Recognising niche opportunities

There is much to be said for companies that stand back, look at the freight market and concentrate on areas requiring expertise and special skills in order to develop a business plan. This is exactly what Peter Horne did after buying his first truck in 1985.

Peter was like many in the transport business, he had a love of trucks and was always excited about working in the industry, so he commenced as a driver for Hartridge Transport that subsequently was sold to Cubico and then to Mayne Nickless company Intermodal. At the age of 20 he was working for Sea Pak and was told by the manager he was too young to drive and would do better undergoing training in management roles, so he advanced to the rank of fleet manager, but the lure of the road still existed.

At the time his father was a printing engineer who formed a company with a friend to work on presses, but they found it was near impossible to find a transporter able to move the complex and fragile machinery. Peter seized the opportunity and bought an Acco crane truck to undertake the work. And while there were highs and lows in that transport sector, he progressed until another unit was required.

When not transporting presses he would serve other customers such as sign manufacturers and also moved palm trees. What was available was transported and he began to investigate methods to improve crane truck operation.

“One day I had a man ring to say he wanted to move some animals and I told him he wanted a cattle truck, not a crane truck and dismissed him. He rang again and repeated the request so I listened, discussed the movement with him and wound up designing carriers to lift the animals and transport them to Werribee Zoo,” Peter laughs.

While he sees humour in the memory, it is indicative of what he is prepared to do in the transport of sensitive freight. Meticulous planning is a natural part of approach to difficult transport tasks. This has been recognised by customers and Peter continually investigates new handling methods in order to protect loading in his care.

Growth continued and he and wife Elly decided to move up to a new crane truck to extend capabilities. This resulted in the purchase of a Kenworth T300 that was finished in custom livery that forms a part of the much admired presentation he insists on today.

“That first new truck was a gamble and Tony Ginivan at Kenworth in Footscray was extremely helpful in getting it on the road. Presentation is highly valued here and the unit was entered into a number of truck shows. I was successful in taking out top honours. My father always said to me that everything you do in business has to be well presented and that is a priority at all times,” Peter says.

As is the case with many industries, the movement of print presses and associated equipment slowed, however Peter Horne identified other areas requiring total care. One of the most challenging sensitive freight tasks is the transport and installation of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) units for hospitals and medical centres. Horne Enterprises is recognised as the absolute leader when it comes to the highly specialised freight task, following attention to detail required during handling and transport methods.

“It is highly expensive, delicate and sophisticated equipment requiring exact handling to ensure everything runs smoothly. There are many factors to consider as there is in the transport of any medical equipment and we work very closely with all parties during each movement and installation. Planning for each job, removal and installation of MRI units sees medical professionals, installation teams and ourselves involved in many meetings to ensure everything is done to the letter,” he says.

“In many cases buildings have to be altered to allow for removal or installation of an MRI machine and with every step of the way there is no room for error, it is a complicated task. During one move there was much discussion about how a unit was to be placed in position in a location with poor access, so I designed a cradle that would carry an MRI and allow it to be craned into position perfectly, and now we use that piece of equipment on many moves. It is unique and has been used interstate, recently in Adelaide, and I believe it is the only one in Australia.”

The company undertakes the entire movement package including traffic control and management plans, organisation of local council and other government permits and consultation with public transport and taxi authorities to enable each installation to run smoothly.

Horne Enterprises offers highly trained staff for all types of moves including factory and machinery relocations, other medical equipment, onsite lifting and dangerous goods cartage. The fleet has been specified for the wide range of services offered and is dangerous good certified. Forklifts range in capacity from 2.5 to 8 tonnes with a 10 tonner on order – all painted in the Horne livery. A wide range of trailers include one curtainsider fitted with ramps so a forklift can be driven on-board and transported to assist with lifting where required.

“Everybody who works for the company has input into the business, our people are highly experienced and I have respect for what they do and how they do it. The team is exceptional and what they experience in the field is completely relative to the jobs we do and we discuss all moves and the outcome of those moves to maintain our level of expertise and service,” Peter points out.

“I have three Ps I regard as vital, the first is punctuality which I regard as very important and a common courtesy. The second is presentation as mentioned earlier and the third is don’t pull punches with customers, we know what we have to do and it is always important to work with people so they know exactly what is going on,” he says.

Like in all good transport operations, there is usually a woman that’s not in the public eye and in this case it is his wife Elly, who Peter says “keeps him on the straight and narrow”. He mentions the huge workload she undertakes doing company bookwork and says that every equipment purchase must be put by Elly for approval.

Diversity and being able to meet customer demands regardless of the freight task has been another of his secrets along with keeping up with technology and Peter reveals the biggest percentage of his work comes through email or mobile phone. “You have to keep ahead of the times,” he smiles.

Storage is another element to the business that is expanding and in recent times Horne Enterprises started carrying specialised loads for wind farms, again sensitive freight requiring specialised handling.

“We do a lot of haulage to Perth and parts of Western Australia as well as Tasmania and to undertake the work we bought a new Kenworth T608 and trailer, fully outfitted to undertake a variety of tasks as is all of our equipment. We have the most comprehensively equipped trucks possible, ” he says.

The fleet is made up of the Kenworth T480 crane truck recently fitted with a new Hiab crane, two K104 prime movers, a DAF CF85 and LF55, this vehicle with a tailgate loader, utilities, forklifts, two dropdeck floats, two dropdeck curtainsiders one with ramps, two curtainsiders and a 45 foot flat top trailer.

You will often find Peter at the Carrum Downs depot on both Saturday and Sunday, saying what you put into a business you get out of it, and last year he and Elly took their first holiday in 21 years.

When it comes to hobbies, Peter is extremely active. He works as a volunteer fire-fighter and last year he was recognised with a plaque for his service and then named Firefighter of the Year.

“I carry a pager with me and if the staff see me rushing off from the depot they know there is a problem. It is something I enjoy and regard it as being able to give back to the community,” he says with more than a touch of humility.

Peter is very big on forming enduring relationships with people and reiterates the unique moves carried out by the company can only be accomplished by working closely with all involved.

“We are a small business and building relationships is a priority to ensure everything we undertake is carried out with the highest degree of professionalism and service. We are not perfect, nobody is, but we do everything in our power to eliminate stuff-ups and deliver what we promise. All vehicles are fitted with GPS tracking so we know the exact location of each truck and load and this works well for our customers,” Peter says inspecting his facilities.

“It was mentioned to me very early in the piece that you need to get as much information as you can on everything you do and people will help you. I listen to everything, every piece of information can be important and what our operators do and learn is all channelled into improving our business for the customer.”

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