagnosis for his uncle bought him back.
“In my time off I’d come back and help him out, then he got sicker and sicker and I ended up just staying and taking over the workshop with my cousin.”
It’s been 10 years since Brad came back to the business full time and the truck side of the operation has gone from strength to strength. Ironically, but not surprisingly given its location, one of the biggest challenges for Koolunga Garage Farm Supplies is freight, particularly during harvest time.
“We’ve got limited freight services coming to us from Adelaide. Farming’s not a 9-to-5 job and we can’t always wait days for a part, especially during harvest time, so this was a real issue for us,” explained Brad.
Fortunately, he found a solution thanks to a partnership with leading after-market truck and trailer parts business, Truckline. Brad initially turned to Truckline because he had had dealings with the business in previous employment, but it wasn’t long before a strong relationship developed.
“Truckline Wingfield would go out of their way to get a part up here, with staff often driving it to the freight company themselves so it arrived before cut off,” said Brad.
“Now we’ve got consignment stock, that’s been set up in the last year, and it’s just made it easier. Things have to keep moving, especially during harvest. If I can carry a part here on consignment it makes my business better – I can get people going quickly without having money sitting in stock on the shelf.”
Brad repairs all makes of truck, American, European and Japanese, and carries most of the high turnover parts, eliminating many of the freight issues he had previously.
“With consignment stock we rarely have once-off requirements now, but if something does pop up I just ring Steve at Truckline Wingfield. On the odd occasion that he doesn’t have it he rings his contacts for me, finds it and gets it to me. So I don’t have to spend half an hour on the phone,” said Brad, who has also gained an advice line as part of the deal.
“I do turn to Steve if I’ve got a problem,” laughed Brad, “Even if it’s not something Truckline deals in. Steve has actually rung a couple of his customers in the past in order to track down someone who can help me. I also ask him things like tooling and he’ll ring his reps for me and figure it out.”
It all comes down to knowing your customers and knowing their priority, which is exactly what Brad strives for at Koolunga Garage Farm Supplies.
“When it comes to both parts and service, most of us are looking for value for money. Truckline’s quality for the price is pretty well spot on which is good for my customers – most of whom are farmers who want quality but don’t want to pay through the roof. And if it’s good for my customers it’s good for me.”
Brad’s Top Five Tips for minimising down time:
- Use quality parts
- Use a quality repairer
- Keep up to date with servicing/repairs
- Do repairs right the first time
- Don’t cut corners on repairs