Grand National

With its pedigree similar to so many successful transport operations, National Transport and Distribution was originally established to fulfil the needs of another related business.

From 1986 Chris and Jayne Harrison operated a plasterboard supply business to the building industry around the NSW South Coast town of Nowra.

Frustrated with unreliable deliveries of their products from Sydney, they elected to obtain their own truck to handle the inwards freight as well as local deliveries.

And as so often happens, other businesses in the region expressed interest in having the Harrisons become their transport providers of choice.

The transport operation became such a success that the plasterboard business was sold to enable a stronger focus on the trucking business and the Harrisons acquired the nearby Nowra Transport, eventually rebranding the merged operations as National Transport and Distribution (NTD).

In recent years, Chris and Jayne have transitioned into semi-retirement and the transport business is now managed by sons Kyle and Steve, with valuable assistance from their wives Kate and Lauren.

For a number of years a large part of the company’s work involved transporting bagged cement as well as garden products such as potting mixes.

Unfortunately for so many of the nurseries and local hardware stores the writing was on the wall with the growth of ‘category killer’ retail warehouses such as Bunnings.

“Of the 50-plus customers we had in this category there’s only three or four left, with the rest closing down,” says Kyle Harrison.

Realising the potential impact of the closures of so many of these small businesses, the National Transport and Distribution team looked into other categories of specialised freight and the renewed focus has since developed to the point where a major part of the operation involves the transport of pharmacy-related products.

Kenworth K200.

The opportunity to enter into this sector saw NTD move into temperature controlled tautliner trailers because many of the products carried have the requirement of maintaining their temperature at 25 degrees or less.

This can include dietary and infant products as well as personal items such as deodorant.

The growth in this sector of the business has required the trailer fleet to recently expand to six B-double sets and two singles, with another B-double set currently on order for delivery prior to the middle of the year.

Other activities in the diverse freight portfolio include chemicals classified as dangerous goods.

Interstate activities can include foodstuffs to Adelaide, with return loads of sawn timber or bagged salt. About every three weeks a NTD truck will cross the Nullarbor to Perth.

In addition to the Sydney depot at Wetherill Park, NTD has a depot in Brisbane and two depots in Melbourne located on each side of city.

Services provided include the unpacking of containers and warehousing.

The trucks that came with the Nowra Transport acquisition were a rather motley fleet of various brands, and a program of progressive replacement has lead to Kenworth as the predominant brand of prime movers, with Isuzu providing the rigids along with a DAF LF 6X2, which has also been recently acquired.

The fleet now consists of six rigids, with four based in the Sydney depot at Wetherill Park, and 17 prime movers. “Years ago we thought nine trucks was enough, now we’ve got 23,” says Kyle.

“We don’t want to get much bigger than we are because we strongly believe if we get too big, we’ll lose customer service. Unfortunately, we see that happen in too many big companies and we just don’t want to be a part of that.”

To maintain a level of flexibility the current fleet of company owned trucks is augmented by several trusted sub-contractors.

For the past decade most of the fleet’s maintenance has been carried out in NTD’s well-equipped workshop which has a set of column lifts.

A qualified mechanic himself, Kyle oversees the maintenance and was always impressed with the performance and longevity NTD achieved from the Detroit Diesels in its Freightliner and Western Star trucks, and the company is now achieving similar results with the Cummins engines in the 12 late model Kenworths in the fleet.

“The Cummins is very good on fuel. One Kenworth T610 auto is returning close to two kilometres per litre,” he says.

“It’s a rocket ship and everyone loves driving it.”

Major repairs and procedures such as tune-ups of the Cummins engines are performed by Cummins dealers, with regular servicing of trucks and trailers carried out in-house by a staff technician.

Krueger B-double trailers.

“I used to stress out about drivers making it home safely, but we do everything in our power to make that happen,” says Kyle.

“We have the right systems in place, good quality gear, and our maintenance is all good. I used to stress about maintenance, too, but I have faith in the person doing it now. We are extremely thorough and bring the trailers in here for a week for new bushes and bearings that may cost a little bit more but over 12 months we’re saving money and are safer.”

The maintenance program includes the cleaning of AdBlue doser pumps every 50,000 kilometres.

Keeping the AdBlue tanks topped up with a minimum of being half full has been found to significantly reduce the incidence of any problems associated with the SCR systems.

The dedication to safety and compliance is reflected by being engaged with the NHVAS schemes for the three critical areas of management of mass, maintenance and fatigue.

After trialling several others, NTD has settled on utilising Navman telematics to monitor truck activity and to display the various necessary permits and accreditations.

The traceability of freight items is critical to most of the clients and NTD credits this as an important factor in the success of the entire operation.

“We acquired a client after they had a load not turn up and the carrier couldn’t find it,” say Kyle. “That just doesn’t happen with us.”

The effectiveness of the service regime is evidenced by a Freightliner Argosy which was retired with 2.8 million kilometres showing on the odometer.

In addition to the meticulous maintenance, Kyle regards the company’s ‘one driver-one truck’ policy as a factor in the longevity.

“We don’t generally put someone in their truck when they’re on holidays. Instead, we treat it as a maintenance catch up and it’s always a good opportunity to get some extra work done on the vehicles.”

Although trucks are no longer kept for such an extended period of time, it is evident that each driver’s respect for their vehicle pays dividends in terms of cost and the clients’ and public’s perception of the company.

It’s important that the trucks and drivers present a clean image and the Kenworth B-double shown here had just rolled in from Queensland and still looked bright and fresh. As did Paul the driver.

Driver turnover can be an ongoing challenge for trucking companies and while some may come and go, the advantage of sticking with a progressive family-operated employer such as NTD has resulted in one driver recently celebrating 25 years with the company.

The driver of the Freightliner Argosy, which achieved such remarkable longevity, has been with NTD for 15 years.

“We’ve always had the approach that we don’t want to be your best friend, but we do want to be your good friend. If you’ve got something coming up come and talk to us don’t just take a ‘sickie’,” says Kyle. “We’ve always been the sort of people you can come and talk to.”

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