The promise of a fresh start and life without winter, or at least one that didn’t last half the year, encouraged many from the southern states to move north to the Gold Coast in Queensland in earnest during the 1980s as they pursued opportunities in new industries ensuing from unprecedented growth.
Craig Henson, who grew up near Swan Hill in country Victoria, can be considered one of them. A panel beater by trade, Craig operates Pryme Earthworks, a general hire earthmoving business specialising in swimming pool excavations he established in 2014 having run an earthmoving business prior to it for 11 years on the Gold Coast for somebody else.
It was on that job that he became acquainted with Japanese commercial vehicles having driven an array of light and medium duty trucks spec’d for metropolitan work sites.
Not unlike many small businesses starting out in the transport industry, Pryme Earthworks began life out of a makeshift home office with one truck – a second-hand Hino. Craig and his partner Toni no longer work out of their home having added 15 employees, several all new Hino 500s and a recently constructed 1250m2 facility in Yatala where all of the trucks and earth moving equipment is now housed. The facility includes offices and a wash bay for the trucks which he likes to keep in top condition.
Pryme Earthworks moved into its new headquarters, which Craig built himself, in October, commonly the start of the busiest time of year for his business right through until the end of summer.
“We’ve done well to keep our head above water and the business going strong while building the factory at the same time,” he says. “It’s a good little business. I’ve got the right guys working for me. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. The Hino 500 Series and the new dealership has played a part in that.”
Late last year, after impassioned lobbying from some locally aligned Hino businesses such as Craig’s, the commercial vehicle manufacturer established a new after hours service on Thursday and Friday nights. Based in Nerang, on the fringes of the Hinterland west of Southport, Sci Fleet Hino Gold Coast represents, according to Craig, a major development for his business. Because he has eight Hino vehicles in active duty Craig has acted on the preemption that he requires maintenance and repairs every month.
“I’ve been trying to persuade the dealership to open for extra hours since I purchased my second Hino a couple of years ago,” he says. “It’s substantial for a business like mine when you take it out of your turnover. In a 12 month period you’re talking up to $15,000. It’s quite significant when you look at it like that. I was very much an advocate for the additional after hours service option and Hino were receptive to my needs.”
The adage you can always make more money but you can never make more time attributed as a quote, perhaps apocryphally to Jim Rohn, is for Craig and other transport operators, one and the same.
“If you have a truck taken off the road you lose a thousand dollars,” he says. “The option of dropping it in later that afternoon for a service and picking it up that night was a no-brainer. It’s meant a great deal to my operations.”
While growth on the Gold Coast has outstripped every other capital city, 20 per cent of its workforce, according to Census data, is self-employed. For Craig and Toni, who handles the administrative side of the business, they co-ordinate full time staff with a regular group of sub-contractors up and down the greater metropolitan area of the Gold Coast and even, for the occasional project, into Brisbane.
Among its regular clientele Pryme Earthworks deals with most of the major pool businesses on the coast including Sundollar, L&V Pools, Oasis and Gold Coast Family. Although its specialty service is in pool excavation, the company also provides site cut services. The business digs out 150 pools a month. The majority of the work is residential although they also handle some commercial projects for L&V Project Pools and Torrance Aquatic such as the much larger Olympic swimming pools.
While the new facility has taken four months to build, the fleet of Hinos has been procured over a two year period. Having changed over to the all-new Hino 500 Series with the Allison sourced true automatic transmission and 320hp engine, Craig appreciates the user-friendly technology as he looks to mitigate repairs and eliminate clutch failures from drivers, who when using previously-owned manually operated vehicles in the past had blown gearboxes usually at around the dreaded 80,000 kilometre mark.
Bearing that in mind and with a dearth of skilled drivers at his disposal, having a manual gearbox in his business became something of a sticking point. The Hino 500 Series has helped solve the issue, with the Allison transmission chief among its many attractions such as the Pre-Collision systems incorporating Safety Eye and Autonomous Braking.
“I like the fact that they’re user friendly. I’ve had many other light and medium duty trucks from Japan and Europe with manual gearboxes and the boys just don’t know how to drive them,” he says. “The Allison automatic gearbox is great. It takes away the idiot factor and removes the guesswork on the part of the driver. You can put somebody in there and as long as they’re not going from drive to reverse at 100 km/h they will just keep going.”
Rebuilding a gearbox every 100,000 kilometres, it goes without saying, is simply not feasible for any trucking operation.
“It’s not only the cost, it’s the downtime that you lose and now with Hino offering servicing after hours on a Thursday and Friday night here on the coast it’s a big development and big effort on their part,” Craig says. “That helps us a lot in reducing our downtime.”
Site access for each dig determines the size of the equipment Craig and his team will use. The excavators at hand run the full gamut from 1.7 tonnes up to 13 tonnes and everything in between. A track loader removes the material excavated from the ground and the trucks are loaded before being designated for a quarry, landfill site or recycling yard. Pools are largely standard and between 1.8 metres and 2.5 metres deep.
“The concrete pool as opposed to a fibreglass pool is customer orientated because the customer has a lot more input into what it can feature. He can have a seat in that corner or ditch along the side,” Craig says. “The beauty of a concrete pool is the versatility of it I suppose and the longevity. They last for a long time.”
The Hino 500 Series are not solely used as a tipper, as they are required to transport machinery to each of the jobs. On sloping drives and Hinterland properties drivers accustomed to a manual transmission need to learn how to get the best out of the vehicle according to Craig – and he is not averse to teaching them.
“If you put the Hino in power mode using the plus/minus on the gearbox you can go up and down the gears and they hold it in one gear just fine. It’s just a matter of educating guys on how to drive an auto too,” he says. “You can educate a guy on how to operate a manual but you can’t watch him every day of the week. That’s another aspect I do like about these autos. You can tell the driver how to drive it but that’s ultimately how to drive it so you can’t do any damage to it.”
Craig also uses Hino trucks on a start-up business he has established called Pryme On Site, which is dedicated to hydraulic hose replacements for the heavy equipment. All of Craig’s machines are within warranty but a warranty claim in Brisbane can take three to four hours for the guys to get to the Gold Coast to make the necessary repairs. By supplying his own hoses, Craig is servicing these breakdowns under warranty and Hitachi have given him the go-ahead to do it. Craig’s dedicated hose doctor in the business can be on site within 20 minutes of a breakdown.
“That’s a huge saving when you’ve got four or five bits of gear on the one job which can amount to nearly $500 an hour in machine hire alone that you’re losing when you’re waiting a couple of hours. It gets quite expensive.”
He adds, “Not that we have a lot of breakdowns but on the off chance that we do it’s good to have the option there.”
For the hydraulic repair work Craig opts for a 205hp Hino 300 921 with an 8.5 tonne gross vehicle mass. Also with a true automatic transmission, the Hino 300 Series was the first light duty truck in Australia equipped with Vehicle Stability Control.
The standard safety suite on the new Hino vehicles is itself a cost-effective tool for the challenges indicative of entering residential enclaves and negotiating peak traffic, offsetting some of the other costly material investments, one of which, however, given the nature of operations, is not fuel. Pryme Earthworks averages less than $35,000 a month in fuel across all of its moveable assets. Now that equipment is housed in a dedicated facility Craig says they will start to use a fuel cell to monitor and account for fuel consumption on two different FOB keys. One will be allocated to the machines and the other to the on-highway vehicles.
The oldest Hino, at present, is less than two years old and has covered a distance under 80,000 kilometres, meaning the vehicles, as far as wear and tear is concerned, aren’t strictly slaves to high mileage.
“Even though the trucks don’t do a lot of kilometres the service every 20,000 kilometres offered by Hino is greatly appreciated.”
Installing inground pools in modern homes these days revolves very much around the convenience of creating more swim room in the pool according to Craig. Like operating a fleet of trucks it’s about maximising what you are working with and keeping everything square.
“It’s about ensuring there’s no wasted area,” he says.