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Prime Mover Magazine

Success due to self-reliance

Success due to self-reliance

By some standards PJ’s Customs Brokers and Logistics isn’t a big operation, yet in Darwin it’s a heavy hitter. Offering a suite of port and air related services with an in-house transport operation sets PJ’s apart from the competition.

The bull dust, dry heat and tropical humidity typical to the Northern Territory are not conducive to having commercial vehicles up to showroom standards at all times. The region is tough on both people and equipment and as such, reputations are measured on performance rather than presentation.

Darwin is a no-nonsense city and it takes a no-nonsense approach to business. People who come to Darwin from ‘down south’ may never feel that they belong, even after decades in the capital of the Top End. However, four years into his time in Darwin, PJ’s Customs and Logistics’ Director, Matt Baker, says he has acclimatised to the city since leaving his southern origins in 2013 to oversee the restructure of the NT business.
PJ’s is a local brand that has been providing border clearance and logistics services to the Darwin market for almost 30 years. Five years ago, Sydney-based Powerhouse Logistics bought out PJ’s and sent Matt north to use his ‘big city experience’ and mould the operation into something responsive and reliable.

“Although it’s only 4,000km away from Sydney, sometimes it feels a whole lot further. The initial plan was being here for six months but I’m still here and loving it three and a half years later,” Matt says. 

PJ’s is the only operation in NT that provides an in-house set of supply chain services including a licensed customs broker on staff as well as a customs bonded warehouse and quarantine approved facilities.

A key driver for PJ’s is its ability to assist in the navigation of the often-complex document channels required to legally import and export items.
As well as the supply chain services, PJ’s owns and operates its own transport fleet, and is the only branch of the Powerhouse group to do so.

“It sometimes scares the boys down south, but by running our own trucks, we can control our destiny,” Matt says – adding that he’d like to see the national business run fleets in its operations in other states.

“Sure, it would be challenging in a market such as Sydney, but the Darwin experience has proved it can provide a competitive advantage,” he adds.

Upon arriving in Darwin, Matt quickly identified the need to invest in some new equipment to bring the fleet up to scratch. At the time the vehicles included a 1992 Mack CHR, a 2001 Volvo FM12 and its ‘newest’ truck, a 2010 UD. The side-loaders were pre-1998 and suffering reliability issues. Together, the monthly repair bills against multiple pieces of equipment in the aging fleet could exceed $10,000.

“I could provide a solid business case for equipment upgrades to the rest of the Board,” Matt says. “All Board members, including myself, have limited backgrounds in direct vehicle operations but once we started to employ new equipment, we saw the results immediately. There were no repair bills and our targeted fleet management costs were finally on budget.”
Matt says he relies on feedback from his drivers and side-loader sales representatives at Hammar when choosing the right vehicles to upgrade the fleet, which led him to the UD range.

“Although I’ve grown to love trucks I’m not necessarily a ‘truck guy’ – I’m more interested in what they do, than what they are,” Matt says – adding that this was an advantage when researching new equipment as there was less emotion involved in respect to brand image, leading to an unbiased purchasing decision.

“Most recommended UD for our type of work and they’ve been good units for us, doing everything we need of them,” Matt says. “We don’t need 700hp. Our 2015 GW model is one of the last with the 470hp engine before it went to the Volvo based driveline.”

As well as the GW, an eight-pallet UD MK 11 with 250hp and an automatic transmission is used for local area work. “The MK is almost perfect for us and the eight-pallet capacity is more than sufficient most days – wouldn’t need a 12-pallet very often.”

Matt’s long-term plans for the Darwin branch involve investing in a purpose-built drive in-drive out facility.

“That way we can set it up how we want it from the get go. We could do with double the hard stand area but we need to be careful not to over capitalise.”

In the short term, Matt is considering a new prime mover and says he may look for a little more power this time, in order to handle the occasional triple road train trip to Katherine, 300km south of Darwin. PJ’s also does multiple trailer loads to the massive Inpex CNG project at Blaydin Point near Darwin, as well as local empty container repositions exceeding 30 TEUs per order.

Most container deliveries are made using one of the four side-loaders as only a few of PJ’s customers have docks, which makes a lot of work for the hydraulic systems. As some clients construct new premises this is starting to change, and some are also obtaining their own reach stackers.

Matt also added Krueger 40-foot skel to the PJ’s fleet this year, which has been set up to accommodate clients wishing to increase their container payloads.
“When upgrading the trailer fleet, the purchasing decision came down to a question of payload,” Matt says. “We have a strong focus on safety and quality and doing jobs the right way. We can use a low tare skel to carry heavy containers legally and not be concerned about enforcement catching up with us. It’s not a risk worth taking.”

As Matt says, running its own fleet as a transport operation means PJ’s can maintain control over its diverse range of services.

Thanks to the unusual set-up in the NT, some clients didn’t realise their containers were being moved on PJ’s own trucks until it was pointed out to them.

“We have a diverse range of clients and services, which has helped us moderate the fluctuations in demand,” Matt says. “We may have had a quiet month in sea freight and container movements, but our import and export airfreight departments and military operations, such as Pitch Black involving the Singaporean Air Force, generate reasonable work for us.”
Matt says PJ’s does a lot of work with the military, facilitating the border clearances and spare parts for AOG (Aircraft-On-Ground) consignments requiring immediate clearance and delivery to RAAF bases at Darwin and Tindal and the Delamere Air Weapons range.
“A pure transport company needs jobs that involve carrying goods from point A to B, whereas we are able to keep busy with jobs that aren’t necessarily about running prime movers. that helps keep us quite busy,” he says.

PJ’s also has a range of warehousing services that help to smooth out fluctuations in demand. Matt says the warehousing offering has grown significantly. Some, he says, can be ascribed to Darwin’s population growth, which led to increased demand for air conditioning components, irrigation supplies and packaged oils – all of which are among the items that PJ’s handles in its warehousing operations.

Other growth is due to the rapid expansion of the solar panel industry, with more installations requiring components for domestic, industrial and for the solar panel ‘farms’ being constructed in the region.

PJ’s warehousing operation has also been a catalyst for opportunities to provide services to other multinational freight forwarders that don’t have a branch in Darwin.
“Due to the current market size, opening a branch in Darwin, at least in the short term, isn’t a financially attractive option for most multinationals,” Matt says. “PJ’s fills this space.”

Matt says that PJ’s role as a freight forwarder means it has a deep understanding of the complicated business operations that regular transport companies may not have.
“We understand their business because it’s our business too. We take our position very seriously and always remain aware of potential conflicts of interest in any work we do for our wholesale clients,” Matt says.

Bringing together container transport, warehousing, customs brokerage and quarantine service, PJ’s aims to offer an end-to-end solution without having to outsource tasks.
Matt Baker and his team are successful in this due to strategic decisions relative to the local clients’ needs that have transformed PJ’s tremendously since Powehouse took over five years ago.

“The changes in the last 12 months are the result of years of work,” says Matt. “We’ve really been stepping up our game and getting some ‘tier one’ clients on board, either direct or via international freight forwarders who rely on PJ’s as their partners in the Top End.

“There’s still a lot of hard work to be done but the team and I are committed, ready and willing.”

Fast Fact
Matt Baker started at Powerhouse 15 years ago as a forklift driver unloading containers at the Sydney warehouse. He worked his way through the organisation and became a Director four years ago, shortly before his move to Darwin.

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