Regional area transport companies cement communities together through strong relationships and an intimate knowledge of customer needs. Shoobridge Transport continues that tradition while expanding interstate services.
The New South Wales town of Murwillumbah has a long and proud history as the centre of a major agricultural growing area, notably sugar cane and bananas – and while banana production has declined over the past decade, growers formed the catalyst of significant transport growth in and around the region.
Among those were banana growers Glen Shoobridge and Des Stafford who had a need to transport produce to market and bought a truck, an AA148 International to handle the fruits of their labour in an efficient transport manner. The fact the duo had increased efficiency was not lost on other growers in the area, so it was not long before people were seeking them to carry their bananas to market, resulting in the formation of Shoobridge and Stafford Transport and an expanding fleet of trucks to handle the freight increase.
“Originally we started selling bananas to two brothers running a business who were looking for more growers as they got bigger and the end result was we bought out most of the local carriers, one at a time, with one being the biggest carrier on the Tweed. We bought the business but did not buy any of the trucks, rather we bought one new truck and went from there with a view to expanding,” Glen tells.
Glen and Des worked tirelessly to continually increase productivity and efficiency for the growing customer base, forming long lasting relationships and establishing a reputation for reliability and unquestionable service. It was hard yakka involving long hours with a firm focus on the customer, and as they were experienced in banana production they had an intimate knowledge of customer requirements.
“Along the way we had become involved in a number of aspects of the banana business but I could see I was not suited to some roles so I made the decision to concentrate on transport. I bought another truck, a Dodge D3F powered by a Perkins diesel and no brakes,” Glen laughs, “and continued to work with customers and grow the company.”
The fleet of rigid trucks was complemented by semi-trailers in the late 80s as work dictated and the company increased routes to service the growing customer base. In 1994 Des Stafford, after making a significant contribution to the business, decided to focus his attention on bananas and sold his share to the Shoobridge family. Glen and Gwenda Shoobridge and sons Peter and Barry formed Shoobridge Transport and that growth continues.
The company has never advertised, in fact all of its customers have been word of mouth, recommending the business to others following close relationships with clients who simply appreciate what the Shoobridge family does.
“We try to treat customers as we wish to be treated ourselves and I think we care more than many transport companies do. Customer service is what we offer and we go out of our way to deliver what we promise and we certainly don’t make false promises,” Glen says.
“It is amazing the freight we do carry that has come from companies who have not had a good experience with some carriers. For approximately the first ten years our business was based predominately around the banana industry and word of mouth saw us increase business. As banana production reduced we ventured out into other areas, not keeping our eggs in one basked so to speak and we increased our activities in the food transport business.”
Farm pickups are still an integral part of the operation and the company did, and still does deliver to markets, but along with that came services delivering to fruit and vegetable retailers and that has developed into a major part of the Shoobridge fleet activities. This was complemented by deliveries to grocery stores which have now become another major part of the business with a lot of work involved in groceries and perishables to retailers across a wide area.
“Interstate has grown considerably,” Says Glen. “I never really wanted to get into interstate and we used to subcontract interstate market work, but the opportunity arose to put one of our own linehaul trucks on the road.”
Glen’s son Peter explains the decision to offer interstate services was carefully considered, particularly in viability terms, and now regular services are offered to capitals.
“It was debated whether it would be an asset to the company, and we are currently running four trucks on long distance to markets. We run a lot of refrigerated freight obviously and there is general as well, but we predominately concentrate on the food industry,” Peter points out.
“We now run a mixed fleet of trucks and the equipment includes a number of rigids, trailers including refrigerated curtainsiders and vans and dry freight pans and we look at requirements closely.”
As a regional carrier there is a high degree of loyalty to Shoobridge Transport by those who have been long involved as customers. The fact it is family owned and run is well respected in all areas the company services, something the company values and it drives the work ethic.
“People know we care about them and we have a good customer base, a lot of good people who support us. We have a lot of good customers in food manufacturing and even do a large amount of work for a major fast food chain. It is interesting how that came about, we had one of our trucks at their premises and after about half an hour of the vehicle leaving we received a call from a manager who told us he had seen our trucks often, liked the presentation and appreciated the actions of the driver at their site and asked would we like to come and have a chat. We started doing four runs a week and now do over thirty, so that has been good for us,” Peter says.
“We service markets in capitals, areas south to Coffs Harbour, NSW Northern Rivers, west to Toowoomba in Queensland and to the Sunshine Coast. One of the major reasons for our success is that there are challenges associated with putting things into place for customers and if you are not committed to it you may as well walk away straight away. We are committed, negotiate proper rates for what we do and put the customer first.”
Shoobridge Transport places a high degree of emphasis on viability. “We commissioned our own workshop last year and this has been very good for us, one of the best decisions we have made. Previously we outsourced all of our repairs and maintenance but we have appointed our own mechanic and an apprentice and this has minimised downtime and allowed us to deliver a higher level of service,” Glen says.
“We look at keeping our equipment for a reasonable period of time and our maintenance is right up to scratch to ensure reliability. In the last ten years we have gone to more new equipment to ensure we don’t let customers down. We have had a good run from everything overall.”
Mention the word ‘people’ and this sees the Shoobridge family tell they have staff with them who worked on the banana farm and went into transport with them, some notching up considerable service years. The company promotes from within and runs training packages for young people offering careers with the company.
Operations and Compliance Manager, Geoff McLennan, points out that training also includes visits from suppliers who pass on vital equipment information.
“Part of our training covers the equipment we operate and we have had sessions conducted by representatives from companies like Thermo-King and Crown Lift Trucks who make sure we have safe and efficient operation of equipment, better for drivers and better for equipment,” Geoff says.
“Safety is extremely important to us here and when we first went into interstate we said that if we had to push drivers we would not go anywhere near it. You simply cannot push the boundaries, we have all seen the result of that so we have staged driving in place, continual monitoring of what drivers have done to ensure fatigue is managed. We probably do better than many in this regard and it works – for us and our customers.”
Shoobridge Transport operates around the clock and rigid drivers too are afforded ample rest time. If a driver has a big day the next he is given an entirely different run where start times are later and the working period shorter, all stringently controlled by operations.
“We have a fantastic operations team and a great driver base. We employ just over 50 people now and that includes a good dedicated driver base who are committed to what they do and the customers they serve. We also have a top ream of administration people and everybody has the same aim to be proficient and professional in every aspect of the business,” Peter says with pride.
Value-adding services is another aspect of the business with in-house storage and distribution a growing sector of activities, and considering customer needs vary, Shoobridge meets requirements, growing the company with customers.
“We have developed a good culture here, that is what customer service is all about, you have to know what they want and be very sure of how you deliver those requirements. All of our people work closely with clients and have a unique understanding of the need to provide efficiency and quality in all of our activities, all at a personal level,” Peter reinforces.
Satellite tracking is installed in all vehicles and the company has invested heavily in technology to keep it well abreast of every facet of its business and software and booking systems are undergoing upgrades, again to assist customers and improve the manner of doing business.
The company continually looks to the future to properly manage growth and improve services. According to Glen when the company was first formed it was a dream to build a business based on size, but today he has a different perspective.
“I never really wanted to be top of the heap, but I am very proud of what we have achieved in what is really a short period of time. We get a lot of positive feedback from customers on what we do and how we do it. It is all about running our business in-line with customer requirements and we maintain the importance of keeping it personal,” Glen says.
Prime Mover Magazine (2011). Shoobridge Transport: Keeping it personal. http://www.primemovermag.com.au/featured/article/shoobridge-transport-keeping-it-personal