CUS­TOM MADE

If you thought the phoenix ris­ing from the ashes was im­pres­sive, Cus­tom Bus com­ing back from the dead yet again makes it one tough budgeri­gar, for sure. ABC magazine headed out to its new lo­ca­tion in Syd­ney’s west to hear more about the fairy tale – and s

ABC (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS/IM­AGES FABIAN COT­TER

Though many thought it was done and dusted for good, few counted on an­other sort of Dunn when it came to sal­vaging Cus­tom Bus from the dead. We had a look around this new in­ter­pre­ta­tion of an iconic Syd­ney bus­maker. Fabian Cot­ter re­ports.

WELL, FEW WOULD have picked this one. But, then again, in the Aus­tralasian bus world it’s quite fair to say that crazy, un­fore­seen things can and of­ten do hap­pen. And, truth be told, that’s prob­a­bly a large part of the beauty of it.

With the Dunn Group – of Telfords Bus & Coach fame – buy­ing Cus­tom (nee: Cus­tom Coaches, nee: Cus­tom Bus) from ad­min­is­tra­tor Wor­rell’s ear­lier this year, its place as an iconic, his­toric and ‘much loved by many’ lo­cal body builder is pretty much the bus man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try feel- good story of the year. Or quite pos­si­bly of the decade.

Too much of a stretch? Per­haps – but it all de­pends on where you sit. If you are an out­side ob­server just happy to see the brand name still ex­ist? Maybe it’s a big stretch. One of the work­ers who was out of a job as a con­se­quence of it go­ing into ad­min­is­tra­tion a sec­ond time? Well, it’d be a ‘ big frothy bub­ble bath with an ice- cool lager and a packet of Tim Tams to the side’-type feel- good story, for sure.

We headed out to its new lo­ca­tion in St Mary’s (18-30 Val­lance Street, St Marys, NSW, to be ex­act) to sus it all out and came away might­ily im­pressed. New stream­lined pro­cesses, a faster bus-build­ing turn­around time, am­bi­tious ap­pren­tice­ship scheme to come, plus a keen in­ter­est to ten­der for the lu­cra­tive Bris­bane Metro Project – a AUD$944 mil­lion project us­ing

high-ca­pac­ity, high-fre­quency ar­tic­u­lated ‘ve­hi­cles’ – means it’s still Cus­tom in­deed – but not as many would know it.

NEW HOME SWEET HOME

The new-look Cus­tom’s western Syd­ney lo­ca­tion was specif­i­cally

…the lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try feel­good story of the year – or pos­si­bly the decade.

cho­sen to en­sure the suc­cess of an im­pend­ing ap­pren­tice­ship scheme, with 20 due to start their trades ed­u­ca­tion within the next few months, says Cus­tom Bus CEO Scott Dunn.

In what will be a boon for not just the lo­cal econ­omy but the greater Syd­ney re­gion and Aus­tralian man­u­fac­tur­ing, the am­bi­tious ap­pren­tice­ship scheme in­tends to mir­ror a past pat­tern of Cus­tom em­ployee re­ten­tion, fu­ture job se­cu­rity and or ap­pren­tice ‘re­turn’ – as has oc­curred since The Dunn Group bought the rem­nants of the pre­vi­ous Cus­tom it­er­a­tion.

“I pur­chased the busi­ness… We had three weeks to move off site and find a new one. So we pur­chased the busi­ness, found a site, moved the busi­ness within three weeks … What­ever we left [at Villa­wood] after three weeks we lost,” ex­plained Dunn to ABC magazine, ex­clu­sively at the time.

“I started with noth­ing, so I was go­ing to make sure I grabbed ev­ery­thing,” he ex­plained, cheek­ily, at a time when there was no new site to move things to.

“I had been look­ing around for one, but I didn’t have one at the time. I [knew I] wanted to move it west Syd­ney, so we can at­tract the labour – it’s bet­ter so we can start ap­pren­tice­ships.

“The idea is, in the next few months, we’ll have 20 new ap­pren­tices start with the busi­ness and bring them up through Cus­tom. And that’s re­ally im­por­tant for the fu­ture of this busi­ness,” Dunn said.

“So, for ex­am­ple, our head of op­er­a­tions, who runs all the pro­duc­tion, started as a young ap­pren­tice many years ago at Cus­tom. And he’s in his late 30s now, but 20 years ago he was an ap­pren­tice. And that’s the fu­ture now. We’ve got a lot of good peo­ple in here that started like that. And worked at Cus­tom for a long time.

He added: “A lot of Aus­tralian op­er­a­tors are re­ally pleased that we are still build­ing buses in Syd­ney. We’ve got to make sure that we stay com­pet­i­tive, that we give a good ser­vice, and do a bet­ter job than any­one else can do.”

Cur­rently, about 120 peo­ple are work­ing at the new Cus­tom Bus en­tity. Its trad­ing name is Cus­tom Bus, but com­pany name is now Cus­tom Bus Group Pty Ltd, with a new ABN.

Dunn says he bought all the IP and the trad­ing names and all the as­sets from the ad­min­is­tra­tors [ Wor­rells].

DO­ING IT RIGHT

“Once we get the ap­pren­tices in we’ll have some young work­ers here. We have none presently, but I want to get the sys­tem

go­ing, get it all or­gan­ised, and then we will have a big in­flux, he said.

“We’ll start with hav­ing 20 this year, but we don’t want to set them on un­til we have ev­ery­thing ar­ranged. We have to set them up right. We have to have the right pro­cesses and do things for them prop­erly,” ex­plained Dunn, who was him­self an ap­pren­tice me­chanic in the UK when aged 16.

“This year re­ally is about get­ting things back go­ing, which we’ve achieved. We are de­liv­er­ing ve­hi­cles.

“The next year is to re­ally re­de­fine Cus­tom, and I mean that by new prod­ucts, a new im­age, good sup­port, and ad­dress­ing … bad parts be­fore - such as [not] de­liv­er­ing ve­hi­cles on time, and sup­port was poor.

“So it’s about re-po­si­tion­ing our busi­ness in the next 12 months, re­ally. Get in some new prod­ucts, make them lighter, more cost ef­fi­cient to build, [use] quicker build pro­cesses, and new ma­chin­ery which is go­ing to help us stream­line a lot of it…

“The busi­ness can def­i­nitely ex­pand at this phys­i­cal premises. We could build 500 units a year out of this fac­tory. Quite eas­ily. We’re a cer­tainty for three lines. We are only re­ally run­ning one line at the mo­ment prop­erly.”

“We are cre­at­ing and keep­ing peo­ple’s jobs, giv­ing needed skills to ap­pren­tices – and this is a good part of Syd­ney to do that,” he ex­plained.

A CASE IN POINT

Robert Lan­teri – who was at Sca­nia and is now NSW sales man­ager – started his ap­pren­tice­ship at Cus­tom.

“I started in 1997. I was a bit sur­prised to hear Cus­tom had been bought again be­cause, like ev­ery­one, I thought it was done and dusted. It’s good to see it come back up and rise again.

“It is an in­dus­try which I think we can still play well in in Aus­tralia. It is a re­quired in­dus­try, with all the pub­lic trans­port,” Lan­teri said.

“It’s good to see it all up and run­ning again. I be­lieve in our prod­uct, I be­lieve the qual­ity is re­ally good. So back to the big three, if you like: Vol­gren, Bustech and Cus­tom. It is a healthy bat­tle­ground. It’s ex­cit­ing times ahead.

“We want to keep a man­u­fac­turer in Syd­ney, in Western Syd­ney, so there’s jobs for Syd­ney – and Cus­tom is part of the bus his­tory [here], so to be able to con­tinue is great. And the ex­cit­ing thing for me is that it has gone back into a fam­ily busi­ness, so that has lots of ad­van­tages for the bus in­dus­try with it go­ing back into fam­ily hands.

“Sca­nia was a great place to work at, but this was just some­thing that I couldn’t say no to. To come back to your grass­roots is re­ally spe­cial.

“Yes­ter­day, I asked a few of the boys here what’s it like and they said ‘yeah, look – the vibe and the cul­ture here is just fan­tas­tic’.

“I mean, here’s Ed­uardo Rec­chi; we started out as ap­pren­tices on the pro­duc­tion line years ago [at Cus­tom] and here we are work­ing to­gether just a par­ti­tion away from each other.

“Billy May was also at Cus­tom when I was there. I’m start­ing to feel my age, mate. I say ‘gee, they’ve been here for a long time, but then I’ve got to point the fin­ger back at me,” he laughed.

And an­other, Chris Park also worked at Cus­tom for al­most 20 years and is now head of engi­neer­ing, says Dunn.

…have 20 new ap­pren­tices start with the busi­ness and bring them up through Cus­tom.

THE BIG MOVE

“So we moved all the ware­house in, that was the first job. We moved all the ma­te­ri­als in, which was a big job on its

own. It was all va­cant, so there was noth­ing on site – not a piece of rack­ing shelf, no crane, no booths, noth­ing. It was an empty tim­ber shed. But it was a good site to move to,” Dunn ex­plained.

“We brought the big crane. We got engi­neers in, made the posts. Could you imag­ine this site had no electrics, no air (pres­surised), noth­ing? All the elec­tric three-face, all the gas weld­ing – it’s all had to be done in the last 11 weeks. And now we are build­ing buses in Syd­ney. I think it’s amaz­ing.

“It’s gone from tim­ber to steel. So we moved $8 mil­lion worth of parts and ma­te­ri­als for the pro­duc­tion line in that first three weeks. We moved 23 part-built ve­hi­cles and we moved all the equip­ment and as­sets.

“Seventy-five per cent of the orig­i­nal peo­ple came over. Some re­signed from their jobs be­fore, so we brought some new peo­ple in.

“And look, ev­ery­one’s busy be­cause they know ex­actly what to do. And they look happy be­cause they have jobs. If I hadn’t have done this th­ese guys, they’d all be out of work and this brand would have died,” Dunn said.

STREAM­LINED PRO­CESSES

“Ba­si­cally, the chas­sis comes in, we split the chas­sis, then build the frame for the chas­sis.

“On the right-hand side [of the fac­tory] here we build the roof frames and the roofs and we put them to­gether on here.

“And then we lift it on with a crane [a mas­sive unit brought from Villa­wood] to cre­ate what you see there [a full bus frame and body].

“So each stage takes two days, 10 stages and that’s 20 days to build a bus – and that’s what we are down to now. And this is the new men­tal­ity of Cus­tom,” Dunn said, proudly.

“Be­fore it was a lot longer, like two or three months…

“They needed this change, it’s a dras­tic change now. A change of men­tal­ity, a change of lead­er­ship. It needs it, it needs it … it needs it,” Dunn said, pas­sion­ately.

Above (L-R): The new lo­ca­tion can han­dle more pro­duc­tion lines; A bright spark; Seat­backs aplenty; At the time, this was for For­est Coachlines.

Op­po­site (T-B): Hold­ing up a pic of the orig­i­nal Cus­tom crew from back in the day; The new gaff from out­side.

Above: It’s been flat chat with work since the com­pany re-started; Fruit of the ‘looms’.

Op­po­site:A good vibe at Cus­tom now; A rem­nant from the old place brought here.

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