In conjunction with historically low interest rates, one of the few benefits of the COVID pandemic to the larger Australian community has been the boom in housing construction and renovation.
The demand for building supplies has been fuelled by the significant increase in activity in the renovation sector as homeowners make good use of the periods of time when they have been restricted to their own suburban areas, to tackle those little, and often larger, jobs around the home.
Modern retailing is dependent upon the ‘just-in-time’ model of inventory management and this concept is no different in the building supply business as retailers strive to minimise the amount of stock they have on hand.
This trend is now standard procedure regardless of the outlet being a mega-barn operation or local ‘Mum and Dad’ corner hardware store. To achieve such a degree of stock control and to remain competitive the retailers and trade suppliers in turn rely upon their wholesale suppliers to keep sufficient replacement stock on hand and for an efficient transport and logistics provider to deliver the various products in a timely manner to meet the demands of the various end customers.
One such operator is Donaldson Haulage based at Woodberry which is a semi-rural location just outside of Newcastle and only minutes away from a number of the major highways servicing the NSW east coast.
Andrew Donaldson and his team have built just such a transport operation by delivering building products within NSW with 150-200 tonnes of James Hardie building products delivered every day to retail and trade outlets such as Bunnings Warehouse, Hudson Timber, Mitre10, Home Hardware and Eaton’s Hardware.
The Donaldson trucks will also take timber from Newcastle down to Sydney and Canberra and occasionally pick up a load timber from a major mill located near Tumut. Deliveries can also extend to as far away as the NSW mid-north coast and there are regular trips around the Lower Hunter region.
The regular delivery task includes servicing 28 stores on the NSW Central Coast. A UD PK rigid truck does up to ten drops each day and the recent growth in this sector of the business has justified the decision to have a twin-steer UD Quon currently built.
At present UD services the smaller sites where access for even a single trailer can prove difficult. It is for this reason the rest of the trucks are semis rather than B-doubles.
“Originally I had a B-double but had to unload and reload onto a smaller truck for distribution,” says Andrew. “So we dispensed with the ‘A’ trailer and saved on registration charges. Now everyone runs singles and has the flexibility to get in and out of wherever they need.”
In recent years Andrew has developed a changed business model which sees him currently owning just one semi and one rigid.
The rest of his fleet of prime movers and semi-trailers has been sold off mainly to their drivers who enthusiastically operate on a contract basis with the trucks remaining in the distinctive Donaldson Haulage livery.
“It’s been a win-win,” says Andrew. “I haven’t got to be concerned about drivers not showing up for work and the drivers get a better lifestyle and can be masters of their own destinies without the stress of worrying about where their work will come from. Every afternoon I make a phone call to each driver and give them their work for the next day.”
Andrew is nevertheless very comfortable with his business name appearing on his contractors’ trucks. “And if they do something wrong it’s my number on the back of it,” he says, smiling.
Andrew sees a challenge to this style of operation where certain operators, often new to the industry, are offering to undercut freight prices.
“There’s no such thing as cheap freight. To do that they’ve got to cut corners, including delaying deliveries to better suit themselves,” he says.
“Customers don’t want to keep a lot of inventory on their shelves so they need quick turnaround on deliveries. A key part of our service is we do same day-next day.”
A major client is Hyne Timber which is one of the largest sawn timber suppliers in Australia and Donaldson Haulage performs their pine timber distribution, a task recently made more effective with Hyne Timber opening a major new depot in nearby Cameron Park.
Andrew has grown the business through hard work and, knowing he is secure in his relationship with the James Hardie organisation, brought about by another transport company which provided it with an entrée to the timber building products industry.
“That was ten years ago and was the best thing I ever did. I learned a lot about logistics from the other companies I had worked with and I was able to put it all together around factors such as truck efficiency, fuel economy, and drivers’ abilities. I would go out with a new driver and explain what, where, when and how to operate and I offered an incentive for whoever achieved best fuel economy,” Andrew says.
Eventually all of the company drivers were in new trucks which helped with the ultimate transition of them becoming owners and contractors.
In addition to the six trucks operating in Donaldson Haulage colours, Andrew has a couple of additional contractors whose main work is delivering beer.
They may also do two to three days per week with Andrew. One is based in Gloucester and the other is conveniently located right next door to the immaculate Donaldson depot at Woodberry.
The destructive bushfires of the 2019-20 summer wiped out a lot of forestry plantations around NSW towns such as Tumbarumba. The sad fact is it will take at least a decade for those plantations to recover, so large quantities of timber suitable for building purposes are being imported.
This presents further opportunities for Donaldson Haulage to become the link between the docks and the wholesale timber suppliers’ depots as well as from the depots to the retailers.
Where feasible, the timber is taken direct to the customers, in addition to distribution centres such as the new facility operated by Ron Crouch Transport at Orchard Hills in Sydney’s west to which Andrew’s son Kane delivers a full load every day at 5.00am with the Mack Super-Liner.
Andrew and Kane try to keep that particular truck relatively local and it usually covers only around 80,000 kilometres per year and has received numerous truck show awards including one from the NSW Roads and Maritime Service.
Donaldson Haulage trucks are renowned for their perennially immaculate presentation and even the UD is no exception.
Rather than going down the common route of polished alloy wheels, Andrew has had the original steel wheels painted in gloss black two-pack paint highlighted by red striping, with chrome hubcaps and wheel nuts.
The UD is also distinctive due to its ‘drop’ sun visor, an unusual feature on a Japanese truck.
“The first truck I bought was a Mack V8 which I did up while working as a fuel tanker driver,” says Andrew. “I used to tinker with it a lot and when I connected it to a 45-foot alloy floor flat top trailer I went ‘out on my own’ carrying a variety of freight including cotton.”
If it weren’t for that truck, Andrew reckons he’d still be working for someone else. He’s stuck Macks ever since.
“All of the guys who have bought my trucks use the local Mack service centre,” he says. “I found the hard way there is a lack of mechanical knowledge at other repairers. By sticking with Mack service and the trained technicians we get full warranty on the genuine parts and the repairs, which gives peace of mind.”
Andrew still enjoys getting behind the wheel himself occasionally and feels that the best part of being in the business is meeting people and developing strong business relationships with clients.