Danny Matic hasn’t come along a typical pathway to road transport. In his homeland of Croatia, he is a well-known singer but his Perth-based business Matic Transport has bought him success of a different kind.
Danny Matic was just 17 when he came to Australia in 1992, bringing minimal English skills and a shoulder bag of 42 cassette tapes.
“I’ve still got the bag and can remember trying to explain in my own language to the customs people in Perth that I was a professional singer,” says Danny. “I didn’t worry about luggage as I intended only staying three months until the ‘troubles’ in my homeland were over.”
For a number of years, Danny split his time between entertaining in Europe and driving trucks for Brambles in Western Australia, until he decided to he decided to purchase his own truck on a flight back to Australia. “It was either get a truck or get a divorce,” Danny says. “So I said to my wife, ‘have I got a deal for you.”
From that first truck, the Matic Transport fleet has grown to count over 100 prime movers, a mix of Volvo, Mack, Kenworth and Mercedes-Benz and Scania, as well as over 300 trailers. Much of the Matic transport task is as the prime contractor for Cockburn Cement, which Danny says is subject to wild fluctuations in demand as quarries may close and reopen over just a few months. On top of that, certain gold mines may require 1,000 tonnes of lime during one month and triple that the next.
During the heady days a few years ago, some of Danny’s trucks were travelling 300,000km per year and as one big project finished another started. However, the slowing of the Western Australian economy has resulted in a lower demand for cement products for the mining and construction industries. Danny was determined to “ride it out” and strongly resisted downsizing equipment or people. Taking a lead from Henry Ford, who found ways to flourish in tough times, Danny identified opportunities to expand his interstate operations as well as add some diversity to the business mix.
“I was never adverse to some diversification and we had the resources and the people so decided to give it a go,” he says. The diversification saw transport of WA-based Kleenheat’s gas cylinders join the Matic Transport portfolio in 2016, bringing on a fleet of nine specialised UD rigids to handle the movements of the dangerous goods.
Additional cement transport operations were added in Adelaide and Alice Springs this year, joining Geraldton and Darwin in the Matic network. Four B-doubles operate every day on the Port Melbourne to Adelaide route, and Adelaide is the strategic location for deliveries to mining centres including Broken Hill, Roma and Moomba.
Throughout the diversification process, Danny says relationships and trust have been key ingredients to the successful endeavour. “I’ve always been lucky with people, including my drivers,” says Danny. “I always believe you give a driver a good truck he will look after it, and often I’ll get the driver before the truck. Business is driven by trust.”
Until a few years ago, Danny would take every new truck on its maiden run himself and he still christens them by smashing a bottle of beer on the bull bar.
“Part of my culture is to have my mum bless every vehicle and whoever is to drive it and we also get the priest once a year to bless the entire fleet,” Danny says. “All these things filter through to the drivers and they feel they are part of a culture even if they aren’t religious themselves. I take business personally whether that’s a good or bad thing. The good things I do for people come back to me three times over.”
The trucks in the fleet are predominantly white with a powder coat antique silver hammer tone finish on hardware such as bull bars, fuel tanks and toolboxes. “It looks good and is easy to clean,” says Danny – adding that vehicle presentation has been important to Matic Transport since the early days. “I had a vision of being on the road and having people say ‘what’s this?’” he says. “So I had completely white trucks including the mirrors and rims. There were no other fully white trucks on the road. After a while I saw the need to start doing something else so we combined black and white, and the change was noticed.”
Danny says he sets up his trucks as if he was going to drive them himself and says he has learned from others’ mistakes. “Some chase an extra tonne of payload, and I wonder if they really think that extra tonne is going to save their business,” he says. “Or other operators spend $300,000 extra on a special combination to get three tonnes more payload. I can’t justify that sort of additional investment.”
Much of the pressure tanker work with Cockburn Cement involves operating loaded only in one direction and Danny says the empty return trips are an important factor to costs. Eight-wheel twin-steer prime movers may continue to be the specification of choice for operations north out of Perth but six wheelers are used out of Adelaide as the additional tare weight has to be carried even when truck is empty.
“For Adelaide and Darwin, we’re better off with six wheelers pulling quad trailers,” he says. “We get 111 tonne payload on quad combinations and the single steer prime movers are more flexible and can be used as B-double, triple, or quad road trains.”
Despite their weight advantages, Danny is not a fan of alloy bulk tankers, preferring steel Jamieson units, which he expects to have a working life of 25 years. “I’ve got more than 300 steel trailers and if go to alloy I’d need special welders,” he says – adding that instead, he has found around a tonne of tare weight savings by switching away from power-packs to drive the trailers’ blowers that discharge the cement or lime. Now, he is specifying blowers driven off the truck’s transmission by the engine.
Danny sees parallels between his music and transport careers, saying business contracts are like finding a good song. “It’s not just the song or the contract itself but how you are going to promote it and what you can make out of it,” he says. “You can get into a contract with price but the key is to keep the contract and make it worthwhile for both parties. I’ve seen people buy a business and be in a mess two years after.”
As such, Danny still plays a major role in the company’s day to day operations, alongside his strong management team. In fact, clients are still able to call Danny directly, particularly for the Cockburn tanker business. “I’m the one to ring for that,” he says. “Most things can be handled by my operational people but if I see those callers come up on my phone I know that it’s important.”
Just like with his music, Danny has a strong vision on how to achieve success in a competitive environment. “A sustainable business is a good business and if you have a good attitude you’ve got a good chance of achieving something,” he says. “It’s all about convincing people to trust you, whether they’re buying your CD or downloading your song or wanting you to transport their products. I always try to do better and if I say I can do something I make sure I can back up what I say.”
Matic Transport owner, Danny Matic, does more than just say he has a ‘can do’ attitude, he also takes action. One example is how Danny and his team set up the Adelaide operations in just three weeks.
“That’s me,” he says. “If you want to be ‘corporate’ it might have taken six months. It wasn’t about what it cost us, it was showing our customers that it could be done, which is important for the future.”
Danny Matic is still a popular entertainer among his ex-pat countrymen in Australia and also returns to his original homeland in Croatia regularly to perform to sell-out audiences.