Project Profile: Best service on earth with EPH
Strong business partnerships – in particular with PACCAR Australia and Kenworth DAF Hallam – have underpinned the run-away success of earthmoving business Eastern Plant Hire (EPH), Ricky French writes
It’s a cool morning in Melbourne and Eastern Plant Hire (EPH) managing director Michael Willson surveys a scene that can only mean good news: an empty yard. Around 25 trucks are based at the Dandenong facility but today they’re all out servicing a never-ending stream of earthmoving and logistics projects around Melbourne.
It’s a similar story in EPH’s Sydney and Brisbane branches. Across the eastern seaboard on any given day 1,000 trucks are servicing EPH customers, and all indications are that the number will only increase. The business is experiencing exponential growth, and with the recent federal budget announcement of a surge in infrastructure spending, demand will continue to outstrip supply.
But with growth brings challenges, and Willson is careful not to get ahead of himself. The one thing he won’t be doing is compromising the reputation EPH has built over the past 22 years by allowing any drop in quality of service. It’s EPH’s commitment to service that has largely driven its growth, and that’s not about to change.
NOW IS THE TIME
The recent federal budget has promised $75 billion over 10 years to be spent on road and rail projects around the country.
For leading earthmoving and logistics businesses such as EPH it’s a time of opportunity and growth.
Not that EPH has ever been short for jobs. In Melbourne alone the company has been awarded the contract for the new Metro Rail project and has already commenced cartage on the Westgate Tunnel project.
While large road and rail infrastructure projects are huge wins for the business, EPH will do everything from the largest government projects down to backyard landscaping. It offers a full logistics service, from project managing to contract cartage to finding destinations for material coming out of jobs.
The growth has meant a considerable investment in new equipment, including a recent purchase of a fleet of 14 Kenworth T610SARs.
But Willson says the most important investment
a business will ever make is in its people. EPH is currently offering opportunities for owner/ operators as well as employee drivers to join the team and share the spoils of the boom.
“There’s an on-going shortage of truck drivers for construction projects and we’d really encourage operators to get in contact with us, register for work and join the team. It’s a wonderful chance to build their own business and their own future,” he says.
Willson says it can be daunting for drivers who haven’t worked in this industry to get themselves up to speed with compliance and ticketing requirements for large infrastructure projects. Luckily, EPH makes it easy for drivers, providing information and on-going support and training.
“We’ll step them through what equipment, tickets and licences they’ll need, and the process of getting their truck compliant. We’ll assist them every step of the way to get them ready to work on these projects,” he says.
Willson adds that EHP’s quick payment cycles and paperless systems mean operators can have confidence they’ll get paid on time and accurately every time.
The biggest challenge for drivers in the past few years, according to Willson, is the push on compliance. It’s highlighted by the fact that five years ago EPH’s compliance team didn’t exist. Now there’s a team of two in all three states, as well as a national compliance manager.
“It plays into our hands,” says Willson, “because it’s our strength. We know the rules and can navigate new drivers through the paperwork and help get them compliant for every project they work on.”
DRIVERS’ TRUCK OF CHOICE
A truck is a driver’s workplace, and a big factor in job satisfaction, so it’s little wonder Willson put a lot of consideration into choosing EPH’s new fleet.
He says he’s gone with Kenworth T610SARs for a variety of reasons, most of which come down to one salient point: drivers love them. The truck was designed in Australia for our unique conditions and has quickly become a favourite for drivers and operators across the country.
“The T610SARs are a great blend of modern technology and comfort with the classic, rugged Kenworth look and feel,” he says.
Willson adds that with a lot of EPH’s jobs being in busy metropolitan areas the enhanced visibility that the T610 offers makes it especially appealing to drivers, and has all-round safety benefits.
“You have a great view of what’s behind you and what’s down the side of the truck, as well as the great view forward out of that big windscreen. You’ve also got the comfort factor with the spacious cab,” he says.
And when ordering the trucks from Kenworth parent company, PACCAR Australia, Willson says he was able to specify custom requirements.
“We were pretty much able to select every part of the truck, from the gear boxes to the engine right through every component.
“Because it’s Australian-made right here in Melbourne in the Bayswater production facility it gives us great confidence that it’s built for Australian conditions,” he says.
EPH still runs many DAF trucks alongside the Kenworths, and Willson says they’re equally well-regarded. “The reliability and comfort you get from a DAF is just what you’d expect from the leading European brand,” he says.
STRONG BUSINESS PARTNERSHIPS
Along with strict adherence to customer service, a major factor in EPH’s success and growth has been the strength of the business partnership it has developed over the years.
Willson is particularly proud of the relationship between EPH, PACCAR Australia and Kenworth DAF Hallam.
“Having strong partnerships in business is really important to us. We’ve been fortunate to build a great relationship with the PACCAR group and Kenworth DAF Hallam, which has allowed us to focus on the business and meeting our customers’ needs,” he says.
“It’s a relationship that goes back years, and one that has kept EPH supplied with well-maintained, reliable equipment. Kenworth DAF Hallam service EPH’s trucks overnight, meaning the trucks can be dropped off in the late afternoon and be ready to go by the next morning, maximising uptime for the business. Productivity is really important to us, and a truck isn’t making any money parked up.”
PACCAR dealers handle the servicing nationwide and because of the tight compliance regime Willson says it’s one of the most important things to get right.
It’s the PACCAR dealership network that Willson says gives him the confidence to take on jobs and plan accordingly, knowing he’ll have the trucks available and ready to go.
“The service and customer support they give us is outstanding. At any time of the day or night we can pick up the phone and they’ll deal with any issue in a professional manner. We really do rely on the PACCAR dealer network to help us maintain our productivity.”
The availability of parts is something that Willson values especially highly.
“We always find that whatever parts we need are readily available from the PACCAR dealer network, and that goes right back to some of our older fleet. One of the reasons we’ve gone with Kenworth and DAF for our new fleet is that we were able to get such good parts supply and service backup on our older trucks,” he says.
The current fleet was purchased through PACCAR Financial, which Willson says gives better benefits and flexibility than through banks.
“They have really competitive rates, they give us an extra year warranty and a large pre-approved limit so we can buy what we need,” he says.
“They really understand our industry and what we need in both the practical and financial side of things.”
GEARING UP FOR THE FUTURE
Things have come a long way for Willson since 1996, who credits his brother David with opening his eyes to the value of customer service back when he started the business.
The words ‘The Best Service on Earth’ written on EPH’s trucks aren’t just a slogan, they’re a philosophy.
But great service requires great people.
The need to recruit drivers, as well as project managers, is just as important now as it was in the days when Willson would drive round in his car jotting down phone numbers that operators would have printed on the doors of their trucks, then ringing them up in the evening to offer them work. Thanks to mobile phones and the internet getting in contact with drivers is now a lot easier, as is setting up new drivers for work with EPH, thanks to their online portal for training and registration.
“Because we’ve been doing this for so long we really know what’s required and how to make life easy for new drivers.
“We’re really able to help new operators venture into the earth moving industry over the next few years and we encourage them to make contact with us and register for work,” he says.
With EPH’s natural growth, a new fleet, a strong economy and federal funds flowing, it seems the stars are aligning. There’s never been a better time to make the earth move!
Above left: “Productivity is really important to us, and a truck isn’t making any money when it’s parked up,” Michael Willson says Above: “We were pretty much able to select every part of the truck, from the gear boxes to the engine right through...