His early working life as a butcher laid the foundations for Simon Frazer as he has transitioned from his first modest one person operation into being a sizeable player in cold storage facilities and associated refrigerated road transport.
After he left butchering, Simon started selling packaging to businesses such as bakeries and cafes and was surprised at the low levels of fresh food, because as a butcher he was used to everything being fresh, yet many of the bakeries he visited relied on frozen and imported mass produced items.
He realised an opportunity to start his own business and bought his first refrigerated truck, a Toyota Dyna, and started buying and selling gourmet foods in and around the Wangaratta area.
As that business expanded, he found himself travelling frequently to Melbourne to source more food items and eventually built up a refrigerated transport operation which he sold to a national operator around 20 years ago.
“I got out of the game for a while and bought an ENZED hydraulic hose franchise,” Simon says. “But I’ve always had a love for cool rooms so I built a little one and that worked, then built a bigger one and that worked, too.”
Today Link Cold Storage and Transport operates from its own modern cold storage facility at Wangaratta where a diverse range of items are kept in temperature controlled environments for an expanding group of clients including major supermarket chains.
The onsite blast freezer has the capability to freeze 28 tonnes of food overnight.
Simon started out using sub-contractors to perform the transport tasks associated with his cold store facility but found when occasional periods of extra demand had to be met the contractors were reluctant to acquire the additional trucks required.
So Simon decided to set up his own trucks again.
“I bought my first Volvo from CMV in Wodonga and we have had a great partnership with them ever since,” he says.
Trucks are normally replaced at the half million kilometre mark but the extended delivery times for new trucks over the past couple of years has seen a couple nudge 570,000 kilometres.
Two new ‘Imported Quick Spec’, commonly referred to “Euro spec”, fully imported Volvo prime movers have recently joined the fleet with a third to follow shortly.
“They aren’t my builds and you have to take what you can get but I am super impressed with them, especially the fuel economy we are getting,” says Simon. “We only run single trailers and they suit what we do.”
For 15 years Link performed the transport of hanging carcass meat six nights a week, and up to five or six loads a night. Although this segment of the business was profitable, Simon became concerned about the effects it may have been having on his drivers.
“In August 2022, I decided we weren’t doing it anymore,” he says. “We were getting good money but struggled with staff retention due to night work.”
In response, Simon approached his biggest client in their hanging meat segment, who they had been with for 15 years, and asked if they could have a look at load and unload times.
“We were concerned about factors such as sleep apnoea, and we looked at driver retention as well as their moods and how that affects their weekends with their families,” he says. “My wife Anna-Lisa has a medical background, so we did a lot of homework on it and although we had experienced no injuries we felt the situation just wasn’t right.”
Operating in this specialised sector can be a problem because a truck with a load of hanging meat is stuck until it can be loaded or unloaded.
“You can’t do it yourself,” says Simon. “Unlike general freight you can’t run another truck out, take a couple of pallets off, leave them out and go. You’re stuck. We had great drivers and although it was only a two and a half hour drive each way, by the time they loaded, drove, unloaded and got back it could be a 16-hour day including breaks.”
Worried about what it was doing to the drivers’ mental health as well as the operations staff who needed to be near the phone at night, the Frazers made a judgement call.
“The clients didn’t even want to discuss it so if they weren’t going to come to the party with different times we were going to jump. And we did,” Simon recalls. “We called it and we walked. We lost 28 per cent of our income, overnight.”
It was a big call to make, but Simon had the confidence to believe it would take three months to get back to the same level of income.
“But it only took us three weeks because we had capacity,” he notes. “We knew we had to set ourselves up better and to have the capacity to look primarily after the customers we have, and also where we wanted to be in the business, and it wasn’t doing nights.”
No longer having to worry about the hanging meat industry, the Link interstate trucks now leave within a timeframe where they all get in to their destinations by 11pm and go to bed.
The first time slot is 8.30am the next morning, so on weekends when the drivers go home to their families they have similar sleep patterns to those they experience during their working week.
“Since we’ve done it I honestly don’t think we’ve had a driver quit,” says Simon. “Wangaratta is such a strategic location and being just two and a half hours to Melbourne we can run a truck down and back easily in a day. We were going to open a depot there years ago because we do a lot into Melbourne but it’s just as easy running them out of here and we can have a great facility like we have now. For us it just ticks so many boxes.”
Sydney is six hours away meaning drivers can leave by 6.00pm and be resting in Sydney by midnight. Similarly, a driver travelling to Adelaide leaving at 10.00am has plenty of time to get there by 10.00pm and go to bed.
Meanwhile, the Link cold storage infrastructure continues to develop and plans are in place to double capacity by the end of 2023. Utilising quality equipment such as Volvo trucks and FTE trailers equipped with Carrier refrigeration units has enabled Link Cold Storage and Transport to thrive.
With that comes leverage and the ability to control its destiny. It’s now in a position to make tough decisions and handle the consequences.
“All doing it here in the country,” says Simon with justifiable pride.