The Primo approach

Primo Haulage has become a premium name in the refrigerated transport game. Despite a minimum of livery, the company’s fleet is turning heads around the country.

Peter “Pedro” Folwell has devoted all of his working life to road transport. He started at 14 years of age as an “off-sider” for a removalist business, and at the grand old age of 17 obtained his interstate licence.
In 1986, he purchased his first truck – an International 3070 and a couple of second hand refrigerated trailers with which he established a business based in Melton Victoria providing express transport for the local dairy and produce farmers.

Then, and still now, Peter’s pragmatic approach to business has been a foundation of his success.  Another important contributing factor has been his strong relationships with his clients, staff and suppliers.

Today, Peter and his wife Jane operate Primo Haulage from Somerton on the northern outskirts of Melbourne. The IH 3070 is long gone, though there is still a lone International in the current fleet make-up.

In addition to the Inter, Primo currently operates three Western Stars – Peter: “I’d buy more if they had a cab-over” – and eleven Kenworths. Pragmatic as he may be, when asked why a Kenworth majority, Peter replies, “I just love Aerodynes” – indicating an emotional bond to the brand in addition to his practical considerations.

Overall, Peter has purchased ten new Kenworths over the past two years and says his relationship with the Kenworth dealership at Laverton has never been better. “They are good to work with and are right on top of my needs.” He specifies 550HP Cummins engines and rigorously follows the Cummins Maintenance Plan.

So far in 2012, he has already taken delivery of two new Kenworths, plus the latest K200 that was embarking upon its maiden trip when we visited. The new additions are a slight departure from Primo’s usual specification – they aren’t white, instead being painted in distinctive gunmetal grey.

Both new K200’s feature a major interior update, including a curved dash and a “smart” steering wheel with fingertip controls for crucial functions such as the engine brake and cruise control. The virtually flat floor allows even a six feet tall driver to stand upright within the cab.

Less significant changes include repositioning the cup holders and relocating the CB radio to the dash. There is even a slot for commonly used documents such as a work diary or manifest all within arm’s reach. In-cab ergonomics will translate into higher productivity and less fatigued drivers, which is high on Primo’s agenda.

Hence Kenworth’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Andrew Hadjikakou, was not surprised by the industry’s response to the new interiors. “We actively consult with our customers on every model we build. Our customers give us real-world insights into how they operate their trucks. We take on board many of their ideas and have translated them into the general ergonomic layout of the new cab,” Andrew said.

Whatever the truck’s specification or colour, Primo’s policy has always been to have a minimum of livery on the outside. “I prefer a clean, white exterior – the clean look helps maintain the resale value of a van and makes it easier for someone else to give it a new lease of life.” A discrete logo is located on the front of each trailer to indicate that it is a Primo unit.

Primo Haulage runs 30 refrigerated trailers, most of them made by Maxi-CUBE, delivering fresh produce and frozen food to Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. Over the past ten years Primo has purchased more than 50 Maxi-CUBE trailers and says that, “every single van has provided us with outstanding thermal performance, durability and tare weight advantages.”

A large proportion of Primo’s current work is for the Perth-based Rand Refrigerated Logistics organisation, which is owned by the giant Automotive Holdings Group. Primo’s entire fleet uses the internationally recognised food safety compliance system known as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point).

Peter keeps a keen eye on costs and also has a policy of reviewing rates on a weekly basis. Never afraid to make a tough call, he actually scaled back his business by one third in 2011 and sold off seven trucks. “Costs have increased by 15 per cent in the past two years,” he said. “We might have dropped a lot of work but we are still just as profitable.”

With the economy now turning around, Peter sees future growth by utilising sub-contractors rather than his own trucks. In fact, he already has one “subby” tow haulier, Bon Transco, operated by the Bonica family in Brisbane. “They look after Brisbane and do a great job. They are a blessing for me.”

Peter also has high praise for his own drivers. “They are the face of the business. I can’t go anywhere without good people”, he says, pointing out that good drivers are hard to get at the moment, more so for local work rather than interstate. He recruits mostly by word of mouth and new appointees ultimately have to meet with the approval of the other staff, who between them average 24 years experience in transport driving.  One Primo driver has had 41 years of driving trucks. The interstate drivers may travel up to 280,000 kilometres per year, but Primo insists that all drivers are fresh at the start of every shift. “I want them on the ball in case another driver comes at them.”

Peter laments the loss of the highways’ true truck stop roadhouses, where a driver could enjoy a proper meal in dignified surroundings, rather than be forced to consume unappetising fast food often surrounded by noisy children. As with many within the industry he is also critical of one-size-fits all fatigue laws. “It’s silly requiring a guy to rest while he is not tired.”

But while he may not agree with every aspect of the regulations, he is scrupulous in complying with them. “I know that with my people the job will be done to the letter,” Peter declared. “They don’t just work for me, they work with me.”

Peter admits that working the interstate highways is a difficult task, but thinks that the Kenworth/Maxi-CUBE pairing is the right choice to make the job as easy as possible. After all, he has been using that combination since the mid 1990s.  However, he modestly attributes his success to his choice of equipment, his staff and his clients.


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