Long-haul march

Freight As­sist’s swift growth from start-up aided by good net­work and spread­ing risk

Australian Transport News - - Contents - WORDS RICKY FRENCH

Freight As­sist’s swift growth from start-up aided by good net­work and spread­ing risk

Dean Wrigley knows bet­ter than most how im­por­tant it is to land on your feet. Af­ter work­ing in transport all his life, he took a “sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial loss” af­ter an un­happy part­ing from the pre­vi­ous com­pany he’d been with for 16 years. He had to turn things around fast. “I knew I was go­ing to go out alone,” he says, “but I was start­ing with no rev­enue at all.”

From noth­ing, though, big things grew fast. Af­ter only nine months Freight As­sist grew to a 4 mil­lion dol­lar busi­ness. Fast for­ward five years and it’s now turn­ing over $10-12 mil­lion a year, pump­ing out around 30 B-dou­bles of con­sol­i­dated loads around the coun­try ev­ery week, us­ing 80 per cent com­pany ve­hi­cles. And Wrigley has no plans to slow down. “We’re at the cross­roads now,” he says. “Where for five years we’ve proved our­selves, now it’s time to push for­ward.”

The na­tional line-haul car­rier’s head­quar­ters are in Mel­bourne with branches in Syd­ney and Brisbane, and agents han­dle the dis­tri­bu­tion across the other states.

It has re­cently com­pleted a move to new premises in Al­tona af­ter out­grow­ing the pre­vi­ous shared de­pot and ware­house. The costs are greater but so is the po­ten­tial for growth.

Ac­cord­ing to Wrigley, the rapid growth of the busi­ness can be put down to a com­bi­na­tion of high stan­dards, the right peo­ple, a flex­i­ble work­force, di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of ser­vices, and an un­com­pro­mis­ing be­lief in not “drop­ping your pants to cus­tomers”. He un­der­stands the volatile world of transport and says he’s seen too many busi­nesses go un­der in re­cent years to risk be­com­ing a statis­tic.

“I won’t take a hit,” Wrigley says. “We have to be sus­tain­able.”

EARLY DAYS

A key to the overnight suc­cess was draw­ing on a life­time of con­tacts and cus­tomers and con­vinc­ing them to come across to Freight As­sist.

It was also un­der­stand­ing the im­por­tance of set­ting up a good na­tional net­work with agents around Aus­tralia, and the need to sur­round your­self with good peo­ple both in the of­fice and be­hind the wheels of your fleet.

“We started with noth­ing and used sub­con­trac­tors, line-haul con­trac­tors and agents in other states. So ef­fec­tively we freight-for­ward. No com­pany can be in 100 per cent con­trol of their dis­tri­bu­tion net­work. I set up an Aus­tralia-wide net­work in a week.”

But the early days were un­doubt­edly stress­ful.

“We were a start-up com­pany,” Wrigley says. “Fail­ure was not an op­tion.

“To get cred­i­bil­ity you have to main­tain ser­vice lev­els. And to get fi­nance you have to make sure you can sup­port it. You don’t get ex­tra sup­port from the govern­ment just for be­ing a start-up.

“They still want their 4.5 per cent pay­roll tax and their 4.75 per cent WorkCover. Then you get to the point where you make some money in your first 12 months and have to come up with 30 per cent com­pany tax. It’s daunt­ing.”

Up un­til re­cently, Freight As­sist was op­er­at­ing out of a shared space, some­thing Wrigley says caus­ing in­creas­ing headaches.

“There was too much thor­ough­fare, it wasn’t clean and there were safety as­pects I wasn’t happy with.”

SPREAD­ING THE LOAD

The blank can­vas of the new leased premises in Al­tona has done won­ders. A key fea­ture is the ad­di­tion of warehousing space, which is fast fill­ing up.

The SSI Schaefer rack­ing cost $100,000, but Wrigley is al­ready see­ing a re­turn.

“We’re con­stantly look­ing at diver­si­fy­ing and adding rev­enue streams. One of those is warehousing.

“I love static stor­age. If I can fill those racks, this shed’s paid for.

“My transport side of the busi­ness can be more prof­itable be­cause it’s not ab­sorb­ing a $40,000-a-month cost.

“We only need $10,000 a week to pay for our rent, and we’re not far off it.”

As well as di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of ser­vices, Wrigley also be­lieves in di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of cus­tomer to min­imise risk.

“I’m not look­ing at one ma­jor cus­tomer to fill the shed. I want 20 cus­tomers.

“If you lose a ma­jor cus­tomer that can re­ally af­fect you.”

He says that phi­los­o­phy per­me­ates his whole busi­ness out­look.

“We’re not af­ter the big fish – the mil­lion dol­lar ac­count. I don’t want cus­tomers think­ing they can dic­tate terms to me. We’re not afraid to say no if we have to.”

It sounds harsh but the re­al­ity is that Wrigley has seen what hap­pens if prices get driven down to un­sus­tain­able lev­els.

“Cus­tomers and bro­kers will try to save a dol­lar here and there, and things suf­fer,” he says.

“Com­pli­ance suf­fers. Main­te­nance suf­fers. You feel the pinch and start tak­ing

on busi­ness you shouldn’t take on. Stan­dards drop. I’ll only align my­self with bro­kers who want me to re­main in busi­ness.

“Why should my good cus­tomers sub­sidise my bad ones?”

Freight As­sist na­tional busi­ness man­ager Brendan Tate says run­ning high- qual­ity, clean equip­ment is in­te­gral to good busi­ness prac­tice.

“If you’re run­ning in­fe­rior equip­ment, or if it’s not main­tained, the wheels are go­ing to fall off be­cause of how much reg­u­la­tion is now out there,” he says, speak­ing per­haps only part-metaphor­i­cally.

“You don’t want to make your­self known to the au­thor­i­ties or you’ll get red-flagged.

“I’ve de­vel­oped great re­la­tion­ships with the reg­u­lat­ing au­thor­i­ties across Aus­tralia, and we’re a mem­ber of the Vic­to­rian Transport As­so­ci­a­tion.”

OWN­ER­SHIP AD­VAN­TAGE

“I love see­ing my gear on the high­way,” says Wrigley, who is of­ten sent videos of his trucks cruis­ing Aus­tralia’s free­ways. It’s the sim­ple sat­is­fac­tion that makes get­ting out of bed in the morn­ing worth it.

Al­though he started the busi­ness us­ing only sub­bies, Freight As­sist is now 80 per cent com­pany ve­hi­cles.

It’s a Volvo-led fleet that in­cludes three FH16 700s, one FH16 540, one FH13 Glo­be­trot­ter and a FM500 for lo­cal work.

The com­pany also runs a Ken­worth and a Nis­san UD prime mover.

Wrigley’s got a soft spot for HiLux utes, which he says are great for brand­ing. He’s moved away from com­pany-owned rigids, though, mostly be­cause it was hard to find good driv­ers.

All the trucks are au­to­matic and all go back to the place of pur­chase for main­te­nance. Wrigley says run­ning your gear also gives you the added ben­e­fit of fuel re­bates.

“CMV Volvo is one of our ma­jor sup­pli­ers,” Wrigley says. “You can’t fault their af­ter-sales ser­vice; they don’t leave you hang­ing if you have a truck off the road.”

He says on one mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion a truck had to go in for a new man­i­fold and CMV de­liv­ered a re­place­ment to Freight As­sist’s de­pot that same night, with­out be­ing asked.

The trail­ers are all Kruegers – 16 in to­tal – with dou­ble-drops used for short-haul. They’re all DG reg­is­tered, and all driv­ers are bulk DG li­cenced.

Tate says en­sur­ing all driv­ers (in­clud­ing sub­bies) have all the re­quired li­cences for the freight Freight As­sist carry is essen­tial.

“It makes it eas­ier for our op­er­a­tions guys to al­lo­cate jobs if the driv­ers are flex­i­ble and in­ter­change­able,” he says.

It’s not only ve­hi­cles and trail­ers that Wrigley is keen to keep in the com­pany. He’s re­cently in­vested in a new truck wash bay (he was pre­vi­ously spend­ing $5000 a month out­sourc­ing the job), there’s a fuel tank com­ing to the new premises, and the AdBlue tank is al­ready here. Hav­ing the new premises gives the busi­ness more than just au­ton­omy.

Wrigley says that even though he’s pay­ing an ex­tra $20,000 a month, he be­lieves he’ll save that money in ef­fi­cien­cies.

“The amount of down time in not be­ing able to get to our trucks at the old place was shock­ing.”

STAFF VERSATILITY

Freight As­sist is first and fore­most a fam­ily busi­ness. Wrigley’s wife, Karin, is the com­pany’s fi­nance man­ager, daugh­ter Brit­tany is an ad­min­is­tra­tion as­sis­tant, and Tate is his nephew.

“There’s room for all our staff to grow in this busi­ness”

But it’s the in­ter­change­abil­ity of the of­fice staff that has made for a more seam­less op­er­a­tion.

“The prob­lem with some busi­nesses is key per­son­nel can’t take time off be­cause there was no one else who could fill their role,” Wrigley says.

It’s one rea­son he has made train­ing across com­pe­ten­cies a pri­or­ity at Freight As­sist.

“We make sure peo­ple are adapt­able, we move them around and give them the right train­ing to be able to fill other roles.

“It’s about cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple. There’s room for all our staff to grow in this busi­ness.”

IT EN­GINE ROOM

Some­times the devil you know will do just fine. Wrigley went with TS2000 – a transport man­age­ment sys­tem re­de­vel­oped by OneByOne Dig­i­tal – be­cause it was a sys­tem he knew well.

He says the $5000 out­right price tag was an at­trac­tion for the start-up busi­ness, and, al­though it’s now quite an­ti­quated, it works well for them.

Tate says they use Xero for ac­coun­tancy and pay­roll (in­voices are au­to­mat­i­cally up­loaded to Xero), and all their HR, on­board­ing, cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and in­duc­tions are done through the cloud-based HR soft­ware firm Em­ploy­ment Hero.

A re­cent ad­di­tion has been the ware­house man­age­ment sys­tem, Car­ton Cloud.

“We re­ceive pick­ing slips, scan to or­der, and the cus­tomer gets no­ti­fied au­to­mat­i­cally as soon as the or­der is com­pleted,” Wrigley says.

“It takes the hu­man er­ror el­e­ment out of it. You pay per month and it’s all in the cloud.”

Reg­u­lar GPS re­ports on the trucks mon­i­tor speed and fa­tigue man­age­ment.

To get the most of out of a driver’s avail­able time, the driv­ers don’t come in to work un­til their trailer is loaded, with 90 per cent of the load­ing work done by staff on the floor.

“Our safety record speaks for it­self,” Wrigley says. “Five years and no in­ci­dents on the high­ways.”

SKY THE LIMIT

While the last five years have been a whirl­wind for Wrigley and the team at Freight As­sist, he’s not get­ting com­pla­cent.

He knows how quickly for­tunes can change and how a good busi­ness has to be con­tin­u­ally adapt­ing and think­ing for­ward.

“We’re a lot fur­ther ad­vanced than I ex­pected to be af­ter five years. I cer­tainly didn’t ex­pect our rev­enues to be as good as they are to­day. But you can’t sit in busi­ness think­ing you can’t – or shouldn’t – grow fur­ther.

“You’ve got to take the next step. Ef­fec­tively you’ve got no choice.”

Op­po­site: Freight As­sist man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Dean Wrigley Be­low: A Freight As­sist work­horse – the Volvo FH16 540 Glo­be­trot­ter

Above: Dean Wrigley says he’s look­ing to shore up ad­di­tional rev­enue streams by in­creas­ing warehousing space Be­low: Dean Wrigley chats to cus­tomer ser­vice of­fi­cer Tanya Ni­bloe

Op­po­site: Ad­min­is­tra­tion as­sis­tant Brit­tany Wrigley and na­tional busi­ness man­ager Brendan Tate at the new Al­tona premises; A pal­let is read­ied for wrap­ping at the new Al­tona yard

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