Family Ties

The ubiquitous wooden pallet was invented by Howard T. Hallowell almost 100 years ago in 1925. Pallets, to this day, remain an essential component of many modern freight operations.

The catchy name for JATEC Transport is an acronym of the first names of the Barlow family, parents Jane and Troy, and adult children Ethan, Aaron and Caitlin, the latter two now working in the family enterprise.

It’s not quite the typical family transport company story, although, and similar to so many, Troy started out with a single truck in 2003.

The business strarted with deliveries to fast food outlet chains.

It was a couple of years on from this that Troy commenced doing deliveries for a friend who had a small pallet manufacturing business. Prior to its decision to concentrate on servicing the pallet industry, the JATEC fleet peaked in size at 25 trucks.

Fast forward to the present day and the specialised pallet transport operation handles more than one million pallets each month for around 400 clients. Troy acquired his first Volvo truck in 2009.

Volvo FMs were trialled, as were FH models powered by 540 horsepower engines before the ideal specification for the application was settled upon and the prime mover fleet currently consists of 12 Volvo FH models, all rated at 500 horsepower.

The trucks normally average 80-90,000 kilometres per year and are replaced at around 500,000 kilometres.

“Resale is not a problem and I’ve never traded a truck in,” says Troy. “I usually have a number of people wanting to buy them directly off us.”

Depending upon the type of pallet, a semi loaded with pallets weighs between 19 and 22 tonnes, so weight is not a major compliance issue, but overall height can be.

Each trailer can carry 480 empty pallets and in order to be under the maximum legal height of 4.3 metres, low profile tyres are used on the trucks and trailers.

The trailers are custom built by Vawdrey with low profile goose necks to accommodate the height of the loads. The latest Volvo FH to join the fleet is an exception and runs a medium height chassis and 11R size tyres to achieve the same loaded height as the others.

The standard profile tyres are less expensive than the low profile 305/70s and are more readily available.

The Volvos are all on a contract maintenance program and serviced by the Volvo dealership at Prestons.

“When I first started we maintained the trucks ourselves as per Volvo’s specifications,” says Troy. “I worked out after the first five years it was $60,000 dearer for each unit for us to service them ourselves rather than Volvo.”

Troy travelled to Sweden with a Volvo study tour and remembers well one of the seminars hosted by fuel efficiency and Volvo Dynafleet telematics guru Carl Johan Almqvist who impressed upon the operators present that Volvo was spending millions in technology trying to save them just one per cent of fuel.

“They said the key to the business is driver training and that planted the seed,” recalls Troy. “As soon as I got back we put into action training the drivers how to use the trucks most efficiently.”

In addition to coaching from the local Volvo experts, Troy set up a weekly driver fuel challenge to incentivise the drivers to put their newfound knowledge into practice.

“When we first started it was for the best score each week, so often the same driver won every week and some of the others were losing interest,” says Troy.

“So we changed it to any driver scoring a rating of over 95 on the Dynafleet scale receives a $50 fuel card. If they can get 95 or better that’s a fuel saving for the business of up to $480 per week so everyone is a winner.”

New drivers are usually found via referrals from existing drivers as well as Facebook and JATEC Transport has a strong and positive presence on the social media platform.

The modern and well-maintained equipment is also an attraction to potential employees, as is the family-centric atmosphere of the workplace.

“It’s not just our industry, everybody’s looking for staff,” says Troy. “Yet I’d rather park a truck up than put some inexperienced operator in it. You just can’t afford to, it’s as simple as that.”

New drivers are supported while they learn the intricacies of their roles and the clients.

“Once they’ve had a bit of time to find their feet, we’ll spend time to show them how to more effectively drive the truck,” says Troy.

“For this we get great support from Ray Abella at Volvo. We meet with Ray to go over utilisation reports every six to eight weeks. If a truck for some reason isn’t performing as well as it should he’s the first to say, ‘Hey mate, have a look at this. Have you changed drivers?’”

It might be a family, but it’s also a business.

From the time when siblings Aaron and Caitlin Barlow indicated they wanted to get on board with the family business they haven’t felt their surname was sufficient to entitle them to a job.

Prior to joining JATEC, Aaron completed his diesel mechanic apprenticeship at Volvo Trucks and was recognised for his talent and application.

Caitlin went to university, while working full time at supply chain specialists including Bevchain and Metcash, and achieved a distinction when she graduated with her Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Entrepreneurship.

Caitlin and Troy Barlow.

“I think the way we have done it is useful,” says Caitlin.

“Coming from a corporate position I gave myself an induction plan when I started here, with the first week out with the drivers starting at 2.00am every day to see how they do it. Then a week in accounts and payroll. I did this so I know if I make any changes moving forward it’s not going to have a flow-on effect and disrupt anything else. That way I’m not making decisions without understanding how it all works and the implications of change.”

Caitlin’s and Aaron’s considered approach has not only earned the respect of their parents, but the other JATEC employees as well.

Caitlin initiated the company’s first anonymous ‘engagement survey’ in early 2022 and was delighted to learn that 98 per cent of drivers were proud to work with JATEC Transport.

“The overwhelming majority of staff and management participated,” Caitlin says. “Our metric was in the 90s and smashed industry standards.”

The team at JATEC is always receptive to new technologies. Two Volvo FH prime movers with the innovative Dual Clutch transmissions have been a part of the fleet for a while but it has been found that in this application there were no real savings or advantages with the fuel efficiency much the same as from the conventional Volvo I-Shift transmissions.

“We’ve got to think outside the box if we want to be better tomorrow than we are today,” says Troy.

The team is excited about the introduction of a paperless ‘sign on glass’ system which provides time and date stamping of truck movements, photographic evidence of each truck as it is loaded and unloaded and the ability to provide vital information to clients in real time.

JATEC Transport, moreover, is imbued with great community spirit and supports local sporting teams and the Kids with Cancer Foundation.

Jane and Caitlin are both active members of Transport Women Australia Limited (TWAL) and attend school events to promote careers in the transport industry.

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