Into Parts Unknown

As a relatively young business, Arrow Transport Logistics has blazed a trail that even the most elite start-ups would be at pains to replicate.

It was 2011. Craig Webster found himself at a crossroads.

A serious decision weighed on him that was more than likely going to have a bearing on the rest of his life.

He’d no sooner handed in his notice at legacy cargo transporter, Chalmers, where he’d been the general manager for nine years, before he started receiving calls from interested parties who pledged their support to whatever he had planned next.

The problem for Craig was he had nothing planned next. It certainly wasn’t in port cartage and logistics.

After sitting down for coffee with a large exporter, in which he outlined how they could best resolve an issue he would have normally taken care of for them days earlier, he was soon posed the question.

The exporter asked why not him.

“Given that I’d just told them I didn’t do that any longer I wondered if they’d misheard me,” he recalls. “Then they repeated the question, much slower. Just in case I had misheard them.”

That night he went home and punched some numbers into a calculator. Being familiar with the account he multiplied known volumes and set it down on an envelope to see how, with some objective distance from his mind, it looked on paper. It looked good.

Then in that very moment he was seized by fear. He gave it more thought. Starting his own business was one thing. Regretting not doing this, he soon found, was equally unnerving.

“It was that fear of not having a go that far outweighed my fear of failure,” he recalls. “To have a go and fail, I would rather that than never having a go. And in very basic terms that’s where the business was born.”

The name came about quickly. Craig knew he wanted something simple and easy for people to reference. Like the Batman logo.

He kept thinking it was such a great brand. What he wanted was a single word, with no association with his family name.

The idea was to build the brand, over the journey, so that when people saw the name it would instantly mean something.

While on a drive through a Victorian beachside town approaching a sharp right turn Craig and his wife, Nicole, passed a cluster of road signs including an unmissable yellow and black arrow.

She put forward arrow, as a possible name for the future company. It immediately stuck.

Three of the 95-strong prime mover fleet Arrow operates.

Arrow Transport Logistics & Quarantine Services, as the name suggests, provides a full offering in container cartage, warehousing, quarantine and biosecurity inspections.

The fleet operates nearly 40 PBS-approved vehicles with 95 prime movers and over 400 trailers. As a major Daimler Truck customer, it runs all three vehicles in the stable relying primarily on the Mercedes-Benz Actros, supported by Fuso Shoguns and Freightliner Cascadias, both of which are more recent additions.

Expansion into Brisbane at the height of the COVID ordeal, when container movements were at a peak, warranted an injection of new trucks. Arrow had initially placed an order for 84 Mercedes-Benz Actros units to cover the additional demand.

But with componentry shortages playing havoc with supply chains and Arrow moving into the Perth and Adelaide markets, they couldn’t wait. Daimler Truck found around 20 of the Fuso and Freightliner units in addition to five refurbished Actros prime movers or ‘rebirths’ that had been traded back in and sold for a fraction of the price as an interim measure until stock was replenished.

“The performance of these rebirths has been excellent,” says Craig. “The drivers, transport managers and fleet manager could not be happier with them.”

The Shoguns have been the surprise packet. Driver feedback has been unanimously positive, particularly in the correct application, which turns out is sideloader work on the port.

A shorter wheelbase for turning in the restricted spaces and the need for enhanced visibility that the Shogun ergonomic cab view also anticipates, have proven popular in Brisbane and Melbourne where these vehicles are now active.

“As an around town, drop trailer sideloader workhorse the guys are saying they’re great,” says Craig. “The drivers weren’t given much choice, and very quickly, whatever the initial preconceptions, have accepted them. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive in the right application.”

A new Fuso Shogun dashes through Melbourne.

On the heavier applications the Actros is the preferred prime mover and is assigned A-doubles both near the wharf and interstate.

In 2014, Arrow was the first carrier to operate A-doubles outside the port precinct in Melbourne, having been approved to run them to Leongatha, 137 kilometres away in country Victoria.

“That was the start of our institution of PBS gear,” recalls Craig. “Those two units continue to do that very run today.”

A-doubles, for Arrow, now trek far and wide including on linehaul duties between Melbourne and Sydney, and another route Sydney to Brisbane.

“If rail goes down or there’s shipping issues, people need stock urgently,” says Craig. “We’re forever running A-doubles between those states.”

As a high engine hour, low kilometre carrier, Arrow relies on its buying power when it comes to measuring fuel. Every yard has its own fuelling station.

“We just try and buy our fuel in bulk and buy at the right price,” he says. “They move it around from a supplier perspective.”

Around 2017 Craig saw a requirement to move interstate. Seeing what was happening in the market made it imperative. Freight forwarders were buying out the competition. Importers were also consolidating by acquiring other importers.

“We could service customers in Melbourne as hard as possible, work diligently on relationships but all of a sudden that relationship at a local level got lost because decisions were being made at a national level looking for a national solution” recalls Craig.

“It became evident we needed to start expanding our footprint.”

With Qube and ACFS the only true national carriers in the segment at this point, there was demand in the market for an alternative.

Craig was determined to make it Arrow. Sydney, a tough market to break into, was the first move.

Here they acquired Sydney Sideloaders, whose owner Chris Divas, “a bloody superstar” in Craig’s words, still works for Arrow today as the NSW State Manager.

A new 55,000m2 site in Chullora, adjacent to the Pacific National railhead, has been invested in that will give the company a crucial presence in the western suburbs of Sydney.

Another new facility is also underway at the Port of Brisbane, where Arrow is already the fourth largest carrier. Completion is expected to happen  midyear.

Freightliner Cascadia, Mercedes-Benz Actros and Fuso Shogun

“Our growth up there has been significant,” says Craig. “The new facility on island is going to provide the market with every service our industry requires.”

Brisbane, as the host of the 2032 Olympics will likely remain a key growth hub for the business. An event of such magnitude entails various projects like stadiums, housing and roads, all of which will require product entering through the port.

“On top of our core daily volume in Brisbane there will be further growth to contemplate on the back of the games,” says Crag. “This will all start before we know it.”

The move into Brisbane happened fast. Arrow relocated a handful of trucks from Melbourne and Sydney and started using its existing network of customers. Craig had employed a couple of experienced locals, who worked for him previously at Chalmers, while permanently relocating some high performing staff from Melbourne. The results now speak for themselves.

“The team has gone gangbusters up there,” says Craig. “They do a consistently amazing job.”

Having secured several significant national accounts, Arrow had, by August last year, entered Perth. Before the end of 2022 it had an office in Adelaide. Now it controls its own destiny nationwide by being able to service its own client base on the east coast from those new markets. Nevertheless, challenges abound.

Dwell times of containers have snowballed. This has placed the onus on carriers to find more 100-tonne rated yard space. With land prices at a premium and warehouses at capacity, the required market rate for container storage has nearly doubled in the last two years.

That’s been driven mostly by the containers of importers sitting in a yard for too long according to Craig, who says the issues are threefold in their repercussion.

“Warehouses remain full following an extreme backlog over COVID when record volumes of containers were arriving at port and importers were struggling to find the labour required to unpack” he says. “Instead of unpacking ten a day, sites were unpacking five a day. When there is labour available, a decision is made to use labour for unpacks or processing outbound orders. In addition to labour, we now find importers are facing a never-ending pallet shortage.”

Arrow Transport Logistics Managing Director Craig Webster.

Through its internal operating system, Arrow provides its customers with monthly reporting on what their average dwell time of container in-yard or at-site is.

Supply chain managers can respond accordingly. Instead of wasting time scrutinising the shipping department or the transporter they can zero in on the warehouse to find the root cause of the blow out.

“It’s one of many measurement tools through AOS that can fast-track our customers as to what their pain points may have been,” explains Craig.

“That way they can do something about it, reducing their cost and improving service to their customers.”

Over the last two decades Craig has kept a mental book of the shortcomings of wharf-cartage operational systems available and in use. In his mind he created a picture of what the ultimate systems capability and functionality would look like.

A few months prior to the onset of COVID, the team at Arrow bit the bullet and employed a CTO and in-house developers to build its very own system, now known as AOS.

“Not only is there the transport integrant in port logistics but we need to interface with terminals, empty parks, quarantine and customs,” says Craig.

“You need to gather information from many sources to make the right decisions on the planning of loads factoring varied customer requirements.”

Always developing, testing and releasing new features, Arrow now runs AOS across all states.

Its customers which include freight forwarders, direct importers and exporters, and DC managers, have access to a live dashboard with key metrics such as demurrage alert, delayed deliveries with updated ETAs using live data from Google maps, containers available requiring customers clearance or EDOs, down to a basic dashboard item showing additional costs incurred in real-time. It’s very interactive according to Craig —what his staff see, the customer also sees.

“There is no-where to hide on our performance,” he says. “We’ve also built it to give us visibility of what we need which includes, not just the whereabouts of a truck but details on where containers are dropped and how long containers have been at site.”

Should a container be marked emptied, it will change colour codes on the AOS display.

Staff are then made aware that a particular container is prioritised over another one. AOS was built, unlike many other transport operating systems, with an Application Protocol Interface.

“It means we can do true two-way communication with any other system,” says Craig. “The investment in AOS is providing our customers with solutions. Each time an importer/exporter or forwarder sees the system they notice it addresses immediate pain-points within the supply-chain — they want their staff using it.”

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