Two Australian industries which have defied the constrictive effects of the pandemic have been the supply of new trucks, and the construction industry.
CNC Cartage Solutions’ Chad and Chelsea Brown have been riding the wave of both as the demand for the services of their crane trucks has driven their requirements for additional vehicles.
In the late ‘90s Chad was only 20 years of age and delivering timber to a wholesaler’s customers using flat top trucks when he realised there was a gap in the market which could be better filled with deliveries using crane trucks.
“A lot of people were asking me to deliver components to building sites for them. I remember the first customer who said ‘if you get a crane truck we’ll use you’,” says Chad. “We took the plunge and we still do work for that same customer today. A lot of our early customers are still with us and we’ve grown together.”
From those humble beginnings the CNC fleet has evolved to 40 company owned vehicles with more currently on order, plus almost 30 full time dedicated sub-contractors in company livery. The equipment also includes 12 semi-trailers.
As a family company its growth, according to Chad, has been partly determined by its inability to say no.
“The biggest thing is making sure the customer is happy and they don’t need to rely upon anyone else,” he says.
Chad readily admits he has never been much of a salesperson. Until recently he didn’t even have a need for one, having managed to achieve company growth by providing a good service and maintaining good relationships with the customers.
“Keith Poppleton joined us in 2020 in the dual role of sales and compliance. Keith enjoys making sure we are compliant and he’s our WH&S officer and works closely with the authorities and any outside companies we use in the areas of health and safety,” Chad says.
Social media assists the dual purposes of expanding both the client base and the recruitment process.
“The whole idea of being on Facebook is to have a presence so people know who we are, and we also get a lot of guys coming to us looking for work,” Chad explains.
Rather than being a self-promoter, Chad considers his own expertise is in the area of operating the trucks and the business around them and he has assembled a group of key people and trusted suppliers.
Chad considers Russell Walls, who is in charge of the daily logistical side of operations, his right-hand man. “Over the past ten years Russell has helped expand the business,” he says. “Russell and I worked together at the very first company where I started with flat tops 20 years ago. It was a big step for us to bring someone in from outside yet we’ve consistently grown since then. Jo Booth joined us about seven years ago and manages all of the office staff and HR compliance and she has made a great contribution to easing the running of the business.”
A large proportion of the clients are retailers such as the big hardware chains, manufacturing companies, and anyone who needs to get something delivered to a building site.
Frequently CNC Cartage is able to save clients double handling by picking items up from a wholesaler and delivering it direct.
The nature of the clients’ businesses dictates that most of the job allocations for the CNC Cartage trucks is decided late in the afternoon of the previous day. Some trucks are assigned permanently to specific clients and Chad sees CNC Cartage’s flexibility as an important factor in the service offering.
“If a customer needs six trucks for the day then we’ll give them six, if they need two trucks the next day then we give him two,” Chad says.
Corporate identity is important and traditionally the CNC fleet has featured its red, grey and blue logo on its company trucks.
Arising out of supporting community activities such as local football clubs, Chad made the decision to progress to some stand-out vinyl wraps to give a few of the trucks their own identities.
“We often loan trucks to be used as stages for community events,” he says. “So why not do a superhero wrap that kids are going to love?”
An unintended consequence of the wraps is the additional level of care the trucks receive from their operators and scratches and dents from incidents such as brushing past trees have become non-existent.
The drivers also have some input into the design being applied to the truck they drive.
Recently a number of newly delivered Hino’s have been illustrated with flames on a black background.
“You’d be surprised at how well it has worked out,” says Chad. “Our trucks are noticeable on the road, and are commonly referred to by their character name. The drivers look after them and some customers even have a favourite truck.”
CNC’s fleet is predominantly from Hino, with Sci-Fleet being the supplying dealer for the past 20 years.
In the past, temporary shortages of certain models and the unavailability of some particular specifications has seen Chad try other brands but the expansion of the Hino range over recent years has meant he hasn’t had to look elsewhere when it’s time to order new trucks.
On this front Will Gaulton at Sci-Fleet ensures Chad will have new trucks when he needs them.
CNC’s business model involves keeping a truck for between five and seven years and then on-selling it to a sub-contractor as the business expands.
Chad has had some Hino trucks which were still performing well after more than 1.5 million kilometres. Vehicle down time is minimised through the use of night-time servicing.
Every combination is equipped with a HMF crane and Chad values his relationship with Grant Sweeting from West-Trans which supplies the HMF cranes and Tim Hill from Crane Tech Industrial, who performs the installations and manages the crane service and repair as well.
“Servicing is a big thing with the cranes. We get it done at six monthly intervals but they also have an annual inspection. I’m big on compliance and making sure we’re doing everything right. About five years ago the authorities had a big push targeting crane trucks and it was one of the better things that happened because the industry needed a good shake up. We came out of it fairly well and our customers know they can rely upon us to make sure we’ve got everything right including gear such as the correct slings. They’d rather pay us a few more dollars an hour and get it done right than use someone cheaper.”
To further enhance safety the trucks are equipped with 360 degree camera systems supplied by Petr Stajnc at Active Fleet.
As with many Australian transport businesses, staffing has been a challenge in meeting the demands of growth.
“It doesn’t matter how many trucks we’ve got. They have to be out on the road so we look after our staff and make a real effort to retain them,” says Chad.
“We provide lots of training to make sure they are suitable for the needs of the job and to put a new driver on we may go through three or four others to find someone who is suitable for what we do, and then we tend to keep them.”
The building industry in general can be a challenge as sites become smaller and every boundary is being pushed to the extreme. A full semi load of 12-metre-long floor joists may have to be unloaded onto a site which itself is only 12-metres wide which requires, in turn, a high skill level from the driver/operator.
During 2021 CNC relocated into its new premises at Narangba from which the trucks can service the Greater Brisbane area as well as the Gold and Sunshine Coasts. Chad credits his wife Chelsea with much of the success of CNC Cartage.
“Chelsea works harder than me in the business. I might get the accolades and recognition about the good stuff we’re doing, but without her we wouldn’t be where we are,” he says. “She needs just as much rap as I do in putting everything together.”
Their son Jack joined the business last year.
“I want to provide a service for our customers and if that means we need to work a little bit harder in the background and make sure that happens, then so be it,” says Chad. “If we are doing the best we can there is no need for our customers to go elsewhere.”