When we think of parcel deliveries we generally conjure up the image of a metropolitan streetscape in a capital city.
Yet people in country towns and regional areas have parcels to be picked up and delivered too.
“When I first started in transport, I was running a few trucks out of our family cold storage and warehousing business. In the beginning, we were contracted to service the linehaul for a small parcel business Shepparton Express” says SE National Transport Managing Director Anthony Sfetcopoulos.
“We were then offered to take over Shepparton Express as the owners were in financial difficulties, so we took it as the next step to go out and establish a full service transport business”
The business expanded. And with it the name was changed to SE National to better reflect the emerging national capabilities of the overall operation as it grew from being a parcel distribution service offering an overnight service from Melbourne, to providing national linehaul and warehousing capabilities covering all capital cities in Australia.
Since 2008 there has been a significant amount of consolidation of the parcel business in the Shepparton region and SE National is now the major local player alongside the high profile national operators.
“There has been a lot of growth in online shopping and more people are getting things delivered now, so we’ve managed to consolidate that and put in the various systems such as track and trace to provide efficient and reliable service,” says Anthony. “We’ve got the depot. We’ve got good people and we’ve got the vehicles to do it.”
SE National is owned by the Sfetcopoulos family who have been involved in business in the Shepparton area since 1946 and the transport and warehousing operations currently employ more than 150 people in various roles.
The city of Shepparton is 180 kilometres from Melbourne and the upgrades to the main route along the Goulburn Valley Highway will eventually provide freeway conditions for the entire journey.
Depending upon the varying demand, SE National runs multiple B-doubles and semis each day into Melbourne to pick up mixed freight including parcels which are subsequently taken to the company’s depot facility at Lemnos, a suburb in the northeast of Shepparton.
There, the loads are broken down and sorted for delivery to addresses in the surrounding region.
Deliveries are typically made throughout the area within a two hour driving radius from the Shepparton depot which can include trips almost back to the northern areas of Melbourne, over the Murray River border into southern NSW and the Albury region, as well as west across to the greater Bendigo region.
The bulk of the local parcel deliveries are performed using SE National’s fleet of fifteen Renault Master vans, twelve of which have been added during the past year or so.
“Originally we used light duty ‘box’ trucks and we thought that big vans looked good because we could fit a couple of pallets in there and fit plenty of parcels as well,” says Anthony. “We went and had a look at all of the different ones available from various manufacturers and the Renault Master has everything exactly like you need it for parcel deliveries.”
The Renault Master’s single rear wheels result in lesser intrusion into the load space by the wheel arches and permit the placement of a standard pallet in the back, something that excludes some other large vans with rear dual wheels. If required, a second pallet can be loaded into the front section via the side door.
“We buy the biggest Masters we can because of the volume and payload,” says Anthony.
“There’s also their great reliability and long, 30,000 kilometre, service intervals. We turn them over after three years and some might only have 100,000 kilometres on them and we’ve only serviced them three times, maybe. It’s the best way: we buy it, use it for three years, and don’t have to do anything to it. We do a couple of services on it and might change some brake pads or put some tyres on and that’s about it. The upfront purchase cost of the Renault in the market is good and when we trade-in we still get a good price.”
Safety is a genuine core value at SE National and extends to the prime movers being equipped with lane assistance systems, adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring, as well as the latest fatigue monitoring technology from Seeing Machines.
The Renault Masters’ own comprehensive suite of safety features includes dusk sensing headlamps, rain sensing windscreen wipers and LED front daytime running lights as well as side airbags for the driver in addition to the front airbags for both driver and passenger. Electronic Stability Control for a vehicle of this size is important especially taking into account the varying weights of the loads being carried.
Anthony is impressed with the fuel efficiency from the Masters’ 2.3 litre diesel engine combined with the six speed automated manual transmissions.
“We actually had another brand of van on hire when we were flat out a while ago, and in comparison with the Renaults it used a lot of fuel. We were putting a tank in it every day whereas the Renault you do 500 to 600 kilometres before you have to fill up.”
The vehicles are fitted with the latest GPS technology to allow the SE National operations team to co-ordinate efficiently the pickups and deliveries and provide estimated collection and drop off times to customers.
The compulsory lockdowns in Victoria have had mixed effects on businesses and have been particularly tough on the people, no more so than in a country city such as Shepparton. At the time of speaking with Anthony, Victoria was just starting to tentatively emerge from its hard lockdown.
“People want some certainty,” says Anthony. “It’s hard to make decisions when we don’t know what we are doing tomorrow. That’s been the hardest thing. None of our guys are really wanting to take time off because there’s nowhere to go. Hopefully when things settle down a little bit and the pubs and the entertainment venues are open, staff will want to take time off.”
Efficient systems and vehicles, combined with state of the art facilities and dedicated staff have been key not just to SE National’s survival during 2020, but to its continued prosperity in the face of the challenges brought about by the COVID pandemic. Anthony Sfetcopoulos bases his optimism for the future on the company’s response to the unique circumstances of the past year.
“In the past 12 months we have probably doubled our local delivery business,” he says. “That’s why we bought so many new vans and hopefully we can keep growing the business and getting more people employed in our area.”