Western Australia may seem to be the last frontier to people on the eastern side of the continent, but it is also the land of opportunity for innovative transport operators such as Tim Sullivan.
Tim Sullivan grew up on a farm near Quairading east of Perth and used the proceeds of his share of the sale of the family property to purchase his first truck which was a 3.5 tonne Isuzu KS21 model which he ran with a taxi truck and courier operation.
This led to larger trucks and various overnight runs servicing mail contracts as well as parcel freight.
Tim established Kalexpress in 1995 with a single truck operating between Perth and Kalgoorlie and grew the business to additional regions with the acquisition of Quality Transport two years later.
The extra trucks provided an improved pick-up and delivery service around Perth and added destination towns in the Great Southern Region such as Katanning and Narrogin.
As more destinations were added and the operation expanded into warehousing and third-party logistics, Sullivan Logistics was formed in 2000.
Operating from a modern freight facility with 3PL capabilities in the Perth suburb of Welshpool, Sullivan Logistics provides regular overnight services to more than 65 towns in the Goldfields, Great Southern and southwest regions.
Its transport coverage extends to an area North to Geraldton, East to Kalgoorlie, southeast to Esperance and southwest to Albany and the Bunbury-Busselton area as well as to Margaret River and Manjimup.
The provision of the overnight express services five nights of every week treats these towns as almost outer suburbs of Perth as they receive the same benefits of afternoon pickup in Perth and next morning delivery in the regions. Sullivan Logistics had continued on its growth projectory by remaining close to its market and understanding the wants and needs of the customers.
The main focus may be on overnight freight, but the required flexibility includes having available tipping trailers for grain and other bulk cartage, drop deck trailers with ramps to suit machinery transport, and stock crates. Tim has some unique experience in livestock transport, at one time converting a pantech truck to suit the transport of emus which were being farmed commercially.
“At the time lots of people were investing in emu farms and I thought some silly person has got to cart these emus,” he says.
Tim installed gates similar to a stock crate plus ventilation fans to keep the large birds cool and calm. “It was successful but it didn’t take long to work out that the emu industry was going to become a pyramid selling process, so I quickly looked at alternatives,” he recalls.
As the emu industry dropped off Tim purchased a larger six-wheeler truck and carried an eclectic mix of freight including kit homes and mattresses.
It was while driving his first taxi truck that Tim aroused an ambition to be an overnight express driver with his own run to a regional town.
“The opportunity came up for a Perth-Kalgoorlie run. At the time I thought it’s not quite right but it’s possibly now or never,” he says.
The reliance upon the income stream from a single source such as a mail contract can be precarious at the best of times and the loss of a major mail contract to a cheaper priced tenderer had a serious effect on the then fledgling operation.
“I had eight people with me at that stage and regrettably had to let go the sub-contractor on the Esperance run and jump in a truck and do it myself,” he says.
Despite the setback, this period was seen as an opportune one and Tim quickly shook himself off and spent a day knocking on doors in Kalgoorlie.
Due to his company’s already strong reputation for good service, within just a matter of weeks he was filling the truck which by now had plenty of additional space without the mail articles.
“Small customers became big ones because I could now cart more of their freight,” Tim says. “Ever since then, we have kept growing, to the point we now run two roadtrains each night to Kalgoorlie loaded mostly with parcel and palletised freight. We’ll often also run single trailers of general freight in addition to the overnight express service.”
Tim always had the aspiration to get a prime mover of some sort and at one point considered buying a semi which had existing work. Today the prime movers of choice are Mack Super-Liners with five in the fleet.
Tim considers the reliability and drivability of the Macks as important factors in his choice of them and he has applied a similar philosophy in his choice of the rigid trucks.
At current, he runs 11 Hino rigids in the Perth metropolitan area mostly performing day time pick-ups as well as occasional short haul country jobs. Ten of the Hinos are curtainsiders plus there is a flat top.
Throughout the course of building the business Tim has utilised various Japanese trucks and now seems settled with what the Hino range has to offer. “I’d never had many Hinos, but I think Hino at the moment has the ideal truck range in that 3-12 tonne category and they’re the best out there in my opinion,” he says.
Another Hino will also be added to the Kalgoorlie operation. The current Hino fleet includes eight FC, FD and FE 500 Series Standard Cabs models.
Tim and his family are long-time supporters of the Fremantle Dockers and in the past few years have leveraged their enthusiasm to become increasingly involved at various levels of sponsorship support with the payback of valuable exposure for the transport businesses and the networking opportunities which come with being associated with the team.
Several of the trailers have their curtains emblazoned with Fremantle Dockers imagery which creates a positive response from children pumping their arms to simulate the air horns as well as Dockers fans wanting selfies with the truck.
In 2020, Tim demonstrated his passion for the team by personally taking a load of their gear across the nation to the Gold Coast where the Fremantle Dockers were temporarily relocating the high-performance centre in response to the difficulties forced upon the AFL by COVID-19.
The load included everything they would need to feel at home at the Gold Coast, including training and gym equipment, medical supplies and IT requirements as well as the baggage for the players and staff, including ten guitars.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is something we’ve all had to deal with,” says Tim. “AFL is a big passion of mine and our company so we decided to make the offer to take the gear across. I think it’s fairly important, everyone’s going to be away from home and if everyone can be comfortable, we hope that benefits everyone and the team.”
As a way of giving back to the Fremantle and wider Western Australian communities Tim also provides transport and logistical support for the club’s annual trek into the Kimberly region where the focus is on assisting the development of young local people and participating in the AFL 9s competition.
Emus and football teams aside, Sullivan Logistics has the capabilities to transport anything from an envelope to parcels to pallets including ‘ugly freight’ as Tim describes some of the awkward items they shift, often associated with mining equipment.
Although Sullivan Logistics doesn’t provide traditional heavy haulage services, the drop decks with ramps can be used to transport over-sized loads of up to 3.5 metres wide and weighing up to 22 tonnes. Destinations are not limited to those on the regular overnight routes and Sullivan Logistics will transport dedicated loads on demand anywhere with Western Australia.
These items are usually plant and machinery going to mine sites or to farmers. Tim still drives the occasional trip himself and will put his hand up for jobs such as fulfilling a contract for ten loads into Kalgoorlie.
“I enjoy being able to go for a drive and still be hands-on in that side of the business,” he says. “It’s also great that our customers see that you still enjoy working in the business.”