Trailer Sales celebrates 40-year journey of growth

Queensland-based MaxiTRANS dealer Trailer Sales comes into 2024 fresh off its raucous 40th anniversary celebrations, reflecting on an incredible journey of growth from humble beginnings.

‘Raucous’ is certainly overselling it, the way that dealer principal Mark Kelly describes it. They’re not the types to big-note themselves, even on such a special occasion.

The actual number they were celebrating was the biggest point of debate – the records could have gone two ways.

“There’s always been a bit of contention whether it was 1982 or 83 that we were founded,” laughs Kelly.

Years aside, more has changed for Trailer Sales since then than just losing the mullets and leather jackets. The company as it exists now was formed in 1983 when industry stalwart Peter White took over Freighter, which had been around since pre-World War II.

“Freighter used to manufacture Freighter trailers here in Brisbane on our site back in the 1970s up until 1982,” Kelly explains.

“They produced all their stuff for Queensland here on-site. We weren’t always here, but we ended up coming back here, rented it and then bought it. It was a bit before my time.

“So in 1983, Bill Judge and Tony Good formed Freighter Queensland with Freighter themselves, and they had this business. And that’s when it all kicked off.”

Kelly entered the world of Trailer Sales in 1996, as he and business partner Mark Sutcliffe took over the business seven years later. It was an initial period of major growth for the business, as it continued to expand.

White bought the MaxiCUBE dealer in Marsden when MaxiTRANS, becoming Freight MaxiCUBE Queensland. More purchases meant more names kept joining the fray, before a consolidation of the brand.

“Buying the business was putting everything you’ve ever earnt on the line,” Kelly says.

“I had to mortgage my house again and everything. Then you have to convince your wife it’s a good idea. We got into business and then gradually built it up to what it is today.

“When I came here we used to sell 50-odd trailers, maybe 80 a year. Last year we did 875 new trailers out here. It’s a good business that’s grown and I’ve been lucky we’ve had really good products.

“As we went on we took on different franchises, but we said we can’t just keep adding names on! In 2009 we bought Trailer Sales North Queensland and we thought why don’t we use that name as our corporate name?

“It’s a good domain name. If you’re looking for trailers, you search trailers and you get us. We changed our name in 2012. Same people, same place, but new name.”

Image: MaxiTRANS/Supplied

Becoming a business owner was just the first step for Kelly though. He needed a team around him he could trust.

Front and centre of that was Sutcliffe, who works as the company’s general manager. Buying Trailer Sales together, Kelly manages the service division while Sutcliffe oversees parts.

With a long-term business relationship between them, Kelly says he couldn’t have imagined taking that first step without him.

“From an administration and all the background work, Mark Sutcliffe is a partner and a true partner in business,” he says.

“There’s also Scott Thiesfield, who’s my sales manager, he came from parts. He’s been with us 20 years. Great bloke and great following in the industry. He’s destined to take over from me when I retire. Succession planning, that’s what you’ve got to have!”

In a business sense, there’s two major factors that have kept contributing to the growth of Trailer Sales, Kelly explains.

Continuing to expand in new areas which adds to their offerings for customers is the first. Maintaining relationships with companies and people across the industry in the other.

Kelly says that the reliability he and the Trailer Sales team offers is what has kept people coming back, and has also kept the company stable.

“I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but you’ve got to have good people and you’ve got to treat them well. We have very little staff turnover.

“In our sales department, just working for us we have 122 years of service. Nobody wants to leave. I must be too good to them!

“On the sales side, it’s doing what you say you’re going to do. If you say you’re going to do something and you do it, the customer has to feel comfortable doing business with you and they’ve got to like you.

“We’ve got a few people that we try to keep close to. If you’re here long enough, there’s probably not a transport company in Queensland or Northern NSW that I couldn’t give a call and not know someone there.

“Not everyone wants to buy your product, but it’s been part of the ongoing business.”

Image: MaxiTRANS/Supplied

As for what’s next for Trailer Sales as it enters its 41st year and beyond, expansion is always on the cards, but other priorities are becoming more important as the industry keeps evolving.

While trailers have less challenges when it comes to moving towards decarbonisation and zero emissions targets, Kelly says the refrigeration sector will be something they will have to look at.

Trailer Sales is working in conjunction with a cargo group in the MaxiTRANS network to fulfill their emissions goals.

“The next thing is looking to get the emissions down in the refrigerated start of our business,” Kelly says.

“Schmitz Cargo brought a significant part of the ATS Duty Group. We build about 3000 trailers a year and they do 55,000. Nice people, we’re learning a lot from them. They’re a big part of MaxiTRANS’ automation to build trailers more efficiently. The next step will be refrigeration.

“We don’t create too much carbon, but I think there’ll be a big change in refrigeration in the way trailers are made.”

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