Walk into the depot of Abletts Transport at Queanbeyan near Canberra and it is immediately obvious the people running the company are not ensconced in the office overseeing operations, shuffling paperwork and dictating what should be done, rather Ray and Duncan Ablett are completely hands-on.
Ray is in the yard working alongside employees as they load and unload trucks, while Duncan is manning telephones in an extremely busy operations office, replacing the usual person currently on leave. This is not an isolated event, the Ablett family are of the old school and strive to maintain the highest levels of service through being as much a part of the practical side of the business as anyone wearing the company uniform.
It is a commitment to customers many in the road transport business could learn from, the very fact they are accessible, personally concerned with every facet of operations, attentive to customer requirements and maintaining reliable trucks and trailers earning the highest levels of respect from the capital’s business community.
Recipe for growth
Abletts Transport proudly advertises itself as Canberra’s own national carrier, providing a wide range of transport services from interstate and local cartage, to storage and warehousing, boasting long experience in the industry from humble beginnings in 1954 when Arthur Ablett commenced operations from the Victorian country town of Drouin.
Arthur bought a Leyland Comet truck and started carrying timber from Bairnsdale in Gippsland to Melbourne. The operation was constant, keeping him away for extended periods, necessitating a move for the family to Bairnsdale in 1957. From that time, growth was a feature of the business.
Today storage and distribution is an increasingly important part of the business and the company provides services for a large number of big clients.
His reputation for service was such that the customer base and delivery range was expanding, carting timber to a wider range of areas.
The Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme was serviced by the Ablett company, requiring numerous loads over less than ideal roads, but service was impeccable and kept pace with requirements.
But projects do come to completion and when the last loads were delivered, Arthur was already planning ahead and he could see that Canberra was to be the next boom area and attention was placed on meeting transport requirements addressing needs for housing and business.
Keeping with the family
Arthur’s son Ray was driving for the company, but as most in family businesses do, he bought his own truck in 1977 and began operations of his own account on interstate haulage.
But family ties are strong, so in 1980 Ray decided to integrate his operations with those of his father and soon they embarked on a growth spiral that saw Abletts Transport go from strength to strength, enlarging the company’s Queanbeyan headquarters and extending services.
Abletts acquired Cooper’s Transport based in Melbourne; providing a depot in the Victorian capital, and the company went on to establish a similar facility in Sydney, allowing more flexible and diversified services for customers.
“It was a period of growth that saw us extend our fleet, business activities and range of services to accommodate a widening customer base,” says Ray who is now Managing Director of Abletts Transport.
“They were fast moving times but the bubble burst in the 90s when economic pressures hit the road transport industry particularly hard. Our growth slowed dramatically and while times were not easy, we were able to continue through sheer hard work and at the end of the decade we were reasonably well placed to continue operations in a better manner. There were some hard lessons learned but they paid off.”
Paid off indeed, Abletts diversified its operations and new premises in Queanbeyan were bought to accommodate warehousing and distribution, and today Abletts Transport is a major provider of such services for the Canberra region.
Today storage and distribution is an increasingly important part of the business and the company provides services for a large number of big clients. Service is such that every aspect of their requirements are continually being monitored to maintain the highest efficiency levels.
Abletts recognises the small things in business can offer a host of benefits. For example trucks doing local distribution are all provided with tailgate loaders and electric pallet jacks, an expensive investment but one that pays for itself in many ways.
“Electric pallet jacks firstly make life easier and safer for the drivers. At a delivery point, we don’t want our people struggling with goods using normal pallet jacks, that is a recipe for injury. Time savings are also achieved and our customers and their customers appreciate that we can have deliveries completed rapidly with no risk to people or their premises,” Ray states.
Abletts is one of the five companies forming transport conglomerate Combined Distribution Management (CDM) which offers services on a national basis, with 500 trucks enabling tendering for large contracts possible.
The main business of Abletts Transport is centred around services in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, but the CDM operations allow the company to handle work in the other capitals in a seamless and efficient operation.
Currently there are around 80 trucks carrying the Ablett colours and according to Ray’s brother Duncan, this is aligned with customer requirements and is continually being revised as circumstances dictate.
“Our customers and their customers appreciate that we can have deliveries completed rapidly with no risk to people or their premises.”
“The size of the fleet makes it very manageable and we can meet most needs for people in a timely and productive fashion,” Duncan says. “It is important to be close to customers to understand their needs and this is something we and our drivers do on a personal level.
“Customer focus is extremely strong across our operations and the people who work for us are encouraged to monitor the tasks they do and become involved, have some ownership if you like. Often we will take our despatch manager and go out to talk to people to ensure every facet of the transport role carried out by us is as efficient as possible,” he says.
“We don’t promise anything we can’t do, that simply doesn’t work for anybody, and we do everything possible to ensure things are done right the first time, this is a service industry and there are no second chances.”
The same commitment to service is applied to administration. The company goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure all facets of its operations run as smoothly as possible.
Like most transport companies, Abletts is committed to the quality of its people and role they play, but Ray admits it is not easy to find drivers in the nation’s capital.
“I guess young people in Canberra don’t grow up to become truck drivers. We will not hire just anybody, our people must be passionate about what they do and the customers, so it a hard task to find the right personnel at times,” he points out.
“We have a great team of people and try to be flexible with them to allow families to have time together. We have a large number of long term employees and are mindful of the ageing workforce and attempt to give young people the opportunity to advance through the company.
“It is important to be close to customers to understand their needs and this is something we and our drivers do on a personal level.”
“Training is ongoing for all and when it comes to drivers, most have started with us driving rigids on local work before progressing to bigger trucks and longer runs. It is a pleasure to see people who have started with us on local deliveries and who are now professional drivers operating B-doubles.”
Abletts does all maintenance in-house with a fully equipped workshop located nearby and all vehicles are closely monitored to ensure reliability for customers. Daily checks are carried out before the commencement of work and all problems, existing or potential, immediately addressed.
It has specific requirements for trucks undertaking a number of cartage roles and while maintenance is carried out by a team of experts, bodies are also built on the premises to meet exacting applications.
Right across the fleet the equipment is, while versatile, matched to work requirements for high efficiency levels. As new customers come on board, their requirements are closely investigated and vehicles specified to suit the task.
Safety is high on the priority list at Abletts Transport and depots are clearly signed with designated areas for loading, unloading and even parking to keep the firm’s impressive safety record intact. Fatigue is carefully managed with scheduling allowing maximum rest time for all drivers, regardless of vehicle size or application. The company is a TruckSafe member and staff is regularly involved in industry association activities.
As a true family business, there are five Abletts working for the company, employed in roles across business functions, with emphasis on maintaining a personal approach to customers, in many instances meeting with them socially.
Abletts Transport can be credited with Canberra region growth, establishing services meeting exacting demands of business in the country’s seat of power. It is a driving force in itself with ongoing commitment to developing improved efficiencies and productivity for the benefit of customers, with most having been with the family for many years.
It is all about keeping pace with the freight market and adjusting operations accordingly. The move to warehousing and distribution proved to be a winner for Abletts providing diversity in services and promoting the company’s appeal and subsequently growth.
Ray Ablett will tell you it has not been an easy path to the current success enjoyed by the company. But a high level of respect for clients and their requirements plus a hands-on and personal approach are the hallmarks of a business committed to service.