Bravo Company

An operator, who values the personal touch, Luke Ashton oversees an interstate transport business whose fleet of long haul American trucks has been recently joined by a new Freightliner Argosy.

Up until 2005 Luke Ashton had been a manager for a major national freight company and was encouraged by friends and family, including wife Rebecca, to strike out on his own, which he did with a 14-pallet rigid truck.

The Aussie success story of the proverbial ‘one man with one truck’ start-up, through hard work and attention to customer service led to the need for a second truck three years later. Exponential growth, seen subsequently to that, has prompted the operation to expand and it now operates 40 of its own vehicles, including B-doubles and B-triples, supplemented by a number of dedicated sub-contractors.

In the early days OzWide Freight concentrated on full loads before Luke put additional client management people in place to develop the LCL (Less than Container Load) opportunities for palletised freight.

Today, up to seven OzWide roadtrains per week are sent on the Brisbane-Perth route, and between 15 and 20 B-doubles leave Brisbane for North Queensland weekly. ‘Local’ services are provided to the Brisbane and Toowoomba regions as well as the Sunshine and Gold Coasts.

Diversification has been on the agenda for some time and Luke appointed a dedicated manager a few years ago to expand the customer base to avoid relying on just a handful of large clients.

That decision has been vindicated over the past 18 months as OzWide experienced only a minimal amount of disruption due to the COVID situation.

Luke Ashton, OzWide Freight Director.

In reality, OzWide was able to capitalise on some of the opportunities presented by some of the radical shifts in the circumstances of road freight in Australia.

“It’s not often you can say ‘I’m glad I’m in transport’,” says Luke in a smiling acknowledgement of the way the road freight industry has been applauded by politicians and public alike in its response to the unprecedented circumstances.

Some years ago, OzWide initially rented 120 square metres of shed space and within four weeks was needing 1,000 square metres of space.

At that point Luke was still driving trucks full time but could see that his driving days were numbered as the size of the business demanded his full-time attention.

Luke also realised there would be an increased demand for additional integrated freight and warehousing services to a broad range of clients including many from the construction and mining industries, as well as health care and fast food chains.

“Around that time we had a big influx of new work with a number of interstate transport companies asking us to do local distribution and storage for them,” he says. “From that business we obtained additional contacts and leads which we chased up and it all kept growing from there.”

In response to the needs of a number of clients OzWide now operates a purpose-built warehouse and logistics facility covering 8,000 square metres with the capacity for 4,000 pallet spaces.

OzWide’s provision of a third party logistics service in Brisbane can be an important benefit for national clients who may have their own head offices and distribution centres located in other states and need good support in Queensland.

OzWide provides a full suite of 3PL services including storage, distribution, pick and pack, dispatch services and container unpacking.

“The current facility at Crestmead is fully secure with 24/7 monitored security and CCTV surveillance,” Luke explains. “We utilise the latest in warehouse management systems enabling us to monitor stock and provide to the moment reporting.”

A majority of the company’s growth, to this day a point of pride for Luke, has come from referrals from existing customers and from people seeing the trucks out on the road with their striking Aussie-themed colour schemes.

Operational efficiency can be a major contributor to reducing costs. The trucks on the Brisbane-Perth route, to this end, aim for direct deliveries as well as depot drops.

“We always try for one direct drop when we can, even in North Queensland,” says Luke.

All trucks are equipped with GPS tracking systems.

Luke prefers American-style prime movers and the fleet features mainly Western Stars powered by DD15 Detroit Diesel engines. However, the latest acquisition is a Freightliner Argosy with a similar driveline.

“I’ve been happy with the performance of the Detroits and although I knew they were phasing the Argosys out, the dealer suggested we try one and we got a pretty good deal so it was a no brainer to buy one,” he says. “The service through Daimler is brilliant.”

All except one of Luke’s current fleet of prime movers are fitted with Eaton UltraShift Plus automated manual transmissions and when, in the near future, the lone manual is traded in, its replacement will be an automatic as well.

The reasoning? Luke believes it’s getting harder to find drivers who can competently operate a manual especially given many of the younger drivers coming through have been trained and licensed in trucks with automated transmissions.

An attractive custom feature of the Argosy’s cabin is the laser-cut stainless steel inserts on the lower inside of the door panels which feature the OzWide logo and the selling dealer’s name.

The Argosy is usually combined with a Vawdrey 12-pallet drop deck Titeliner ‘A’ trailer and a Vawdrey 22 pallet drop deck mezzanine Titeliner ‘B’ trailer. When combined with an additional 12 pallet straight deck ‘A’ trailer the triple combination has space for 62 pallets of freight.

As the OzWide fleet has continued to expand, so too has the reputation for comprehensively maintained and immaculately presented trucks and trailers.

The Vawdrey trailers and OzWide liveried Freightliner make an impressive visual impact particularly due to the trailer curtains paying homage to Australia’s military personnel.

“I got the inspiration from grandfather’s war service and have done this as a sign of respect,” says Luke. “I don’t think there’s enough emphasis today on what they did for us. The ANZAC-inspired curtains were a way for us to honour the men and women who gave us the opportunity and the freedom to live, work and grow our own business in this great country.”

The distinctive curtains are being replicated on a new trailer set to be hauled by one of the Perth-based sub-contractors so the images will be able to be seen crossing the Nullarbor as well as along the Queensland coast. A second new set of Vawdrey trailers will carry a Queensland-Western Australia theme.

“Maybe a cane toad riding a black swan”, jokes Luke.

A large degree of OzWide’s success Luke attributes to the management team he has assembled and all managers provide personalised service to each and every client and are directly contactable by clients without going through the filter of a call centre.

“Our people know my expectations in relation to customer service and keeping it personal. The simpler you can make doing business for the customer, the longer you’ll have them,’” Luke says.
“If you start complicating things sometimes it all gets too hard for them. And we need to remember that through our growth. I don’t want to keep growing to the point where it becomes unmanageable.”

OzWide customers can book their shipments online and a paperless ‘sign on glass’ system will be rolled out during 2021.

“I’m pretty content where we are now. We are a company that wants to get to a certain point. Is there a sweet spot? I think we’ve already been past it,” says Luke.

Current projects include the construction of a new OzWide owned depot in Townsville, which is likely to be followed by a similar facility in Cairns.

Luke feels assured that the next burst of company growth will be within Queensland and has recently appointed a regional operations manager to oversee the North Queensland operations from the Townsville base.