The west wing
The meteoric rise of South West Express has been recently recognised by Woolworths who named the Western Australian family-business Small Carrier of the Year in 2019. The entire fleet, at present, is in the process of being completely converted to Euro 6 engine technology with the arrival of the latest commercial vehicles from long-time partner, Scania.
The story of Mark and Andrea Mazza, CEO and Director Secretary of Bunbury-based South West Express, has been one of ups and downs as he tells it.
His career in road transport started almost by default, as a drilling rig offsider, which also required a current heavy vehicle licence.
The job, however, wasn’t well paid. At the time his brother-in-law Lyndon Telini – thanks to a regular schedule of overtime – was earning a good wage.
Mark, who was raising a young family, joined him at local family-owned transport company Giacci Bros as soon as a position opened up. Little did he know it was the beginning of a 36-year journey.
That eventually led to some recurrent work piloting fuel tankers and tippers. He eventually made his way into the freezer game and, with it, came the purchase of his first truck, a 1983 487 Atkinson with a Cummins 350 Big Cam.
The job lasted just three months before the local plant shut down. His first cheque bounced, leaving Mark with no money with which to pay for fuel and hungry mouths to feed at home. He could have been a character in a Springsteen song.
Through sheer persistence circumstances would, in the grander scheme of things, turn around for Mark when he accepted a job carting raw offal from an abbatoir.
“It was quite a nasty business but for all intents and purposes it pulled me out of the manure,” he recalls.
“When one opportunity closes, another one opens up and you seize the opportunity and work with it. That’s very much been my story. For the most part it’s a tough gig.”
Being as that may, Mark and the respected outfit he now runs, South West Express, which is recognised as an industry leader when it comes to safety and technology, was named the 2019 Woolworths’ Small Carrier of the Year.
Acknowledged for exceptional service and safety under the qualifying parameter that its operations account for less than $25 million of work with the supermarket chain, South West Express, has worked as a Woolworths carrier for nearly 20 years.
In 2002, after servicing stores intermittently, the account was formalised – a major fillip for a family-owned business.
When South West Express was announced as the Small Carrier of the Year at Rosehill Racecourse in Sydney last November, where over 250 road transport partners and industry professionals were gathered for the Woolworths annual awards, Mark had little to no inkling beforehand that his company had won.
“Woolworths keeps its cards pretty close,” he says.
“It was not unlike how they do their contracts. In the lead up they had shot a video of the nominees and we were one of them. But that was the extent of it.”
Safety, as one of the key criteria for the Small Carrier Award, goes well beyond road practices, according to Mark, to factor in reductions in uncoupling events and delivery improvements recognised at retail sites and depots.
“We have a KPI system with Woolworths and our contracts are reviewed on a regular basis, probably every six months,” he said. “When we sit down with them, we go through all of our KPIs. They come up with a score. If you’ve had a major reduction in dropped trailer events or any other safety event you’re in consideration for an award.”
Part of its contract involves carting meat produced in Bunbury that goes to stores throughout Western Australia and relaying secondary freight from the Perth Regional Distribution Centre down into the southwest.
That involves servicing over 16 supermarkets, a range of BWS stores and some Dan Murphy’s sites.
“Our company does everything from one carton to a corner store right through to produce deliveries,” Mark says. “We cart for all sorts of customers. We have a fairly broad customer base.”
Having recently taken delivery of four new Scania R580s, South West Express has transitioned its entire prime mover fleet up to Euro 6 standard.
The commercial vehicles are 106-tonne rated for carrying palletised products across Western Australia and also into the retail outlets.
Often regarded as the first fleet in Western Australia to adopt Euro 6 engine technology, South West Express services 200 customers and maintains depots in Welshpool and Albany.
The four new NTG Scania R580s purchased replace the last of Mark’s Euro 5 rated prime movers. These trucks will be equipped with a full safety pack including side-curtain airbags which is standard with the product.
Nearly 80 per cent of the Scania fleet comprises 16-litre Euro 6 product with 13-litre commercial vehicles comprising the remainder.
“We find that the Scania product fits in extremely well with what we do given the break-up between the multi-delivery tasks required of us in metropolitan destinations and also the linehaul with a lot of roadtrains going back and forth between the regional areas,” Mark says.
“We were the first fleet of Euro 6 commercial vehicles in WA. We were also the first Euro 5 fleet in WA.”
Every night eight roadtrains cart meat out of Bunbury on a closed loop in which trailers are uncoupled at a roadtrain assembly where they are downsized to semi-trailers. South West Express also pulls a B-triple 36.5 metres in length down to Bunbury and uses standard single 45-foot trailers for local stores.
The company specialises in zone loading in which the trailer is segmented into compartments of three or four different zones on one movement so as to facilitate multi-drop deliveries to different supermarkets.
Bulkheads separate the compartments inside the trailers so zones can be divided, for example, into frozen, chilled and ambient stock.
Deliveries are thus tailored to suit the provisions of each individual store.
All newly built trailers are procured from Melbourne-based body builder FTE.
As FTE has partnered with Mark’s company since 1998, its very familiar with the configurations required and now delivers to spec what is referred to as a South West Build.
“We love the product. It ages very well,” says Mark. “It can be refurbished and goes along quite nicely compared to other makes which have a shorter shelf life.”
The partnership parallels the relationship with Woolworths in terms of time frame and commitment. The first trailer South West Express bought from FTE was second hand.
They’ve been with them ever since.
In addition to the 21 prime movers the company operates, South West Express has a small fleet of a dozen or more three-pallet distribution trucks from Hino and Fuso.
Unique canary yellow livery bears the company’s unique starburst insignia incorporating the Southern Cross and a mythical Griffin, not unlike the nose art pilots adorned their bombers with during the first world war.
Scania provides the business with a platinum service and maintenance package. The fixed cost structure works, according to Mark, to his advantage as 90 per cent of all costs attributed to a prime mover are factored into rate structures at the time of contract tender.
“If you don’t have that system you might do your normal servicing and should you blow up a couple of motors one year, how do you factor that in? With the fixed servicing that’s all covered not only if they break down on the side of the road, Scania covers the cost of towing, they also organise a fill-in vehicle for us, they cover the whole cost at breakdown to the point that if they can’t get the vehicle back on the road for you within 24 hours they have a thing called Max24 where they start paying me $500 a day for the inconvenience.”
The platinum level service contract covers off on everything – even globes.
“When we’ve looked at the figures and the upfront cost every month and that includes all of your inputs for servicing, engine oils, your labour, filters, any breakdowns it certainly works for us,” Mark says.
Those figures have long been crunched by Mark’s wife Andrea, South West Express Director Secretary, who looked after their children and handled the books at home while he was out on the road in the early days.
All four of the kids now work within the business.
South West Express, according to Scania WA Regional Executive Manager Michael Berti, is a nurturing environment that instils strong organisational values that are felt well beyond the supply chain.
“They are very much there for each other and it’s the same with the employees, customers and the suppliers,” he says. “That’s just how Mark operates.”
Michael has worked closely with Mark since 2014.
During that time, according to Michael, Mark’s belief in total cost of ownership has grown to the point he now advocates for Scania’s repair and maintenance program, planning ahead, as he now does, well beyond initial purchase for the cost of a truck over five years.
Mark is also involved with industry body Transafe, a dedicated road safety audit and traffic engineering consultancy that specialises in transport, traffic and road safety.
Not surprisingly, as part of the safety suite, the new fleet is equipped with telematics that provides greater transparency on driver performance. According to Mark, the service contract excels because it can be specifically tailored to it.
“Good driving behaviour can be rewarded with discounts or credits. It enables the driver to challenge themselves as the scoring is attributed to them and them only,” Mark says.
“At the end of the day they can see what their failings are and go and work on them.”
It’s a good system, he adds, as it allows the driver to take ownership of their performance as the onus is solely on their own score alone.
“When you start pitting people against each other the ones at the bottom end of the scale can often lose their morale,” Mark observes.
“They see there’s no chance that they can better themselves as those at the top are always going to be at the top. Scania has shifted the challenge inward. I think my drivers get more pleasure out of it knowing that they don’t really have to be the best of the best to start with. They can work their way up.”
In addition to investing in one of the supreme safety packs currently available in the market, South West Express also uses reverse turntable cameras.
This allows the driver, while he is in the cab, to clearly view that the prime mover has not overshot the pin when hooking up with a trailer to ensure it won’t detach later.
According to Michael Berti, Mark looks beyond the product technology perspectives to see how he can help make the industry better.
“They’ve always been a marquee fleet for Scania in Western Australia. Mark has long been associated with our product and they’re very recognisable trucks on the road. They stand out. People notice them. And our brand is pleased to be associated with it.”
Having worked with the South West Express CEO for the last five years Michael says Mazza embodies the caring, strong family values epitomised by his company.
“They rely heavily on data and technology to be able to provide a safe operation. To me they’re at the forefront of that. They do a very good job at what they do. It really comes down to those family values which just permeates through his business,” he said.
“We’re super proud of Mark and Andrea and the award couldn’t have gone to anyone better to be honest.”