Teletrac Navman Fleet Focus | Never mind the big, juicy jobs…

Never mind the big, juicy jobs…
 April 2020    Story: Dave McLeod Photos: Gerald Shacklock & Rod Simmonds

You don’t need to tell Pukekohe trucking company mother and son Bev and Matt Young that old adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket.

Once upon a time, back in the days when Bev’s husband Bruce was still alive, they dared to risk testing the truth of the saying….and got burnt.

Pukekohe Carriers, now in its 37th year, was lucky to survive the experience, says Matt: In 1986, Bev and Bruce took a punt – taking up the offer of a contract with a big produce company to cart its produce from Pukekohe to Auckland….

Conditional on the two-truck business putting on six extra trucks, to do the work. For a little company, just a couple of years old, it was a huge deal. 

Another Puke company, Powells Transport, had previously done the job, Bev explains: “We were approached and asked if we wanted to take it over – and Bruce even went and spoke to Richard Powell, because he didn’t want to step on his toes. Richie just grinned and said ‘you can have it.’ ” Later, she says – smiling thinly – “we found out why.” 

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You don’t need to tell Pukekohe trucking company mother and son Bev and Matt Young that old adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket.
Once upon a time, back in the days when Bev’s husband Bruce was still alive, they dared to risk testing the truth of the saying….and got burnt.
Pukekohe Carriers, now in its 37th year, was lucky to survive the experience, says Matt: In 1986, Bev and Bruce took a punt – taking up the offer of a contract with a big produce company to cart its produce from Pukekohe to Auckland….
Conditional on the two-truck business putting on six extra trucks, to do the work. For a little company, just a couple of years old, it was a huge deal. 
Another Puke company, Powells Transport, had previously done the job, Bev explains: “We were approached and asked if we wanted to take it over – and Bruce even went and spoke to Richard Powell, because he didn’t want to step on his toes. Richie just grinned and said ‘you can have it.’ ” Later, she says – smiling thinly – “we found out why.” 
Within 18 months, the job was “turning to custard,” as Bev puts it mildly: The money they were being paid for the work was “never…anywhere near” what the local boss of the produce company had laid out in writing – and “that’s what we took to the bank, to borrow the money to buy the trucks.”
Confirms Matt: “It never made any money from the day they started it.”
Then, to add insult to injury, the produce company boss demanded they stop topping-up the trucks with produce from other growers….
And added another new stipulation: They’d also have to stop backloading freight from Auckland to Puke. 
Bev explains how it had been working till then: “Yeah, we pretty much did produce in the morning and then brought freight back. There was a truck that used to go out West Auckland and used to bring back freight from the west and the Shore trucks used to bring back freight from there.
But then the customer insisted “no top-ups – and no backloading freight. They wanted the trucks to come home empty,” she adds.
The deal finally turned to the proverbial when the demand was made that the Youngs would have to buy six new Mitsubishis and brand their curtains with the produce company’s signwriting…at no cost to the customer. And no increase in the cartage rate!
As to why – that’s a question that triggers the suggestion from Matt, just a kid at the time, that the guy they had to deal with “was just an arsehole.”
And, he adds: “I can tell you, my old man would say a lot worse! I think they just wanted a carrier to do their work….and their work only. And then the final killer was when they wanted to bring new trucks in.”
Bev went back to them with “what the rate needed to be – to go up (to Auckland) and come home empty and be parked up….not used for anything else.” 
Continues Matt: “They said no. Dad pretty much pulled the pin there and then. They told us on a Friday ‘don’t come back Monday.’ 
“They’d found several owner-drivers up in town that were prepared to buy extra trucks – new trucks – and brand them…..I can’t remember the name of it exactly.”
It didn’t end well for them either, he reckons: Within a year the produce company “went broke – and took the new carriers with them.”
It was no consolation for the Youngs: “Dad always said, we’d never live or die by one job ever again..…it nearly killed him. So we’ve never had one big juicy job since – we stick with little ones.” 
The company had from the outset done some seasonal produce work – like kiwifruit and onions – in addition to its general freight business. Says Bev: “So the guys would do freight until about four o’clock in the afternoon and, in the kiwifruit season, do kiwifruit until about 10 o’clock at night.”
After the produce contract came to its abrupt and unhappy end, the kiwifruit season at least allowed them to carry their staff on for a while – long enough anyway so the drivers “had time to find other jobs. And then at the end of the kiwifruit we ditched about seven jobs and went back to two or three trucks.”
Which was how things had started out – back in 1984 and ’85, with the beginnings of the company: Bev and Bruce bought parts of two existing local companies – the general freight work of Stembridge Transport, a long-established business which was closing down, and Fletchers Transport.
Says Bev: “My father (Terry Skelton) actually drove for Stembridge, back in the 1940s/’50s. It came to an end when one of the new owners got sick and wanted out, so they broke it up. It was a pretty big company. 
“We bought one Stembridge truck and the run that it did. And then, a year later, we bought the Fletcher’s truck and its run,” which was around Patumahoe, where the Youngs lived.
The Stembridge truck was a 1981 D-Series Ford and the Fletchers followup was six years older – but it did come with a near-new trailer.
Bev reckons that although Bruce had long been driving trucks for a living, she’d never been previously aware of any great ambition on his part to own a truck or start a transport company.
He’d been driving since he was 18 – abandoning the family dairy farm in favour of heading to Aussie and becoming a truckie, as Matt details: “He started out working for a crowd in Sydney, then he moved to North Queensland Express running a double roadtrain, with a four-wheeler MAN tractor unit, doing Sydney-Mt Isa and Mt Isa-Darwin.”
When he returned home, he worked around Pukekohe – and had been carting starch with an International Paystar 5000 tanker unit for local chicken farmer Royce Riordan (whose company has now evolved into Riordan & West) when the Stembridge opportunity arose. 
It came about simply because old rugby team-mate Colin Batters, who owned Waiuku Carriers, had bought one Stembridge truck….and was then offered two more, with Pukekohe general freight runs. 
It so happened that Riordan had lost the starch contract, so Bruce was out of a job when Batters suggested he might take one of the Stembridge trucks. 
Matt reckons that Bruce’s plan to buy a milk run was ditched in favour of a partnership between himself, Bev and Colin – with Bruce and Colin driving, a paid driver running Colin’s Puke truck, and with Bev taking care of the accounts.
Well that...AND delivering parcels. She explains: “Bruce reckoned I would know where the shops were more than him, so I used to meet up with him when he got back to Puke. 
“We had a stationwagon at the time, so – with three kids under five in the back seat and the boot area filled with parcels – I would work my way down the main street.
“Sometimes I’d get back to the car – and find all three kids gone! They’d reached over the back and got a small parcel each, and taken them into random shops – helping Mum! 
“The shopkeepers thought it was hilarious. Me? Not so much, when I had to retrieve them!”
It only lasted a couple of years before Colin decided he didn’t want to be bothered employing a driver and sold his second truck – leaving Bruce and Bev to run their own Puke-based business, doing general freight locally.
A van was purchased so Bev could do local deliveries, and sometimes go to town to pick up freight during school hours.
It was, sums up Bev, “pretty much veggies up to the markets – when Turners Auctions used to be right up there in (downtown) Auckland. Once they unloaded at the markets, there were a lot of pickups in the city – mostly out of combined carriers’ depots, the Motor Lorry Assn in Union Street and Highway Haulers in St Georges Bay Road, Parnell – to bring back down here. 
“Back in those days it was just one run per day – so they used to unload in the morning up there, then start doing all the pickups and then work their way back south,” says Bev.
Says Matt: “The first year was with just one truck – the Stembridge truck – and it went to the second one when we picked up the additional run. Dad actually drove for Fletchers as well before he worked for Royce Riordan and that’s how he knew George (the owner of Fletchers)” …and how he came to be offered the Fletchers unit.
The business stayed at that two-truck level “for a year or so” – until the big produce company job saw the addition of another D-Series Ford, two Bedfords, an Isuzu, a Commer…and another Matt can’t recall. 
They were all secondhand: For starters, says Matt, “we weren’t doing big Ks.” But also, new trucks were expensive, “and the company hadn’t been going that long.”
A contract with Speedlink, carrying parcels from the Auckland Railway Station, necessitated another truck – a 4x2 Ford D Series, which was painted in Speedlink’s bright green.
The 18 months of unhappiness running for the produce company was, unfortunately, quickly followed by a couple of other setbacks – the first of them delivered by the 1987 sharemarket crash. 
Says Matt: “The kiwifruit season kept us going to June. In October the sharemarket fell over, quite a few customers went broke – and we lost a lot of money through that.
“And then in ‘88 Transpac went broke, owing us about $7000, which was a lot of money back then. 
“Transpac and all the subsidiaries that they owned represented quite a big chunk of work for us.
“And they used to do a lot of kiwifruit – and that fell over too, in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s.
“And after that it pretty much went back to one truck….. The old man just went back to driving himself, till I left high school in ‘96 and went on a van.”
“We stayed like that for a while – and then Dad and I swapped, because I turned 18 and got my HT.”
But another year on, Matt left home to drive in the States for a couple of years – able to get a visa as an agricultural worker. He ended up driving a new Peterbilt 379 carting farm machinery and grain far and wide – and saved enough money to buy the land on the northern edge of Puke that’s been the company’s depot ever since.
When Matt returned to work for the business, around 2001 or ’02, “we had a few trucks by then.” And they soon bought a couple more – a 6x4 rigid bought for Matt and a semi….both secondhand Mitsis. The tractor unit is still with them – in the workshop: “It’s like a pet! It stays here.”
Continues Matt: “And then, ever since, it’s just slowly over the years been one (more) truck added every year or second year.”
The company also added a few four-wheelers, doing general freight – for “a mixture of freight forwarders and our own jobs.”
Bev laughs: “Bruce couldn’t say no. If someone asked him to take over a job – ‘oh yeah, we’ll do that.’ And then ‘actually, we’d better buy another truck.’ ”
Lesson learnt though….they were all small contracts, says Matt: “Yeah, we never had one truck committed to any one job. So they all did multiple jobs during the day and then – when it all got a bit too much – we’d take on another driver and then slowly build back up. 
“And then the same situation: Need another truck, another driver. It was a truck every year or 18 months for a long time – just slowly, steadily built up.”
Then, in 2010, things took a tragic turn for the Youngs – Bruce suffering a massive heart attack early one morning and dying. 
Along with his grief, Matt – who’d been driving up to that time – had to deal with filling his Dad’s role as dispatcher: “It was the last time I drove a truck fulltime basically. I just came off the road and went into the office.”
The same day that his Dad died, “I just had to go back in (to the office) that afternoon and start putting it all (the next day’s schedule) together. Probably for about awhh, six months after that, every second phone call was ‘can I speak to Bruce…..’ ”
Tough…especially when father and son had been very close: “Yeah, I was the one who didn’t want to go to kindy, ‘cos I’d rather go with the old man in the truck.”
Bruce’s death left “a huge hole,” says Bev: “He just had everything in his head…had a knack of looking at something and knowing what vehicle he would need to do it, how to load it. 
“He always maintained that a truck wasn’t fully loaded until the toolbox and passenger seat were full too!
“He often used to go into some of the other freight depots we worked for and start telling them how to do their job – in a nice way: ‘You should be staging this like this’ etc. He could see a problem before it happened.”
The good thing, she says, is that Matt has the same skills: “It took him a while, but he can see things that same way. He’s his father’s son.”
In more ways than one, as Matt agrees: “The biggest problem is – like Dad always said too – not being able to say ‘no.’ Somebody asks you to do something, you always find a way of doing it.”
And that often means….buying another truck. Thus what was a six-truck fleet in 2010, is now up to 14. Says Bev: “It’s not that Bruce was holding it back – it’s just that more opportunities have come up.”
Matt, who’s now a co-owner of the business with Bev (who remains the majority shareholder) has his Dad’s approach to meeting customers’ needs, as Bev points out: “Well Matt keeps coming in and saying he’s buying more trucks – and I keep saying ‘no you’re not!’ 
“He takes no notice. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree: Bruce used to come in and say ‘I’m just going to look at something and I’m just taking Rodney from next door.’ Rodney was a home-based mechanic. 
“After a while I woke up to what it meant: They would toddle off to ‘have a look at something’ and Bruce would come back by himself – and Rodney would come back driving a truck!” She laughs at the memory of it.
Bruce was big on Mitsis and so, since pretty early in the company’s history, it has been the primary brand – many of the trucks bought secondhand.
The tendency towards Mitsubishis started “just by accident I think,” says Bev: “But then we found out how reliable and good they were – then he wouldn’t have anything else. And Matt grew up servicing them, so he knows them inside and out.”
But in the last nine years there’s been a move to also running some Mercedes-Benz, pushed by Matt – because he wasn’t happy with the heavy-duty FUSO available at that time: “Nah, we had three big Shogun 430s with 6M70s (motors) – and they stopped making them. And the model that took over from that wasn’t a good truck.” 
The particular Actros Mk2 they bought was “a real good deal. I bought it at an auction in Wellington. The auctioneer got his lots mixed up and dropped the hammer at 30-odd thousand (dollars) on a 70-odd thousand reserve. And the law is, as soon as the hammer goes down in an auction, the deal’s done.
“We only replaced that last year. So we ran that truck for about nine years – and we’ll probably get more when we sell it than what we paid for it. It’s up at the auction now.”
Still, Bev wasn’t impressed with it when “we got the first bill for a service….about $7000! I said ‘you sell that bloody thing!’ ” 
But Matt was happy with the Merc: “It’s been a good truck.” So he added a secondhand Mk3 Actros in 2018, which had just had a new crate motor installed.
And when he saw that the last two brand-new V6 Actroses in stock were for sale last year, he figured the deal being offered was too good to miss out on. 
Just like Bruce would have done, he broke it to Bev gently – one truck at a time, she reckons: “He said ‘this is a good deal Mum – it’s the last of the old model and they haven’t been able to sell them for a couple of years.’ 
“And so we bought one and then, after we signed on the dotted line, Matthew said ‘there’s one other one in Hamilton. We should be buying that one as well.’ So we ended up with the two new ones.”
He says it’s simply that “I’d rather stick with stuff I know. I’ve only ever stuck with the Daimler stuff – so it’ll either be the FUSOs or Mercedes.”
So now the fleet comprises two 480-horsepower 2648 Actros 3 MP3 6x4 tractor units and a Merc 3248 8x4 truck and trailer unit. The rest are FUSOs, including the last Shogun, one Canter and a bunch of Fighters – one 6x4 and the rest 4x2s. The oldest of them are being replaced at 12 to 18-months intervals and, says Matt: “We’re leaning more towards Merc Actros and Ategos for them.”
Like his Dad before him, Matt is a hands-on, hard-working boss. While he no longer gets to regularly drive trucks fulltime, he does still do a fair bit of loading and unloading trucks, at the wheel of the forklift…..rather than staying in the office.
“I’m in and out – I do still have a desk in there. We don’t really have titles, but I guess you’d call me the transport manager. I sort of keep an eye on everything. 
“But then, we have our own workshop – and I do breakdowns and servicing. So I just jump between a bit of everything.  
“It’s just easier than trying to book trucks into a workshop during the week. Our regular maintenance and servicing is all done on a Saturday and I also do all the CoFing on a Saturday….do the checks and everything and then take them through. If there’s any minor stuff I just do it – any major stuff, we use a workshop down the road or Truck City at Manukau look after the Mercedes. I service one Merc – the others are on maintenance contracts.”
It’s helping Matt dramatically in getting all this done that early this year “we finally decided to hire a dispatcher. It’s the first time in 36 years that there’s been a non-family member dispatching.
“Oh, it just lessens what I have to do during the day. He’s come from Toll – he was working there for 20 years…so he’s done it before. It’s just a case of him learning all the customers and the size of the area that we cover.
“Time management skills in dispatch are critical in our just-in-time supply industry. Putting our kind of freight back on rail would never work. 
“The biggest challenge we face in future is rapidly growing traffic congestion between Auckland and Pukekohe, due to a population explosion....with little to no roading infrastructure west of the Southern Motorway in the pipeline.”
Matt’s sister Alana Meechan has recently returned to work in the business – helping Bev out in the office part-time....making it, as Bev says, “a true family business.”
The company’s trucks work all around the Pukekohe region and range as far east as Maramarua, south to Meremere and down the west coast south of the Waikato Heads and north for the length of of the Awhitu Peninsula – up to the Manukau Heads. The company’s trucks are in and out of Auckland daily as well, of course – running loaded both ways.
Says Matt: “With all of the farm deliveries we do, we cover a pretty massive area.” And the trucks do occasionally venture out all around the North Island – if a regular customer “asks us to, and they’re prepared to pay what we need to be paid to run home empty. Some customers just want their load on one truck – and they want it there at a certain time.”
A lot of the regular freight comprises stock food, packaging for produce growers and poultry farmers, fertiliser, paper for the printing industry, alcohol....“and then just general freight that comes through forwarders, and our own customers.”
Like both Bev and Matt were saying, they’re happy that the work these days is spread over dozens of customers….even scores of ‘em. As Matt explains: “The smaller the job, the more money you make out of them. The bigger the job…they screw you. 
“The big juicy jobs, there’s no money in them anyway. The smaller jobs are better for us. Less people are after them – they’re not as desirable to the big Mainfreights and big corporate carriers.”
The Youngs do have a few major corporates as customers – “Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA) and the breweries. But I think they like us.”
One of the Merc units, for instance, “basically works out of CCA in the morning, one does stock food and booze and the other one works for two of our big freight-forwarders – brings freight down from Auckland to our depot, for our trucks to cross-dock deliver.” 
The way Bev and Matt see it, Pukekohe Carriers is in the perfect position to work in with companies like CCA on their deliveries around the Puke region – simply because the area is a bit too out-of-the-way for some of the big transport operators….but also needs more supplies than a typical contractor can provide on their own.
Says Matt: “The big carriers just didn’t want to come (here) because Pukekohe is not Auckland and not Hamilton – it’s put into the ‘too hard’ basket.
“It’d be the end of the day before they’d send it (a truck) out and then it’d turn up at the supermarket after cutoff….and then have to go back. 
“We’re up there (in Auckland) twice a day and then deliver to supermarkets, and we bring back quite a bit for their own trucks. We cross-dock their stuff here.”
Bev points out that the long-running major roadworks on Auckland’s Southern Motorway has added to local beverage delivery contractors’ difficulties in going to and fro’ for multiple loads daily: “Because of the roadworks…their own trucks didn’t have time in a day to come out, do a load, go back and get another load – and get out again.” 
So what’s the Matt and Bev Young vision for the future? Matt: “I don’t know. We just sort of roll with it. There is no real master plan. As jobs come along we look at it. If we want to do it, we do it. 
“We’re fortunate – we’re in the position now where we don’t have to do everything that comes along. People are quite shocked if we say we don’t want a job. We had a big customer that wanted us to do so many truckloads of timber to Auckland a day….and when he said the rate, we said ‘no.’ 
“It wasn’t going to fit with what we do….the money wasn’t that flash either. Somebody else can do it.”
The nature of the business has, he adds, “been what it is for the last 36 years. I don’t really want to get any bigger than 10 or 12 trucks (he seems to have forgotten that the fleet’s already at 14!) – because that’s what we can comfortably run out of this depot, without having too much management.
“Right now, there’s enough work for the drivers for 10-12 hours a day – keeping them all busy. Aside from one load on a Saturday morning, the trucks don’t run on the weekend. We don’t do any seasonal work anymore.”
The Youngs are members of the National Road Carriers Association and, says Bev, “we value their support.
“Bruce had become good friends with (NRC executive officer) Steve Woodward, who had previously worked at Phoenix Freight and had often been on the receiving end of Bruce’s advice. 
“After Bruce died, Woody would come out every week for quite some time to see how we were going, which was much appreciated.”
Matt and Bev also say it’s the support of its own “longterm, loyal staff” that has kept them going: “A business is only as good as its staff,” says Bev.
Pukekohe Carriers has had Teletrac Navman GPS and onboard telematics for 15 years or more – “so we know where all the trucks are.”
On the other hand, Matt concedes, “our dispatching is quite old-fashioned: Everything just gets written down. Still, working a manual system….it just works. 
“We are going to go to a more automated setup, with messaging to the trucks, sign-on-glass and all that – but only because customers are saying that they want it.”
Bev doesn’t want a system with automatic billing, preferring to do it manually – even though “we’re running over 220 accounts per month – because we have such a varied delivery area, with extra charges to be added. We have jobs from five dollars a month, up to the $20,000-plus a month….” says Matt.
“And that’s where you don’t live or die by one job – which is better. If we lose one, we’ve still got another 219 to go! And you always have some dropping off and others coming in.”
He pauses for a moment: “I don’t know how these guys with all their eggs in one basket sleep at night – when you’ve got all the money tied up in one account.”  

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