Well known for the vast Flinders Ranges and the ancient Murray River, South Australia is arguably most famous for its sprawling vinyards, which have earned it the title of Australia’s Wine Capital. With such stunning geographic features in the region, it’s no surprise that those who dwell in the Southern state are proud to call it home.
And Peter Cochrane’s company, Peter Cochrane Transport, is as South Australian as they come. Born and raised in Adelaide, Peter’s favouritism for the state is unshakeable, even after meeting his wife in NSW. As Bruce Hampson, Cochrane’s current CEO, explains, Peter is ‘staunchly South Australian’ and unsurprisingly, his company follows suit.
“We’re the leader in the SA regional market. We want to grow within our strength, which is South Australia, and become the South Australian solution for anyone who wants to deal with an independent. National leadership is not our objective,” says Bruce (pictured below with Peter).
Instead, Cochrane’s is set up to provide warehousing and cross docking for operators in other states who don’t have premises in SA, and don’t want to invest the substantial amount required to set up facilities. “We’re not competing with the ‘big guys’ in the transport game, we actually work for them as an independent service provider,” says Bruce. “We give them a presence and a structure without the fixed costs, which we will keep doing as we believe that’s how we’ll grow.”
Cochrane’s has definitely grown from its early days in 1974, when Peter picked up a contract for daily distribution of the Women’s Weekly magazine throughout Adelaide. That one magazine contract formed the very foundation of Cochrane’s, as Peter soon started adding other types of magazines and products such as newspapers to the mix that would fit with the magazine’s distribution model.
“It became a 24/7 business, so Cochrane’s started to distribute other print media as well as bread and mail; things that fitted well in to the model,” says Bruce. “[But] there is no long term business that survives without diversity, so while we still do the Women’s Weekly and almost all other magazine titles, this isn’t a dominant part of our business anymore. It’s more our heritage.”
These days, the majority of the Cochrane’s business is running express freight, heavy line haul to regional areas and metro deliveries – including a large amount of cross-docked product for companies shipping out of Melbourne. While magazines and newspapers remain important to the business, the express parcel service is clearly its new growth area.
“We will look at anything and if it fits in our business, we will work on it,” says Bruce, adding that for Cochrane’s, business is all about trying to support and grow South Australia in order to establish the state both nationally and internationally.
These days, Peter leaves the daily business of the company to Bruce, making time to focus on his passion for the South Australian community through his charity work, particularly with Variety, which is known as the ‘Children’s Charity’.
“He leaves the running of the business to me, but he still comes in five days a week and works the forklift for a few hours or takes phone calls and meetings with the charities he works with,” says Bruce. “He doesn’t talk about it a lot, he just quietly goes about it, which includes visiting the homes of families who have applied for Variety’s support.”
Peter’s involvement with Variety has spanned decades, starting with participating in the Variety Bash, a fundraising event where people find a pre-1980s car, fix it up and drive it from Adelaide on various routes that change each year.
“Peter drove rally cars back then and thought the Bash would be a bit of fun, but he came to see the need within the community, particularly among disabled and disadvantaged children,” says Bruce. “With the success of his company he had the opportunity to contribute back to the community and he decided to throw himself into it.”
Today, Peter sits on the Variety board and provides the backup semi-trailers and any rigid trucks required for the Bash – even driving one of the company’s Volvo FMs that carries equipment for the event himself. “Peter is 68 now, but he still jumps in the cab and drives one of the prime movers, lugging all these swags and setting up camps for the participants. It’s really close to his heart so he kept doing it.
“He doesn’t make a big song and dance about it, he just feels like he’s in a position to give back and that’s what he wants to do. He knows the company is being run well so he can take holidays and enjoy what he’s built.”
The company Peter has built now counts a fleet of 55 vehicles, including three varieties of the Volvo FM for line haul – all with I-Shift and air suspension – and a plethora of Hino rigids for metropolitan work. “Our standard B-double prime mover spec is a Volvo FM with 500hp, 13-litre engine, but we also have a few 11-litre FMs with 450hp for our single trailer operations and as backups for the FM13s,” explains Bruce.
The Cochrane’s rigid curtain-siders are come in a 6×4 configuration so they can provide the additional traction and horsepower needed for pulling pig trailers on country runs, and are also equipped with the 11-litre machine, albeit in the 370hp version.
“A key advantage of running the FM11 as a rigid is that we get a prime mover-length warranty. We run these trucks for 280-350,000 km a year, so most other rigid truck warranties would only see us through 12-24 months, which, for me, is not sufficient peace of mind,” says Bruce.
The 24/7-business model means there is just as much work happening at night as during the day for both the Volvos and the Hinos. “Most of the trucks run 18-20 hours a day, as soon as they come in for the end of the day shift they head back out for a night shift,” says Bruce – revealing that Cochrane’s turns over its vehicles after about four years of working to this gruelling schedule.
“Because of our non-stop schedule, most of our Hinos do around 260,000 km a year, and they’ve been brilliant. We’ve had Hino rigids clock up a million kilometres in five years, which is incredible for a rigid.”
Bruce explains that Hino is well aware of how Cochrane’s uses its trucks, even sending a team from Hino Japan to the Cochrane’s office to get feedback on the rigids. “We give Hino honest feedback and then it comes back to us and lets us know how it changed the models based on what we told it. We really like the fact that it listens.”
Because of how hard Cochrane’s works its vehicles, Bruce says that service support is really important when it chooses what vehicles to buy – even more so than the cost of the vehicles. “Volvo and Hino have both been great; they know that if we have a breakdown, we need it to be dealt with right away. There have been times when we needed a part and they didn’t have a spare, so they just ripped it off another truck and gave it to us. It keeps our fleet moving, which is more important to us than upfront costs.
“We’ve also got a team of four mechanics on call to deal with any issues that arise, and they do all the modifications for the Variety Sunshine Coach program that Peter runs as well.”
The Variety Sunshine Coach Program sources and modifies vehicles for families with children with disabilities and buses for disadvantaged schools or schools with special needs. “Peter is always trying to find vehicles that are suitable for wheelchairs. Variety buys the vehicles and we pay for and undertake all the modifications in our workshop. It’s a fair commitment, but charity work that helps local kids is pretty special to Peter.”
With his company model perfected and left in Bruce’s capable hands, Peter Cochrane now prioritises initiatives to make his home state a better place, adding local football club sponsorships, contribution to the Sunday Mail Blanket Appeal and working with Raising Literacy Australia to provide warehousing, packing and distribution services.And according to Bruce, there’s only one reason why Peter’s focus is on charity work and building a company that helps national hauliers access the southern state: “Peter is just passionate about his town and about his community.