All in the Family
An opportunity eight years ago to buy their own freight business saw Paul and Emma Cavalot dive in boots and all. A pre-existing penchant for Toyota vehicles has blossomed into a full-blown appreciation for Hino trucks, culminating in the recent delivery of a quartet of the brand’s new 500 Series Standard Cab medium duty offering.
Midland Freight was established in 1989 in the regional northeast Victorian city of Benalla. In 2012, the original owners who were ready for retirement put the business on the market, a move that current owners Paul and Emma Cavalot saw as a golden opportunity to purchase their very own road freight business.
Both Paul and Emma had prior transport experience with Paul being a fitter by trade and then a truck driver while Emma had worked in administration and logistics roles for various transport companies.
“Following our marriage, we travelled Australia for a few years and Paul got work driving trucks, agitators and various mining machines in Western Australia,” Emma says. “After we got back from our travels and the opportunity to buy Midland Freight presented, we both said, ‘why not do it for ourselves?’”
The couple had already been assessing a few other business opportunities so the timing was right. But being a young couple with a young family finance was an issue according to Emma.
“The banks were not fully convinced we could get enough customers through the door,” she recalls.
“A freight business seemed the best fit because Paul is into trucks and vehicles and I’d been running transport offices and doing logistics management roles, so it seemed the right decision to buy Midland Freight.”
When the Cavalots bought the business – with Paul as Director and Emma as Operations Manager – they had big dreams of where they wanted to take it; the fact that they started with a staff of four and now have 36 employees on the books suggests their ambitions have been realised.
“The first four years were really hard, and at that point we needed to make the decision whether to scale back to an owner-driver level or go for it and take the business to the next level,” Emma says. “We decided to go for it and the results speak for themselves.”
There are a number of factors, according to Emma, that have worked in their favour with building the business, not least what she describes as its ‘perfect’ location.
“We’re right on the Hume Highway smack bang between Melbourne and Albury with a direct link across to Shepparton where the trucks come through from Adelaide before heading north,” she says. “As the business grew more opportunities opened up to expand our network and if we didn’t physically go to a certain location it was easy for us to connect with another freight company that did service that area.”
A good indication of just how far the business has come in the last eight years can be gleaned from the large increase in the number and types of vehicles being operated.
When the Cavalots took the reins, the fleet comprised three vans and one eight-pallet truck. Fast forward to today — there are now 36 vehicles including 16 vans, a number of utes and around 15 trucks of various sizes ranging from light-rigid through to heavy-rigids with 12- to 14-pallet capacities.
While at this stage there are no plans to run semi-trailers, Emma says this might be a possibility in the future if the numbers stack up.
“My husband has been pushing my buttons about that,” she says. “I said, ‘you find the contract and I’ll work out how we can buy the truck’. There have been a couple of opportunities in the past, but the timing wasn’t right. I think now we’re in a better position that if the right contract came up we might be able to manage it. We’ll see.”
Running any daily business is not without challenges. As a husband and wife team Emma and Paul make it work as they each fulfil complementary roles.
“As Director, Paul is very hands on and has been driving one of the trucks doing nightshift over the last few months since the COVID-19 pandemic took effect,” she says.
“I manage the day-to-day running of the office and supervise the staff and together we make it work. That’s what particularly appealed to us about this business – Paul with his strong mechanical knowledge and ability is fantastic at diagnosing and fault-finding any problems we have with the vehicles and driving them when necessary. On the other hand, I’m good at scheduling the logistics and with the management side of things which has worked well for us. It hasn’t been an easy road by any means.”
Emma found it quite challenging being a female in her late 20s in the early days of the business with customers that were more accustomed to men doing the role she had taken on.
“Customers would sometimes look at me and say ‘where’s your husband’ or ‘who runs the show’ and I’d say ‘that’d be me’, but I don’t find it happens much these days because people are now generally more accepting of women in transport roles,” she says, adding that she is grateful for Paul’s mechanical background and knowledge when it comes to choosing the most suitable vehicles for the fleet.
On that note, she outlines the recent influx of four new Hino 500 Series trucks – including three with van bodies and a curtainsider.
Emma says prior to this the first Hino to join the fleet was a second-hand unit that came with a small transport business Midland Freight acquired about four years ago.
“It was a local vehicle that had been well maintained and it has given us good service ever since,” she says.
As for the latest four, Emma explains that they have replaced a number of hire trucks the company had been using for the past 18 months.
“Hiring trucks is a really expensive thing to do but we had a contract come to us virtually overnight, so we needed the trucks right away,” she says.
“At the time we were also in the process of borrowing money to build a house, so it wasn’t feasible to buy new trucks. Having the house finance in place and the contract performing well enabled us to purchase the new trucks which was pretty cool.”
As for the reasons for specifying them, Emma says Paul did a lot of research and concluded that Hino was the best truck for the job.
The Hinos are used to carrying whitegoods, loading at a Melbourne warehouse and radiating out all over country Victoria and southern New South Wales.
While the weights are not overly heavy, the less than ideal condition of regional roads meant the rear air suspension equipped Hinos came out on top in the eyes of Cavalots.
“Paul test drove a few of the Japanese brands and kept coming back to Hino,” Emma says. “What really clinched the deal was when he found out Hino is part of the Toyota group – our family is Toyota-mad and Paul has a collection of old FJ40 series Landcruisers — so he knew they would have the quality and longevity we were looking for.”
The Cavalot’s Hino 500 Series FD 1126 X Long Air units feature Hendrickson HAS 200 airbag rear suspension and ride on a 5.5m wheelbase, significant features which, according to Emma, contribute to a superior ride on less than ideal country roads.
This attribute is further enhanced by the standard inclusion of an ISRI 6860 NTS2 air-suspended driver’s chair.
She also says the drivers appreciate the punch from Hino’s torquey 5.1 litre AO5C-TC engines – which produce 260hp and 882Nm of torque – and the ease of driving afforded by the smooth-shifting Allison 2500 Series six-speed automatic transmissions.
Given drivers might occupy the cab for 12 hours on a shift, safety and convenience features also rate highly with Emma. These include vehicle stability control including ABS, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning system, and adaptive cruise control.
In addition, there are also LED headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights, driver’s airbag, reverse camera and a powerful engine brake (Jake brake) and exhaust brake combination that ensures safe hill descents with minimal service brake use.
Each of the trucks has a body length of 7.0m which Emma says enables space for ten pallets with some room left at the rear. Each also sports a full back door tail-lift for the purpose of loading and unloading the whitegoods.
The van bodied trucks have rails installed along each side at the correct height for the whitegoods which ensures they can be strapped down securely for the journey. Meanwhile, the curtainsider has gates and load-rated curtains.
The drivers use heavy-duty whitegoods trolleys to unload the boxed whitegoods at retail outlets all over country Victoria and southern New South Wales.
According to Emma, the contract requires the utmost care of the products from loading at the factory through to delivery at the retailer’s premises, a responsibility which each of the drivers takes extremely seriously.
“We mostly do door-to-door deliveries which means the products are only handled once and ensures they arrive in pristine condition,” Emma says.
The whitegoods deliveries account for approximately half of the company’s work while the other half involves parcel deliveries for some of the major companies.
“Since COVID-19 started our parcel delivery work has gone bananas and it’s been a case of all hands on deck to manage the workload — hence the reason why Paul has been doing night shift driving on a regular basis,” she says. “The fact that all of our vehicles are sign written has made it easier when crossing the border as they are always waved through.”
As for further truck purchases, Emma says the plan is to add more Hinos to the fleet as business needs dictate.
“We’re still hiring two trucks at present which is not ideal,” she says.
“When the new Hinos we have recently bought are run in we plan to base two in Melbourne and order another two from Jacob Hino so that we can hand back the hired units. Our new Hinos are doing everything right in terms of being a quiet, comfortable and powerful truck for our drivers who at times spend up to 12 hours per day driving them. For us, driver satisfaction is of utmost importance, along with the reliability and durability of the Hinos that are hallmarks of the Toyota group that produces them.”