Leading from the front

In 1978, Ron Crouch started his transport company in New South Wales town, Wagga Wagga, with a venerable 1418 Mercedes-Benz pulling a double-deck sheep stock crate. From that humble beginning, Ron Crouch Transport has grown into a multi-faceted operation that now employs more than 70 people.

The Crouch name is familiar throughout the transport industry not only for the transport company, but also through Ron’s son Geoff Crouch’s roles as Chairman of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), and as former President of NatRoad.
After more than a decade-long career in retail and banking, Geoff joined the family business at the age of 30 and now, 25 years later, he is a well-respected industry leader, known for speaking his mind. According to Geoff, Ron Crouch Transport has grown organically over the years to align with changes in the industry as a whole, which includes embracing new technologies and becoming involved in an increased number of levels of the supply chain.

“We’re not just a trucking operator that takes stuff from point A to point B,” Geoff explains. “We also organise to get the container picked up in Shanghai, for example, get it onto a ship and then handle everything including the unpacking, storage and delivery of the customers’ goods.”

Geoff says the industry is changing dramatically and that “any responsible operator that doesn’t realise exactly how it’s changing is going to be left behind”. “The main thing that we’re doing as a company is looking at how we interact with our customers and trying to be innovative with them,” he adds.

Ron Crouch Transport took the strategic decision some years ago to expand its offering into specialised services for Dangerous Goods and to provide an end-to-end solution for customers involved primarily with agricultural chemicals. Geoff adds that expanding into Dangerous Goods handling involves a substantial investment from a transport and warehousing compliance perspective.

“You’ve either got to get right into it or get right out of it,” says Geoff.
“It is just too risky. To handle Dangerous Goods properly, you have to have the right systems, procedures, compliance, resources and infrastructure in place to ensure that it’s done properly and that you really are complying with every aspect of the Chain of Responsibility.”

Geoff says Wagga is exceptionally well placed geographically for logistics companies, distributors and manufacturers, and is both surprised and disappointed that more metropolitan-based manufacturers haven’t targeted the town as well.
“The logistics industry is so good these days that there is no such thing as tyranny of distance,” he says. “In Wagga, you’re equidistant between Melbourne and Sydney and you’re just two driving shifts from Adelaide and Brisbane – you would not get a better major centre in Australia.”

The company has had a very strong focus in the last five years to expand the metropolitan side of the business, and now complementing the original company base at Wagga Wagga, Ron Crouch Transport operates depots in other capital cities, including a 25,000m2 site at Laverton North in Melbourne.

“We opened the Laverton site to help with future growth, as we recognised that the lack of growth in the manufacturing sector in non-metropolitan areas means our company couldn’t stay exclusively located in a regional area.”

The Laverton site has grown from three staff to more than 30 and incorporates the latest in pallet-storage infrastructure, with specialised forklifts equipped with barcode readers to service the seven-pallet-high racks. The growth on the third-party logistics (3PL) side of the business has lead to more prime movers and rigid trucks joining the fleet.

After decades of commitment to US truck brands, Ron Crouch has come full circle back to its original truck brand with the introduction of four Mercedes-Benz Actros prime movers into the fleet.

“We made the decision to purchase the Actros based on a really good business case and we’re very happy with the decision so far,” says Geoff. “We’ve had an exceptionally good run out of our previous products, but the value proposition put to us by Mercedes-Benz was a no-brainer.”

The 580hp Mercedes-Benz trucks perform in a combination of B-double and semi-trailer applications travelling from Wagga to Sydney, or from Melbourne to Adelaide or Brisbane. Another four Actros prime movers have been ordered for delivery during the second quarter of 2018, along with three new Vawdrey Australia B-double trailer sets.

“The two real keys to choosing Mercedes-Benz were the safety aspect of the product with its latest technology, along with the projected fuel savings,” Geoff says. “Although it’s only in the early stages, we don’t believe they’ve over-promised and under-delivered and we are achieving around an eight per cent improvement in fuel economy.”

Safety is also a common topic for Geoff through his role at the ATA, and he is a strong advocate for change in the Australia Design Rules (ADR) that would permit a change in permitted heavy vehicle dimensions to accommodate larger bunks. “It’s related to fatigue,” Geoff says. “Give us an extra 10 or 14cm to go from a 30cm-wide bunk to a 40 or 44cm-wide bunk, and do it soon so the manufacturers can start planning ahead for design changes to bring in a decent sized bunk. Then drivers can get a much better quality of sleep.”

Geoff brings up the anomaly of truck drivers being highly regulated on driving and rest periods, yet there are no fatigue controls on other road users who aren’t necessarily used to doing those distances. “Why is that right? If Australia wants to improve road safety don’t just look at trucks,” he says – amending that he is also a strong supporter of the push to engage the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to investigate major incidents involving heavy vehicles.

“The ATSB is a globally recognised panel of experts that investigates all serious incidents on rail, maritime and air, but they don’t do road,” Geoff says. “We have an existing entity at our disposal that has the expertise to investigate heavy vehicle accidents, and all the Federal Government needs to do – with the assistance of the state governments – is to give the ATSB the investigative powers and funding to do it.”
Counter to expectations that industries would not want further scrutiny or investigation, Geoff says that problems should be investigated to find the root causes of accidents, particularly in the minority of circumstances where it is proved that the truck is at fault. “Is it due to rates, fatigue or road conditions? Is it due to lack of rest areas, or people using mobile phones while driving? At the moment we just don’t know,” he says.
“We need to have fatigue management rules, but the rules need to make a difference and the option of using technology that recognises when drivers need to rest.”

Geoff adds that just as Ron Crouch Transport has evolved in line with the industry, the industry needs to evolve with the times. “I’m a bit over being too politically correct,” Geoff says. “I don’t think it solves anything. We have to understand the fact that we as an industry have a very strong role to play. There are too many people that think we have a right to our position on the road and we have a right to operate when and where we want because ‘without trucks the country stops’.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a heavy vehicle, car, caravan, motorbike or bicycle, everyone has to earn the right to be on the road. That’s how we’ll get to some real demonstrable benefits in safety.”

Geoff is pleased with the higher profile that the ATA has achieved in recent years and the work the association has been doing in many areas of the industry.

“I don’t think it ever has been just a ‘talk-fest’ but I think some of the past perceptions are no longer valid,” Geoff says – highlighting the work done on opposing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) as a case in point.

“That wasn’t the ATA looking after the big players, which has been some of the criticism in years past. That was the ATA looking after owner-operators who were at risk of losing their trucks, their livelihoods and even their homes.”

In business and in politics, Geoff Crouch asks a lot of questions. Importantly, he is able to provide many viable answers as well. “I think the ATA has such strong relevance in ensuring that it has a role to play in the improvements to road safety that every single member of the road using community so desperately needs.”

Fast Fact
Ron Crouch Transport has a policy of changing over trucks every five years, at which point they have usually covered around 800-900,000km, with trailers being traded after eight to ten years.

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