Prime Mover Magazine

South West Express - Coping with fast growth

South West Express - Coping with fast growth

South West Express in Bunbury WA needs to keep on its toes to service a growing population and ever-increasing freight task as the economy in the local area continues to expand.

As a supplier of transport solutions using refrigerated trucks, South West Express has seen its freight task grow considerably in recent years. Starting from a one man/one truck operation less than 20 years ago, the fleet is now handling a number of distribution contracts around the south western corner of WA. The company handles all of Woolworths secondary freight needs including BWS stores in this area as well as hauling refrigerated goods for a number of major customers based in the south western WA area.

The population and economy in south west Western Australia is growing fast and the infrastructure which supports the growing economy has to grow fast too. An increasing population with increasing income, spend more in retail outlets, resulting in higher demands on the transport companies servicing the region.

Mark Mazza grew up in the Bunbury area and gained plenty of driving experience working for local tipper operator, the Giacci Brothers. However, along with many other truck drivers, when the opportunity to buy his own truck came along, Mark jumped at the chance. The truck was an ageing Atkinson and the trailer, a refrigerated pan, was bought with ongoing work.

The professional outlook to business which the company exudes today became apparent quite early on from this owner driver. It wasn’t long before the shoddy look of the Atkinson had been transformed with a new bright yellow on white paint job and a cleaner, much more professional image.

Working as a sub-contractor to a prime contractor hauling frozen potato chips out of the Manjimup area was a good learning experience which was to serve Mark in good stead in developing the business later. At this time, the importance of the quality of service expected by customers was driven home.

The original yellow on white artwork design used to smarten up the original prime mover is still being used today giving South West Express a distinctive look on the highways of WA. For Mark the quality and appearance of the rolling stock on the road is of paramount importance. Today, the fleet has a presence out on the road which is smart and instantly recognisable.

Growth for South West Express has been strong in the past 10 years, helped by the strong growth in the south west region of WA. The area south of Perth stretching around the coast to Albany has been one of the fastest-growing areas in a state which has seen the fastest growth in Australia.

It has become a desirable area to live with the development of ‘honeypot’ areas like Margaret River attracting those who want to leave the big city behind. The increasing use of ‘fly in-fly out’ work on many of the mines in WA makes it possible to live in attractive country areas like this. There has also been increasing development in mining and forestry in the area, aiding the increase in prosperity and stimulating demand in the towns of the region.

The combination of increased prosperity and increase population demands increased retail outlets and, especially, many more supermarket outlets. As Mark grew his operation, he was developing a reputation for reliability and professionalism. His relationship with the supermarket chains, more particularly with Woolworths, also developed. As the operations grew and the need for a professional operator to cover the area became apparent, South West Express grew to fill that gap.

As is true of many operators in this space, the demands of a distribution contract with a major national company means it has to mature quickly, putting systems into place to meet the service requirements of a big customer.

For South West Express this has involved a considerable investment in rolling stock. For Mark, this means concentrating on getting the vehicles doing the job as well specified as possible and presenting a professional image to both the customer and the general public. This has led to the company coming up with a policy of sourcing its prime movers from Scania, almost exclusively, and their refrigerated trailers from FTE.

“You look at our office and you can see that we don’t spend a lot of money on our own real estate,” says Mark. “Instead, we spend all of our money on having the best trucks and trailers out there on the road doing the work. People may think this is the wrong way to go about it but to me the trucks and trailers out there on the road are the most important asset, after all we are a transport company and it pays to look after what provides the income first and the rest will follow.”

Most of the business has been developed around refrigerated transport. South West Express trucks can be seen hauling their various combinations all around South West WA. The company services the area south of Perth and West of Esperance. Apart from bringing supermarket goods into the area, it also handles transport out of the area for a number of food manufacturers.

In general, goods coming out of Perth travel in what is known in the West as pocket road trains. Back at the company depot in Bunbury these combinations can be broken up and individual trailers hauled to individual customers around the South West. Then they can be reloaded with goods before returning to the Bunbury depot and being formed into longer combinations to head back north into Perth.

Of the 42 vehicles South West Express own, 14 are heavy-duty prime movers handling the major distribution work in and out of the area. The West Australian dimension rules allow for 27.5 metre long combinations. These are generally made up as an A-double, consisting of a 16 pallet trailer pulling a 20 pallet with a converter dolly. This combination can run at 76 tonnes and enables enough flexibility to handle the varying nature of the distribution task into the Bunbury area.

One supermarket delivery in Manjimup was causing problems for the operation. The layout and position of the supermarket’s goods entrance makes it impossible to be serviced using a semi trailer. Mark needed to come up with a different solution capable of handling large enough loads for the supermarket but also capable of integration within the rest of the fleet at other times.

After long consideration of the problem, a solution only possible in Western Australia was found. Mark specified an 8x4 rigid truck capable of pulling a full length trailer behind with a dolly. This means the eight wheeler can load goods for Manjimup onboard and then fill the semitrailer in Perth before travelling to Bunbury, leaving the trailer in the depot and continuing on to Manjimup and its difficult access. This combination is capable of handling 32 pallets of goods, 12 in the rigid and 20 in the trailer.

Mark is often frustrated by access restrictions in some parts of the Perth area but has found that the ability to run pocket road trains and long truck and dog combinations up to 27.5 metres gives the operation just enough flexibility to be able to deliver effectively and efficiently.

The development of relationships with certain customers has led to the company diversifying its operations to a certain extent. One customer, Finesse Foods, was having difficulty getting a suitable transport operator to handle its inward live chicken transport. South West Express was asked to come up with a solution for handling the incoming live chicken – and the subsequent three state of the art drop deck B-double combinations with raise and lower roofs have dramatically reduced bird mortality in transit, reduced damage to hardware and increased capacity by 14%. South West Express now performs all transport tasks for Finesse Foods.

This contract is now part of the South West Express portfolio. Although the company had little experience of handling live animals, it was the ability to take on a task and consistently meet required service levels at the right price which proved to be the selling point. Mark is not contemplating extending the operations in this field further, but he has been able to use his experience in running an operation completely outside the company’s normal scope.

Looking to the future, Mark understands the limitations of his current operation. Customers in south west WA are wanting goods delivered throughout the populated areas of WA but, at the moment, South West Express go no further than Perth and around its local region. Goods heading north to Geraldton and east to Kalgoorlie and Esperance have to tranship for their onward journey.

This is the area into which Mark would like to expand, giving the company’s loyal customers a seamless service covering most of the population of what is a massive state like WA. This will give Mark control over the complete supply route and the ability to maintain the kind of service levels, offered by South West Express in the south west of the state, to a much broader area.

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