Greg Watkin has a 25-year history of using vehicles from the Toyota-Hino family having started working out of the back of a Toyota Landcruiser ute doing onsite welding.
Since those early days the business has evolved to meet the changes brought about by different circumstances and market opportunities.
Brisbane is the home of many ‘Queenslander’ style of residential buildings and as they age many of their owners opt to have the original wooden supporting poles replaced with structural steel.
Many also take the opportunity to perform extensive renovations by ‘building in’ additional rooms and spaces under the house.
The occasional flooding of areas around the Brisbane River has also prompted some, where possible, to physically lift the level of their homes to have a better chance of being clear of any future floodwaters.
Greg’s business Brisbane Posts and Beams currently employs around 25 people and supplies steel structural components to builders and renovators who are mostly in the domestic dwelling category, along with providing the steel components required for larger architectural design homes, as well as smaller commercial buildings.
“Everyone wants open plan living now which requires a lot of big beams. Over the years they’ve gone from having a maximum six metre span and now we’re starting to deliver nine metres and longer,” he says. “Timber is getting scarce, so we supply more and more steel components.”
To be able to accommodate those increased lengths the Hino trucks operated by Brisbane Posts and Beams have extended chassis.
The newest truck is a 2021 Hino 500 Series FE1426 Standard Cab model fitted with a nine-metre tray to enable it to carry the full length beams. The Palfinger truck-mounted crane is the first remote controlled crane Brisbane Posts and Beams has had. “
This truck is a little bit bigger than what we would normally get and it carries an extra tonne and the crane extends a little bit further,” Greg says. “We did that because a lot of our products are long and skinny without a lot of weight. For a single house it’s lucky if there’s a couple of tonne in it.”
Standard safety features of the Hino 500 Series include a Pre-Collision Warning System which includes Safety Eye, Autonomous Emergency Braking and Pedestrian Detection in addition to Adaptive Cruise Control, Vehicle Stability Control, and Anti-Lock Brakes, Lane Departure Warning and a reverse view camera. The driver has the protection of an airbag.
The Standard Cab 500 is supported by a 2020 Hino 300 Series 721 model which also has a Palfinger crane fitted.
A 2014 Hino Dutro is kept on hand to fulfil any urgent tasks. One purpose of using their own trucks to perform the deliveries is the benefit of maintaining control right to the end user.
Operating from their base at Everton Hills in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, the Brisbane Poles and Beams trucks cover an extensive delivery area which reaches to the Sunshine Coast down to the Gold Coast and out past Ipswich, with the occasional trip as far as Toowoomba.
The trucks cover between 60,000 and 100,000 kilometres per year and third-party carriers are utilised to deliver products to more distant locations. Some years ago Greg bought a truck which wasn’t a Hino. “But I soon realised I’d made a big mistake. I only had it for three and a half years and just got rid of it. It was not a good truck at all, so back to Hino,” he recalls.
His reasoning for choosing the Hino brand for his trucks is very concise.
“They’re good, they’re reliable and they seem to hold their value,” Greg says.
The business also includes the custom fabrication of steel items such as frames for gates and awnings to suit clients’ specific requirements and offers a fast turnaround. In addition to the steel posts, Brisbane Posts and Beams also manufactures the accompanying brackets as well as bespoke steel stair stringers and landings.
It can also supply the necessary hardware such as bolts and tensioning wires. The steel components are mainly made from ‘supergal’ material which Greg considers as having the thickest internal and external anti-corrosion coating of any ‘pre-gal’ steel tubing.
Finished items can also be hot dipped galvanised or put through a powder coating process to provide an additional level of protection and an appealing finish. Raw steel items can be shot blasted to remove scale and rust prior to being primed.
Greg is continually upgrading the business with modern technology equipment such as the latest plasma cutting equipment which enhances the accuracy of component dimensions while increasing efficiency.
A Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Beam Drill Line provides an exceptionally accurate and durable laser system for all holes and the attachment placement of all welded components. Demand for steel during the last couple of years has resulted in repeated price increases.
“The cost of timber has gone up as well,” says Greg. “I think just due to the scarcity as demand has gone up for use in renovations. The steel mills in places such as Whyalla don’t seem to be producing as much as they were.”
He cites combined steel price increases of around 40 per cent so far this year alone.
“We used to try to hold prices for a couple of months if we knew a job was happening but it’s just so hard now we can’t promise anything because we know prices will go up again,” Greg laments. Despite the pandemic the business is flourishing with its order book appearing healthy. While Greg has been happy to accept the Government’s instant asset write off, that incentive was just one of several factors in the decision to purchase the new Hino.
“The old one was about six years old and was probably getting to the point where you know there are a couple of little issues coming up with it,” he says.
“Also, at ten years we have to get the cranes x-rayed. It had been a great truck, but it was time to update it.”
The new FE is essentially the same configuration as Greg’s previous FD model.
“I had two FDs at one stage and we had a bit of trouble with the cranes we were putting on. We’d find the weight on the front axle wears tyres out,” Greg explains.
“But this FE is a heavier truck and it’s stronger in the front axle. It can carry about 800kgs more which doesn’t sound like much but that additional capacity can equate to an additional delivery per trip. We’ve got a slightly bigger crane now but it’s a lot more robust truck just by going up a tonne or so.”
Greg is currently contemplating stepping back from being as involved in the company’s operations as he has been since he established it. His son Tom is stepping up to take on the overall management role. “Tom started right at the bottom here working on the saws and he’s progressed to be in charge of production now,” says Greg.
“Some of our staff have been here for 20 years. We’ve got the new generation coming through and, as people retire, we’ve got younger people to take over the opportunities in those jobs.”
Brisbane Post and Beams has built its reputation and success over a quarter of a century by concentrating on quality and service as its points of difference, a philosophy which is somewhat paralleled in its choice of Hino trucks.