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Prime Mover Magazine


Evans Petroleum fuels the community

Evans Petroleum fuels the community

Committed to serving the local community, fuel distribution specialist, Evans Petroleum, has created a complex entrepreneurial ecosystem in Victoria’s Gippsland region.

There is an air of local pride about the rural southeast of Victoria – some would call it a sense of belonging – that has become increasingly rare in the fast-paced, hyper-connected Australia of 2016. Both people and businesses seem to share a special connection with the area, forming a unique socio-economic ecosystem where lending a helping hand is still a natural reflex and nothing is expected back in return.

Local fleet, Evans Petroleum, has been part of that system for almost half a century now and is deeply committed to the idea of keeping it local in a world shaken by global stock market crashes and political infighting. Starting out as an Esso distributor in 1970, it has grown slowly over time, with current owners, Stuart Evans and wife Jenene, taking over from Stuart’s father, company founder Reg Evans, in 1989.

26 years on and now operating under the BP label, Stuart and Jenene have morphed the humble family business into a major fuel distributor for the Gippsland community. Using a high-tech fleet, the company covers a vast area stretching from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs all the way to the New South Wales border in the east.

The values instilled by Reg, however, are still very much the same – whilst going with the times and opening up to a globalised world, giving back to the local community and enabling local growth are still at the heart of the organisation. As such, Evans Petroleum is still very much a family business, not least signified by Stuart and Jenene’s son, Warren Evans, now also serving as General Manager, and son-in-law Dave Creed acting as CFO.

The company’s 14 retail outlets across the region, for example, are all staffed and operated by locals, and a sizable portion of the business is still dedicated to servicing farming and commercial customers dotted throughout the region – many of which have stood by the Evans brand for decades, even when it changed fuel suppliers. “Our customers have been with us through all the changes we have experienced, and I reckon that’s because the whole time, we have maintained a focus on servicing the community,” Stuart says.

“I believe that same commitment was what helped us become the official BP and Castrol distributor for Gippsland in 2013. BP recognised that as a locally owned and operated company, Evans Petroleum provided a solid base to service its customers. Plus, we’ve been doing this for a while now, so we know exactly what is required to keep the community fuelled up.”

The key to keeping the community moving is an efficient logistics network, he adds, at the heart of which must be a reliable truck and trailer fleet. Stuart’s suppliers of choice are local Victorian manufacturers, Kenworth, and Holmwood. Using B-doubles and a selection of rigid and quad dog combinations for bulk deliveries, he says the two brands make for a highly reliable fleet that ties in well with the company’s local edge – after all, each new prime mover added to the line-up is made to order at Kenworth’s local Bayswater factory, right at the heart of the Evans Petroleum network.

“The fact that Kenworth builds each truck to our individual spec is a major factor for us when making a purchasing decision, as it makes the vehicle 100 per cent fit for purpose. We can adjust everything from the engine and driveline through to the wheelbase,” he says. “But even more importantly, Kenworth sources its technicians from the local area, with each job at the plant creating five additional ones within the wider community. That’s the kind of local value cycle we’d like to be part of as a community-minded business.”

Stuart says about half of the Evans fleet is currently dedicated to fuelling the company’s 14 retail outlets and depots, while the other half is doing contract work for other businesses.

Stuart’s preferred farm delivery truck is the T359 model, a driver’s favourite that is known for making access to rural properties easy. The most recent vehicle purchase, however, was a replacement T409 rigid with PACCAR’s propriety MX-13 engine, which joined the fleet in May.

For on-highway work, Stuart says he generally goes with Kenworth’s iconic T404, T409 and K200 trifecta, but sticks with the mid-sized MX-13 power plant as it uses modern selective catalytic reduction (SCR) for emissions control and is “easy on the fuel”. And, fuel efficiency is especially important for those in the business of selling the precious liquid: A ‘farm-friendly’ T359 rigid can make between 15 and 20 deliveries a day, so fuel usage is an important selling point for the Evans Petroleum team.

For the driver, the engine is only part of the package, though, with a whole range of variables having to be considered on top of it. Kenworth itself, Stuart says, is a major drawcard in that respect, as many drivers in the area have a close personal connection to the brand. To ensure each vehicle is looked after, Evans Petroleum follows a classic ‘one driver, one truck’ policy, with the odd sharing agreement for vehicles used on night shift: “Our drivers take great pride in their vehicles, so we let them take responsibility for them. That’s why they usually have set runs and customers, too – they know the area, they know the people and they build the kind of relationships you simply can’t compete with.”

Stuart says the majority of Evans’ drivers have been a part of the company for years, generally around the eight to 10-year mark. “Our longest serving driver, Jeff Renton, has been with us for 35 years and just retired in June. I think that’s a strong sign we’re doing something right. For example, we have the cabs fitted with good quality seats and other comfort features, and it seems to be paying off,” he explains. “It can be costly to recruit or re-train new drivers, so we do what we can to keep our staff happy and we have a low turnover rate because of it.”

In the rare case Evans Petroleum has to replace a driver, for example when they reach retiring age, it will try to fill the position with a member of the local community. “We think it’s important to give local jobs to local blokes,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean we’re living under a rock, of course. We keep a close eye on industry trends and talk to experts from around Australia to make sure we offer the next generation the right equipment to work with – which is why our trucks are fitted with the latest safety features, for example, so potential drivers and their families know they’ll be safe on the road.”

As such, Stuart says that regardless of which model Kenworth his drivers are assigned, the entire Evans Petroleum fleet is fitted with ABS, EBS, Daylite driving lights and rollover stability control, as well as GPS systems and on-board cameras. “Although there was some pushback from drivers when we initially installed the cameras, we have found the technology is particularly useful for explaining minor incidents. If you’re in the right, it can save you,” he notes. “They’re activated by near misses, for example if a driver needs to take evasive action in the case of a car cutting off the truck.”

Stuart says sometimes incidents like these occur due to a lack of public awareness on how to safely share the road with heavy vehicles, especially in terms of the differences in stopping distances and blind spots. “As traffic increases, it becomes more and more important to look out for the well-being of all road users, whether they’re in a truck or a car,” he says – explaining that Evans Petroleum actively participates in programs to help educate the community on safe driving.

“As part of our membership with local safety accreditation scheme, South Gippsland Safe Freight, we help with sessions on best driving practice. It’s our goal that all road using public get home safely,” he says. “From our end, we do what we can to ensure we’re putting the safest vehicles on the road – from spec’ing all the latest safety features to employing experienced drivers – but going the extra-mile to then bring that message to the community is where we set ourselves apart.”

Safe driving is just one element of the drivers’ responsibility to uphold Evans Petroleum’s reputation on Stuart’s behalf, he says. “The drivers are the face of the company, from when they’re on the highway to when they’re dealing with clients,” he says. “We train our drivers to look after our customers, and they have strong relationships with the farming customers they service on a regular basis, which helps the whole process run like clockwork.”

To keep the fleet ticking along the same way, Evans Petroleum prime movers follow a maintenance schedule designed by Fleet Manager, Brian Hallyburton, and carried out by local Kenworth dealers: “All of our servicing, maintenance and repairs are carried out by the local teams at HTC Kenworth DAF Melbourne East and Gippsland Truck Mechanics in Leongatha. I’ve got to say, they’re all really good. They’re well trained and care about the quality of their work, so they always look after us. They certainly do a good job of keeping our trucks on the road,” Stuart says. “Besides, Kenworth builds a good, solid product, and keeping them well maintained means we get a premium price when we turn them over.”

Stuart reveals that he replaces his prime movers every five or six years, or at around the one million kilometre mark, as constantly refreshing the fleet means he is always certain he has the safest vehicles on the road. In fact, the on-going growth of Evans Petroleum will likely prompt another new Kenworth joining the fleet around the end of the year. According to Stuart, there is no definite schedule to it, though – the company’s growth strategy is more like a ‘natural evolution’ process to him.

“When the opportunity arises for us to purchase a new retail site, we evaluate the situation to see if it will help us service our community, commercial accounts and farm clientele. It has to fit with our business model or we don’t pursue it,” Stuart says. “And it also has to fit into our community model. Our drivers, our retail staff, even the mechanics working on the trucks – they are all people who live in our area and therefore part of our community. They’re the ones who bring their cars in to fill up at our stores, so we want to make sure every decision we make adds to that value cycle. You only get out what you put in.”

The story has appeared in the August edition of Prime Mover. To get your copy, click here.

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