Finding a niche market, providing a service at a competitive price and making a profit are the hallmarks of most successful businesses and Rough Terrain Transport is certainly no exception. By Richard Silcock.
Former taxi driver Bruce McEwen with his wife Debbie, set up Rough Terrain in 1998 at Petone, Wellington, with a second-hand transporter and a Moffett Mounty all-terrain fork lift doing various loads around the Wellington region.
“We slowly grew the business to include two transporters and a forklift,” says Bruce. “Soon after we purchased a Hiab as we saw the market changing so we changed with it and established a niche service for the building and construction sector.”
In 2004 they moved to a bigger yard in the Elsdon light industrial estate overlooking Porirua city and now run a fleet of transporters, flat-decks trailers, Hiabs and fork lifts.
They have a staff of 11 – one of whom is an in-house diesel mechanic who completes all of the servicing and maintenance of the fleet on an annual rotational basis to minimise breakdowns or equipment failure.
The company runs eight Mitsubishi (Fuso) flat deck truck and trailer units, a Mack heavy haulage transporter, several semi-trailers, a low loader trombone, a self-steering trombone which is capable of carrying loads of up to 30-metres in length, a Nissan front mount Hiab and two Hino Hiabs, along with the Moffet Mounty two tonne all-terrain forklift.
Several of the Hiabs have a lifting capacity of up to 14-tonne and two are fitted with winches.
The company holds a five-star NZTA Operator Rating Certification for Transport Service Licensing and all their operators are NZQA certified.
“We pretty well provide a one-stop-shop, mainly servicing the contracting, building and manufacturing industries, but we do move the odd boat from time to time,” says Bruce.
“With our range of plant we are able to cater for most requirements and often take on jobs that many others steer away from due to either difficult access, steep terrain or tight spaces – hence our company name.”
Twenty-one years on, Bruce and Debbie are still enthusiastic about the business they have created. They put their success down to providing a fair and realistic price, having a team of well-trained and dedicated staff and building close and long-term relationships with their clients, some of whom they’ve had from day one.
Bruce says all of their staff really love the variety of work and many have been with the company for over 10 years.
“No one has left us over the past six years.
“We all work together as a cohesive team, with each person understanding their individual role. I take a personal interest in their welfare and provide them with the tools they need to carry out a job effectively and safely, with safety being our number one priority.”
Some of their more recent work has involved hauling multi-tonne construction loads, heavy machinery and crane components onsite for the Transmission Gully and Kapiti Expressway projects.
“We also transported the steelwork for the West Wind and Mill Creek windfarms and over 200 steel piles up to 30 metres long from the manufacturer to the Clyde Quay apartment development on Wellington’s waterfront.
“A smaller, but equally interesting job was relocating the Muri Railway Station waiting room building. Access was so narrow and bush-covered we were unable to get a truck to it, so we used our large all-terrain heavy lift forklift to pick it up and bring it out.
“These days we are also transporting heavy and often over-dimensional loads for our clients throughout the North Island. Hauling 30-tonne diggers to Warkworth, north of Auckland is not our bread and butter, but if a client wants a machine on the ground at a specific time and date, we do it.
“We don’t advertise or do any marketing and fly a bit below the radar. We have a website but have mostly built and grown the business by being able to provide a consistently high level of service.
“Most of our work comes from word-of-mouth and getting repeat business from our many larger clients.”
“I steer clear of contracts, for while they may bring some continuity in work flow, they tend to lock you in to providing a ‘drop-everything service’ and giving the contractee priority over other customers, very often at a significantly lower price.
“And there is no point in doing it if you are doing the job at a loss.”
Bruce is a registered Class 1 Pilot, as is one of their heavy haulage drivers.
“This alleviates the need and cost to hire external pilots and we provide this to our clients as part of our service.”
Asked about issues currently facing the industry as a whole, Bruce says his pet hate is the new health and safety guidelines and the amount of extra paper work it brings.
“Gone are the days of using common sense and taking meaningful precautions.
“I am not saying operators should not take heed of the guidelines and regulations, but as an industry we need to buy into self-administration of H&S at all levels.
“The employer should not be penalised for lapses in compliance by their staff.
“We train our guys to be professional, take responsibility, to think for themselves, not to take risks, be aware of their surroundings, wear the appropriate PPE gear for the job and the climate, to always fasten their safety belt, not to speed and to always check the truck, load and the site.
“For the latter, I call it doing a 360.
“In other words, walk around the truck/load and the site to ensure everything is right and is secure and the site is free from any obstructions and potential H&S risks.”
Another issue that concerns Bruce is the operator rating system.
“Why should the operator be penalised and have their ‘star rating’ reduced because a staff member was not wearing their seat belt or if they get caught using a mobile phone while driving, particularly when they know it’s illegal.”
As for the future, Bruce says the transportation industry is changing and he is of the opinion that many smaller operators will find it difficult to survive in a market that is becoming more competitive, price driven and with tightening margins.
“I see many of the smaller operators being absorbed or merged with the bigger companies, as we are seeing in the contracting industry, with many now owned by off-shore conglomerates.”
On his desk Bruce has a $2 coin glued down to the surface.
“I jokingly tell everyone that if I have to prise it off, indications are, times are getting tough, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon, we are extremely busy and we have a good forward job book.”