Freshwayz Transport driving forward

When the disastrous floods hit the Lockyer Valley in January of this year it had a very severe impact on not only produce growers but transporters in the region. Suddenly the freight task fell in with what fell from the skies and it has been a battle for all to weather the storm. With no agricultural production, a long road to recovery and losses in assets and profits, it has not been an easy time.

One of the produce hauliers badly affected was Freshwayz Transport, a partnership between Toby Toohill and the Hood family whose famous Rugby Farm land holdings produce significant vegetable crops picked and packed for domestic and international markets.

Freshwayz was formed in 2006 to service the expanding transportation needs of Rugby Farm and the Hood family. Father David and sons Matthew and Ben, entered into the partnership with Managing Director Toby Toohill due to his long experience in the handling of fresh produce. Toby Toohill has been around this transport sector from very young days and his expertise has been channelled to promote growth and develop an increasing presence in produce transport.

But along came the floods and the large Rugby Farms holdings in the Lockyer Valley, along with company headquarters and packing facility at Gatton, were hard hit. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only blow to operations; the company conducts activities in other growing areas of Queensland including Stanthorpe, Bowen and Ayr in the north that also suffered at the hand of Mother Nature.

“It was a triple whammy,” Toby says, “we suffered significant crop losses right across the farming operations that took some hard work to overcome.”

Looking around the company’s headquarters in Gatton he indicates the floods left a mountain of debris around the facilities, water entered the administration building and cold rooms, and equipment in the fields was badly affected resulting in a halt to vegetable supply and virtually stopping trucks in their tracks. Resilience is the name of the game in this situation and the fight back to normality was quickly underway.

“It was a shocker of a start to the year and for three months there was little truck movement, but today it is a different story and we are once again into full operation and continuing to serve all national markets and supply international markets.

“It was a struggle because floodwaters washed away so much, you just don’t realise what an impact it can have on business. In an area like this you depend on the farming sector. That’s what we do, cart produce, and It was like starting from scratch because things like records were all washed away. Our workshop was badly affected so parts went plus of course almost everything else. It was a matter of regrouping and getting down to business to have operations moving again,” Toby tells.

“When Freshwayz Transport was formed I had four trucks to begin trading and a plan to use the services of other carriers to address the trucking needs of Rugby Farm, but there was a lack of support from other carriers, so it became important to grow our fleet quickly to cover the freight needs,” Toby says.

“From the formation of the company we really haven’t had time to look back as supply of fresh quality produce is ongoing. Crops are seasonal and Rugby Farm has strategically located growing areas maintaining constant supply of green beans, broccoli, lettuce and sweet yellow corn to consumers. One of the biggest customers is Coles and we deliver the produce in pristine fresh condition year round.

“The customer base is growing, I don’t shut the doors on anyone, and we have expanded to meet the services of produce growers in many districts. The name Freshwayz came about because we handle the transport of fresh produce and we specialise in offering the best in service including our handling of the freight.”

Transport continues to throw challenges at operators, particularly in light of rising operational costs such as wages, fuel and registration, and Toby says farmers are becoming increasingly aware of why charges must reflect work done by carriers.

“Our main aim is to continually improve service levels and I think we have proved that with our delivery success. Farmers are aware of rising costs and appreciate we must be profitable in order to maintain those services and that has contributed to our success,” he says.

“We fine tune operations to suit customer needs, servicing markets in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide on a daily basis as well as store distribution centres. Our business is structured for supply to both markets and retail, you need that to keep trucks on the move.”

He points out maintenance is an extremely important part of maintaining reliability and Freshwayz has its own workshop covering all aspects of equipment in operation apart from warranty work. The fleet of linehaul vehicles, both single trailer and B-doubles, is Kenworth with Cummins power while farm pickup rigids are mostly Iveco. The fleet is young and there are new trucks on order, some replacement and the others adding to the line-up. All B-doubles are cabovers while singles include T408 SAR models.

“We also run services to North Queensland daily, so along with the capitals the trucks run up quite a few kilometres each year. The average age of the fleet is four years with some of the bigger trucks between that and five years, but we keep a very close watch on every facet of operation to ensure we deliver the best in reliability,” Toby says.

“What you should do when it comes to buying trucks is always a case of investigation. Do you go into cheaper makes and keep them less time? The thing is we like the resale value of Kenworth and it is important to give drivers what they like. The SAR is a very comfortable truck for Australia’s beautiful roads,” he smiles, “and that has been popular with drivers.”

Toby reports he has a good team of drivers who are people who look after the company’s best interests and the customer base. “Our people work with customers and that is very important, but they are also friends and that too is important to your business. If they leave the industry for whatever reason they are extremely difficult to replace, staff is the backbone of a business and we certainly try to look after them,” he says.

Freshwayz makes every effort to give those behind the wheel a variety in the work they do and routes, ensuring they do not become bored and disenchanted with their activities.
“If you travel a safe road, and we do, it is vital to address fatigue and I feel that regardless of who you are if you travel the same route every day it does become tiring. Covering the same road every working day for 10 or 12 hours is where it is dangerous, so it important to mix schedules and give them variety.

“Transport is continually looking for ways to stop accidents and while this may be impossible in reality, we can contribute greatly to safety. If drivers are not travelling the same piece of road continually they are more alert and interested.”

He says drivers must be able to manage their own fatigue and they know the best manner in how to do that. “I like to think drivers come home more alert than when they left and we must allow them to develop a routine that encourages this. Let’s face it if you go out and buy a $130,000 motor car, would you let people other than yourself drive it? We have people in trucks worth much more and trust them to be safe.

“Safety is paramount and I would not get anyone to do something I could not physically, or legally, do myself. Recently we had a load to go to Sydney and with no driver available I took it myself and that was an interesting insight into how the industry has changed in terms of driving activities. Not too far down the road I needed a meal and found most places were closed simply because there are nowhere near as many trucks on the road at night. Drivers are going to bed and this has seen a major change in the fatigue process.”

Freshwayz has been a member of the TruckSafe program since it commenced business and Toby says the system is a reminder of the need to be practical when it comes to safety.
“I am a practical person and with TruckSafe there are a lot of good practical tools to ensue your business complies with things such as fatigue, maintenance and mass. We continually strive to do things better and if we find a thing that is practical and assists us to achieve this, then there is the flexibility to do so. As I indicated safety is paramount and systems are in place in the system to encourage absolute compliance. TruckSafe is very important,” Toby says.

A tour of the yard and facilities reveals the Freshwayz Transport operation is steeped in efficiency. The continual movement off trucks in the yard sees farm pickup vehicles arrive and be immediately attended to in order to maintain produce temperatures, and as trailers back into the cool room loading bays there is a sense of urgency in a well tuned operation aimed at meeting schedules with a minimum of disruption to services.

Each truck is personalised for the driver, bearing names on sleeper cabs reflecting the person behind the wheel. Most are labelled with humorous nicknames and the like, making every vehicle instantly recognisable to customers.

“It is a personal thing giving drivers recognition and ownership. It is regarded as an honour, for example one bears the name ‘The fat controller’ because the driver used to call me that with a laugh, so when the new prime mover arrived it suited him,” Toby laughs.

This shows the relationship Toby has with all people working for the company and is part of the aim to promote a cohesive company, people working together in harmony which is translated to customer services. There is a continual push towards increasing success across all activities of the company in what is a competitive industry.

“We do take a fresh approach to produce haulage and strive to provide the best for our customers through a team of professional and experienced people who know the business and are committed to what they do. Every day has its challenges but we continue to drive forward in a manner designed to exceed customer expectations and requirements,” Toby says matter-of-factly.

In just five years Freshwayz Transport has experienced significant growth and established operational depots in a number of areas and has worked diligently to become an integral part of business, partnering with produce growers.

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