Keetah Contractors has concentrated on providing niche services to a small blue chip resources client base, going to extreme lengths, including using the latest PBS combination vehicles to deliver exceptional transport and logistics services.
Brothers Simon and Nick Humble can rightly say say they are extremely proud of the fact they have turned a small contracting business into a well respected operation, servicing the growing Gladstone region where future growth in resources and projects will see huge trucking gains during the next decade.
Keetah Contractors was a small firm, running under a different name, with two trucks when the brothers decided to purchase it with the aim of turning it into a successful company. The pair had two entirely different backgrounds. Upon finishing their education, Nick moved into finance, while Simon became a mechanic working with Westco Motors in Toowoomba, wielding spanners on Mack trucks.
“We were born and bred in Goondiwindi and went our separate ways, me doing a number of things including going to the Kimberley’s, rounding up cattle and following my training as a Mack diesel mechanic. I went on to work in rural supplies in Toowoomba and then one Christmas the family got together for the usual Christmas eight years ago when Nick said he thought he had found a business in Gladstone, so why don’t you come up and have a look,” Simon tells.
“While it had been a reasonable business, the owner had downsized it considerably. There were only a few pieces of equipment such as two trucks and loaders, but we could see the potential in a growing region and decided to take it on.
“We reasoned we would undertake our activities in a manner that would work well for customers and made a very conscious decision to keep our customer base very small in order to give the very best in service. We mainly work for the bigger companies with our tipper operation, the blue chip firms, and do not really do too much for the quarry industry,” Simon indicates.
It was a matter of ‘getting down to business’ for the Humble brothers and they went all out to tailor services providing quality trucking for clients in a region undergoing growth – growth they wanted to very much be a part of. But with growth comes a need for fleet expansion.
“We started with two second hand trucks and when the time arrived that another truck was needed, I was a little concerned. Buying a new truck meant we had to increase the size of the fleet by 50 percent,” Simon laughs.
“We concentrated on carting materials they wanted and doing site work requirements to meet exacting needs as they grew their businesses. It was trucks and earthmoving, probably more earthmoving in the early days but it is around a 50/50 split these days.
“It has always been a matter of working hard and doing the right thing and customers will keep inviting you back, and that has worked well. We probably didn’t appreciate in the early days that keeping a small customer base would offer the advantage it has.
“Being a company with a large customer base and doing a lot of small jobs means you lose some control. We undertook a lot of specialised jobs for our customers and learned, very early in the piece, exactly what their requirements were, forming very close relationships along the way.
“There was a lot of trial work, things that had never been done before in Gladstone and people were very happy with it and relationships have grown from there,” Simon remarks.
Growth has been a hallmark of Keetah Contracting, the result of looking closely at how things can be done more productively and efficiently, and when you view the company today, the range of services offered is provided by a fleet specified to offer the best in transportation.
This is a company committed to customer service and it has achieved gains, for both itself and clients, by investing heavily in PBS vehicles upping the service ante.
“We continually look at how we can do things far more efficiently for customers and while we appreciated it would take a fair bit of mucking around in the early stages we could see in the not too distant future these vehicles would become the norm,” Simon reveals.
“We dived into PBS as soon as we physically could. We traditionally ran with trucks and three axle dogs and then moved up to truck and four axle dogs and were constantly told they could go to 50 tonnes and couldn’t go any further, so we headed down the 19 metre B-Double route, but the opportunity to run PBS vehicles has raised the bar.
“The 19 metre B-doubles have been good for us and increased productivity. I am a big fan of them and I must say when we first started running Tridents and the doubles, people said we would never turn them around as they were too big, but that was not the case. My philosophy was they are no longer than an ordinary trailer and they had a tighter turning circle than the Tridents we were running.
“But PBS trucks definitely work well in our operations and the four axle dogs give us a payload of 38 tonne as opposed to the old 33. There are trade-offs such as ABS and emissions control, although that is coming anyway and it is not a bad thing at all. The days of trucks going down the road with plumes of black smoke coming from them are well and truly gone,” says Simon.
When the brothers bought the business they had a CH Mack and a Freightliner both pulling three axle dogs. They sold the Freightliner and bought some second hand trucks from a company that were around three years old.
“The trucks were the first Mack Tridents we bought and pulled four axle dogs, again the first to join the fleet. We kept the old CH Mack and it stayed for a long time and eventually it was turned into a body truck. It was an amazing piece of equipment and when we sold it there was around 28,000 hours on the clock. We had never touched the driveline and every oil change the oil was still clean.
“Then we started buying the first new Tridents with four axle dog trailers. We then bought some second hand Metro-Liners for site work, moving on to new ones and speccing rubber block suspension, an ideal suspension for site work. We had real issues with air suspension, dumping air when tipping, and when you consider there can be 160 tipping applications when working around the clock, it is hard work. We were suffering a lot of wear and tear.
“In those trucks we have standardised on automatic transmissions as we are limited to 20km/h on site work. Bins are steel because it gives us great flexibility and allows us to cart anything,” Simon points out.
In recent times the Humble brothers have diversified the fleet and currently run a triple road train on grain haulage. This has been a successful move and another is on order.
“It has been a bit of a dabble but while we run it as a triple we can also be flexible and use it as a double or B-double unit. Flexibility is what it is all about and the current PBS vehicles we run as four axle dog units carry the same weight as a 26 metre B-double. We are also looking at running five axle dog combinations under PBS and I can see the elimination of a whole combination category depending on allowable weight under PBS,” he says.
“I am also looking at the possibility of running two five axle trailers in a road train application with a payload of around 43 tonne with aluminium tubs on them. That will cruel the B-double market and I can see that application in real trouble.
“Registration costs for B-doubles are huge and if everybody moves away from them to other combinations costs will be lower. No doubt those costs will be transferred to new combinations but we will have a bit of a lull. If we can run a prime mover with a body on and couple it to a five axle dog, and then hook another five axle behind that and get it running on road train routes, we will have a pretty handy combination with multiple applications, but it won’t be easy to do.
“We will never get general access or even approval for operation on B-double routes, but in our applications where much of the cartage is on private roads, there is no issue. Approval may be some time away but we are working on it. We will stick with PBS quads in the meantime but this is what we are working on,” Simon reveals.
“If we can get length and axle spacings right I can’t see why the NTC would not sign off on it.”
The work going on behind the scenes means Keetah is better servicing customer needs delivering more per litre of fuel. This has transferred to gaining support from clients keen to see the company achieve its aims.
“They appreciate it because we are working for them. We keep them up to date on everything from our endeavours to new emissions standards, what we are doing across our operations and it is very good to gain their feedback as we keep pushing along.
“Things are not going to get any easier and you have to keep at the forefront of things. You have to get maximum weight at lower fuel burn, doing what you can to lower costs while increasing services,” Simon reiterates.
Another example of how the company services customers is the bodies on the trucks and trailers. Bins are taller to accommodate a wider range of materials on board, again allowing flexibility.
The Gladstone region is set to grow with the huge LNG project coming in the near future and Keetah Contracting is set to continue its growth spiral as massive cartage tasks come on line.
“The transport industry in the area is set to explode and there is a good chance a huge number of trucks will be required to handle the project. We are looking at all aspects of the task and planning to tailor our fleet to continue servicing our customer base in the best way possible. One of the big challenges is staffing and we, as a company, are not shy of training young people to ensure we have qualified persons to do the job.
“You have to plan for the future and be very people focussed to understand what they need you to do – and do it properly. You also have to be profitable and we are not the cheapest around I can tell, but we give customers value for money.
“Regardless of whether we are carting coal, soil or grain and everything in between, we have the ability to transport multiple products in the best manner possible. In transport you must turn up on time, if a client wants you there at a certain time so be it, no ifs, buts or maybes, it is all about the customer. Do the job you are supposed to do, and do it properly has always been our philosophy.
“You have to meet their requirements, for example on one site we have to stop work twice a day to allow the company to operate their buses to ferry staff, so we simply park up to allow this to be done. It is a requirement we are happy to comply with as it allows that company to do things unrestricted. We are keen to work with them,” he says.
Keetah Contracting bases its growth and reputation on keeping a close eye on the ball across all aspects of its operations and what is required for the future.