Putting all your eggs in one basket can be laden with risks, but Careful Carriers’ has maintained a successful solitary customer relationship for more than six decades
One truck, one customer. Sound familiar? For most individuals, it’s the first step towards a possible successful business venture as they take the initial plunge into the world of truck ownership.
Back in 1954 Sid Smith began hauling paper products around south-east Queensland under the banner of Careful Carriers. He had one customer and, according to Sid’s grandson Zacc Smith, that first truck was a Bedford.
Sixty four years later and although some things have changed, others have remained the same. Through the decades Careful Carriers has maintained that successful relationship with its one and only customer (which, for the purpose of this article will remain unnamed). However, the Bedford is long gone, its fleet now numbering eight trucks, all Japanese, with Hino in the majority.
Zacc is now the Careful Carriers boss and has been a Hino customer since 1991. He joined the business in 1994, taking over the director’s role 10 years later when his father Kenneth Smith retired. However, Zacc’s move into the family’s freight transport business wasn’t necessarily a given.
“My father always had an ethos that he didn’t care what I did as long as I was happy with what I did,” Zacc recalls.
“I travelled for six months and went away thinking about what I did want to do. I came back and this is it.”
It’s been a smooth transition through the generations for Careful Carriers with a variety of truck models along the way, including a couple of ACCOs. “But that was a while ago,” Zacc says.
The current Careful Carriers fleet consists of four rigids and four single-axle prime movers. Five of the trucks sport the Hino badge, while the other three are Isuzus. A ninth truck, a 1998 Hino R10, was recently sold, its place taken by the latest member of the fleet, a new 350hp Hino 500 GH 1835.
Zacc says one of the reasons behind the mixed bag of trucks, especially with the prime movers, is that Hino at one stage pulled out of the single axle prime mover market.
“They were only doing bogie prime movers; then they came back into the singles so we went back to Hino.
“But we’re happy with Hino or Isuzu; they’re both good makes of trucks.”
Keep on keeping on
The prime movers travel approximately 20,000km a year, a modest amount compared to most fleet operators. But it’s an obvious benefit to aiding in the longevity of the vehicles.
“We only have one application and for me, to be dead straight, that is gold,” Zacc explains.
“The reason we keep on using Hino, and Isuzu, is that they just keep going.
“We’ll do tyres and we’ll do fuel, but when it comes to the actual vehicle, they just don’t have problems.
“I can’t afford to have trucks down with blown engines.
“We build our trucks, we build our fleet; we build everything around our customer,” he says.
When Zacc’s client decided to go to a 3-metre aperture at the rear of the trailer, he approached Freighter to come up with a solution. Hence the ‘Wedgeliner’, an aerodynamically-designed sloping trailer where the back is slightly higher than the front.
“We need to go to 4.6 metres high and to go to 4.6 you have to have 50 per cent of the deck under 1.2 to able to get the 3-metre aperture,” Zacc explains.
With raise/lower valves on the trailers’ air-bag suspension, the drivers are able to lift the back of the trailer to dock height for loading and unloading, then drop it back down and head out on the road. The prime movers have low profile tyres and the turntable is kept under 1240mm, allowing for the trailer aperture to be 3 metres and able to carry double 1.5 metre high pallets.
“You have to lift it up to make a lot of the heights on reloaded docks, otherwise it’s way too low at the back end.
“It’s a very specific business,” Zacc adds. “We’re not air freight carriers. We’re not carrying air on top the trucks.
“A lot of our loads full of 3-metre high 48 pallets are only 10 to 12 tonne, so it’s very lightweight stock.
“You can rear load, side load, you can do very versatile deliveries. That’s part of what we do,” he says. “We’re very versatile.”
Zacc says Careful Carriers and Freighter have built up a good working relationship over the years.
“They make sure that they’re not putting something on the road that’s not going to work, that’s against ADR or something like that.
“They build a good body, and they build a good trailer.”
Although Zacc has the optimum combination of trucks and trailers down pat, driver recruitment and retention is equally as important to the operation.
One of his six drivers, Derek Totman, has been with the business for around 15 years. Another who recently retired had been driving Careful Carriers’ trucks for 30-odd years.
“Derek is also the 2IC. He’s in the office as much as he can, and John Phelps works in the dock, checking all our stock and loads in the afternoon,” Zacc explains.
In times of emergency, Zacc and John can fill in behind the wheel when required, with Zacc’s preferred drive the new 350hp Hino 500.
“It’s a little more powerful than what he needed, but it’s nice to have a little bit extra.
“I’ve passed medicals, I’ve got my Coles induction, I’ve got my Metcash induction, so if something needs to go, it goes.
“But me jumping in the truck is disaster recovery. That means something’s gone really bad because obviously I’ve got a business to run.”
Those downtimes at Careful Carriers are few and far between. It’s mostly a smooth operation, with Zacc leaning towards older drivers, “because we find they stick around for a while”.
“We get a lot of owner-drivers too; they just decide they want to drive for someone but don’t want the fast pace.
“It’s not a hard life in what we do. We’re not sleeping beside the road out west and we don’t run long hours.
“It means they don’t get paid as much, but it does mean it’s an easier life and they’re home with their kids every night,” he says.
“We’re family orientated, and we want to look after them.”
Every delivery is well-scheduled, with drivers having ample time for breaks.
“So long as you roll on and do what you need to do, your day’s easy.
“If you start stuffing around, you’re going to struggle.”
Zacc’s philosophy is based on averages. As he says, anyone can have a bad day.
“As an average, if you’re keeping up and everyone is keeping up the same, there’s no problems.
“But I don’t mind a little bit slower. You don’t need to be speeding around town to get these things done. It’s just slow and steady,” he says.
“We’re the Careful Carriers for a reason.”