Looking to the future
Family company, Rowell Freight Lines, has undergone substantial growth by maintaining an unerring commitment to safety, reliability and service while seizing opportunities to expand into the future.
Michael Rowell, Director of Rowell Freight Lines, is a man who has been involved with many successful businesses over the years. He has tried his hand at a number of differing commercial activities and forged his way to success in the business community through a simple commitment to hard work and delivering added value to customers.
With an uncanny ability to recognise opportunities and build on them, each commercial venture has undergone growth coupled with a high degree of customer satisfaction and his venture into road transport has been no different.
Born in Tasmania, Michael was involved in earthmoving before making his way north, eventually settling on the Gold Coast in Queensland where in 1997 he and his wife Tracey bought a local transport business with eight trucks, building that number to 16 before the business was sold in 2000. This was the couple’s first venture in transport but it would definitely not be the last.
Michael took a break over a couple of years, channelling his efforts into other business activities, but he saw another opportunity in transport which resulted in the purchase of an interstate truck business that was to be the catalyst of Rowell Freight Lines as it is today.
“We operated that business with the express aim to grow the business and in 2006 an order was placed for our first batch of new trucks. Today we operate 27 B-double combinations on services between Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide,” Michael says.
“Our main activities and areas we specialise in are alcohol cartage, paper and steel, as well as general freight, and the primary focus of our business is complete service coupled with safety and reliability in transport and logistics.”
Rowell Freight Lines employs 30 drivers, and the highest standards in safety, fatigue and maintenance management are addressed and monitored to ensure the company’s reputation is not only maintained but enhanced – no ifs, buts or maybes.
The family company is fastidious in every aspect of operation to ensure standards are not only met but exceeded and training plays a vital role in meeting that aim, particularly in the safety stakes.
“Drivers must have a clean record and each is given a thorough induction in both our operations and those of our customers, this is vital,” Michael says. “We cover every aspect of compliance and fatigue is managed to the letter, all are on Basic Fatigue Management (BFM) and driving hours are closely monitored.
“We have rest facilities here at our Stapylton depot and when drivers arrive they go to bed while others unload and reload the trucks, ensuring compliance at all times. Our depot location allows us to reduce driving hours for those on long distance to give them maximum time off. We employ people to manage fatigue down to the last detail and all trip plans are designed around driving hours and absolute safety. Random checks on drivers are carried out and that has worked well for us and them to again further safety.
“We have our own Comprehensive Safe Driving Plan in place and drivers are required to complete a safety checklist before the commencement and at the end of each journey to ensure any fault, no matter how minor, is attended to immediately.”
A depot is based in Coffs Harbour and three drivers are based in that city, two are in Casino and the rest are in Brisbane. While Michael admits it is not getting easier to find drivers, he has a stable workforce.
The Rowell fleet is extremely modern with a strategic replacement program in place. Rarely does a truck reach its fourth birthday before it is replaced and the company orders a number of trucks each year to keep pace with new technology and maintain high reliability levels.
“We order four or five trucks a year and during the investment allowance year we took delivery of 10 units. Last year we bought five, six this year and we have orders in place for a further seven before the end of June 2012,” Michael tells.
The company does not trade its trucks, rather they are sold privately and considering the condition in which they are maintained there is no shortage of buyers.
“I have never traded a truck yet,” he says. “We keep all of our trucks immaculate at all times, both in mechanical condition and presentation, and they never take long to sell. All maintenance and servicing is carried out in-house with any major repairs done by the dealers.” This was reflected in the trucks at the depot when Prime Mover visited, with three of the oldest Western Stars in the fleet looking as though they had just been driven out of the showroom.
Currently Rowell Freight Lines operates 23 Western Star 4800 models, three Kenworths and one Freightliner Argosy in the B-double operation. The Rowells buy all the Western Stars from Southside Agencies in Lismore NSW, and have a long time association with Dealer Principal, Steve Robinson, that spans more than 20 years. Michael Rowell has been involved with speedway and sprint cars for a long time, as has Steve.
“Our company worked closely with Steve to develop the Western Star 4800 to what it is today for 34 pallet work. We have had a very good run from Western Star and they suit our haulage applications very well. The last four trucks we bought are powered by the new Detroit DD15 engine and while they are new water to us, they have presented no mechanical issues whatsoever,” he says.
“I have a preference for Cummins engines and most of the fleet has 600hp under the bonnet for our B-double work, delivering comfortable trip times as we go about the business of effecting exceptional services for our customers.”
The customer is all-important at Rowell Freight Lines and clients are kept well informed of truck location at all times, with communication maintained to ensure the best in service.
“If you are doing a job for somebody you must make sure it is done with as little fuss and possible. That means making the delivery or pickup on time and in a very professional manner, ensuring everything is done correctly, including paperwork, and carrying out the role smoothly and efficiently. When you give customers grief it means you haven’t been able to do the work properly,” Michael says.
The subject of freight rates comes up in all conversations about road transport and Michael reports there is improvement due to the fact there are fewer trucks on the road in this economic climate.
“There have been quite a number of companies that have gone out of business recently and that has led to a shortage of trucks in many areas. There is certainly not the number of trucks available to carry the freight and as a consequence freight rates have improved. Business opportunities exist for those who recognise the potential areas to be addressed,” he says.
Michael indicates he will continue to expand the business. “The plan is to double the size of the company as we look to the future. I don’t want to grow too quickly, rather it will be done in a manner that ensures our future, and this will be done in accordance with our customer service and the demand for those services, plus further development of transport solutions meeting exacting customer requirements,” he says.
Luke Rowell, son of Michael and Tracey, is at the helm of operations. He has completed a university business degree in sustainable development and is constantly available to make decisions and deal with customers, but that is not saying Michael is in any way removed from the business. He might be director of the company, but you will usually see him completely in the thick of things on a daily basis.
He is not afraid to get his hands dirty, in fact Michael is often behind the wheel loading or unloading trucks while drivers are resting, is willing to crawl under a truck or trailer to discuss an issue with the mechanic or in business discussion with an existing or potential client.
“I am very hands-on, it is the only way to see exactly what is happening in the business as everything we do has a direct effect on the client. We strive to know what is important to our business and that of our customers and work to maintain service that is ahead of the rest,” Michael points out.
Every day there is a Rowell truck on the road somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard and its location is monitored along with driving hours as safety continues to be addressed and improved for drivers, customers and other road users. The company vision to provide customer service that is second to none is something all involved in the business are passionate about and this has resulted in a reputation for achievement.