The demand from Australian consumers for imported goods has never been higher, nor has the export of local products been more important.
For many households, COVID has actually seen an increase in disposable income, which may have harmed sectors such as tourism and entertainment but has also delivered a boom in retail and online shopping.
As an island nation Australia relies on sea and air freight to facilitate the movement of goods each way across its borders and this also necessitates a complex system of checks and balances which require a high level of expertise and experience to navigate smoothly.
Wallace International has been providing such customs brokering and freight forwarding services including all aspects of international freight and the associated landside logistics for 40 years and as the company has expanded so too has its in-house road transport division.
In the field of import and export, compliance with the requirements of the two regulatory bodies of Customs and Quarantine is essential.
“In dealing with Customs in this country, if you do everything right, then everything is OK and provided you have everything ready you can clear your cargo in about one and a half minutes,” says Wallace International founder Bob Wallace.
“We spend hours getting all the data in place and ensuring it’s correct but after lodging with Customs the response is almost immediate and we have to have this all in place well before the arrival of the Ship or Plane,” he says.
“It’s all about the preparation you have to do. If you talk to a painter he’ll probably tell you it’s 90 per cent preparation and 10 per cent the actual paint that makes the paint job look good. Dealing with Customs is the same thing – as long as your preparation is fine, and you know what you have to do, you can go through the system pretty quickly.”
Dealing with Quarantine can sometimes be a different experience as the regulator moves to meet the demands of the growth of its tasks in recent years.
“It’s the customs clearance that is what I call the glue,” says Bob. “Unfortunately, we don’t charge the worth for our customs clearance services because we’re fighting against the ‘sausage factories’ (multi-national competitors) but our cartage and warehousing offerings link everything together.”
Bob considers it vital that the one entity has end-to-end control of the import or export process and sees the future in continuing to provide wharf to door and air freight terminal to door services as the future.
“If you’re not able to provide the whole process, I can’t see how you can be in the game much longer,” he says.
“The big multinationals don’t really care and you’re just a number, whereas we can show we can control it and do the whole thing from go to whoa. I think that’s been a reason why we’ve been able to outlive a lot of independents.”
Wallace International sub-contracts its wharf cartage in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth and since 2000 has been operating its own fleet of semis, B-doubles and rigids from its Sydney facilities in the suburb of Rockdale which is ideally located in close proximity to the Port Botany and Sydney Airport.
The current business model had its origins back when containerisation began. Shipping companies prefer not to handle traditional cargo unless it’s in containers and this has led to the industry developing specialised road transport equipment including skels and sideloaders. Wallace International has four Hammar sideloaders located in Sydney.
The use of efficient sideloaders in Australia is in contrast to the situation in the United States where wharf carriers have multiple trailers which are left for sometimes extended periods of time at client’s premises.
Bob is surprised that sideloader manufacturers such as Hammar and Steelbro haven’t made attempts to enter the US market.
“When sideloaders came here from New Zealand it was probably only going to suit a couple of places such as Perth and Brisbane because we had the room to drop the containers,” he says.
“Take a sideloader into Sydney back then they would have had a heart attack because none of the places had the facilities to drop a container but that’s all since changed.”
At Wallace International it is its prime movers that capture attention because of their striking liveries and bright polished metal components. Supported by Isuzu rigids, the mostly Kenworth fleet stands out due to the always immaculate presentation – one of the benefits of a ‘one truck-one driver’ policy.
This guideline also encourages the drivers to approach with pride, not just the presentation of their vehicles, but also their interaction professionally with clients and the public.
“We put Kenworth’s on because I like longevity and reliability and Kenworth have serviced us very well. I’m not sure if some of our drivers are married to the truck but they certainly treat them that way, racing around with the spray and wipe on the chrome, and the more chrome they have on them the more they’ll keep it up,” Bob says.
“They keep them immaculate and I’m very proud of them for that.”
Fleet Manager Gary Perry ensures it’s not just the truck’s exteriors that receive attention and has a strict servicing regime that involves each truck receiving a service every 10,000 kilometres.
Container work is demanding on trucks as they are mostly running close to their maximum allowable weight and are subjected to the strains of starting and stopping often in heavy traffic.
Kerbside cameras are fitted to each prime mover as a safety measure for operation in Sydney traffic where car drivers frequently ignore the rules and occupy spaces that are entitled to a turning truck.
“Some people who drive cars can’t understand that the driver is ten feet up in the air and he’s got a big bonnet in front of him and he can’t see a car that’s only three feet high,” says Bob. “It annoys me that people don’t think twice nor understand sharing the road with trucks.”
Technology plays an important role in many aspects of the Wallace International operations.
“I’ve been in this for 52 years,” says Bob. “I was at the start of automation with Customs so that’s how old I am. I think the best thing about technology is it’s actually assisted us in a lot of ways. We can keep a better eye on the trucks, and that’s not necessarily keeping an eye on the truck drivers, but it provides a better ability to move them around the place.”
On the clerical side of the business technology has brought such improvements as electronic PODs. Even so Bob is adamant technology won’t replace the moving of freight.
“Somebody has still got to physically move it. Until someone comes out with the Star Trek technology of ‘beam me up’ we’ll still need people to physically move the stuff and I think that’s where trucks and forklifts are still going to be around for a while yet,” he says.
“But that doesn’t stop people making the forklifts better. And today, the trucks are better and they last a lot longer than they used to.”
In recent years Wallace International has expanded into the third party logistics sector and provides warehousing and distribution for clients who are importing or exporting including many food products.
Because Wallace International has built a strong representation as a ‘one stop shop’ it doesn’t perform 3PL work for any other brokers or forwarders.
As it stands, Wallace International moves truckloads of freight by road from Sydney to Brisbane for several of its importer clients.
“They’ve got national contracts with carriers, but they ask us for a price and by the time they move their product to a freight hub and have it collected from a local hub at their end we can save them two or three days and also the cost of double handling,” Bob says.
The Wallace International journey started in 1981 when Bob and his then business partner decided to leave their jobs in multinational companies because they realised there was a need in the market for a more personalised service where customers were treated based on their unique needs.
Today that vision is shared by more than 90 employees across most states of Australia.