2015 Cover Stories: Millers Transport Group

By: Paul Howell


The Miller family business in south-east Melbourne has been making some big investments of late. Clinton Gilchrist and James Vine reflect on the recent growth that’s both inspired and in turn been a product of those changes

2015 Cover Stories: Millers Transport Group
Business development manager James Vine, left, and operations manager Clinton Gilchrist are overseeing significant change and growth at Millers Transport Group.

 

Since 1923, the Millers Transport Group has been an organisation evolving constantly — change (and perhaps the Miller family itself) has been the only constant, the great grandson of founder Syd Miller says.

But even by that reputation, now operations manager Clinton Gilchrist says the growth and investment undertaken over just the past few years has been impressive.

"We’re investing in staff, equipment, and our site," he tells ATN.

From a fresh asphalting of the container yard to a set of brand new Kalmar reach stackers, the transformation is also being felt on the balance sheet, with a raft of new customers adding to the continued growth.

Wood to containers

The Millers Transport Group began its trading life as a fuel merchant. Based in Melbourne’s south-east, Syd Miller offered firewood and briquettes mostly, with a transport offer only coming in a decade later.

Gilchrist says the evolution to a transport business was a slow one, but eventually the company did focus solely on moving cargo around the south-east of the city.

That niche has expanded slightly since then, to cover parts of south-east regional Victoria in addition to that same corner of the metropolitan area, while the cargo services have moved from general freight to containers.

"My grandfather Malcolme [Miller] first moved into containers in the late 1980s," Gilchrist says.

The business has also become an almost exclusive wharf transporter, taking containers from the Port of Melbourne, via its 5-acre (2-hectare) yard in Dandenong, to a growing list of customers there and as far afield as Bairnsdale and Omeo.

"Everything comes straight to the yard [in Dandenong]," business development manager James Vine says.

"Customers then pick a time when they want their container delivered from here."

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Super B-doubles

At first glance, it may seem unusual to have a wharf transporter located relatively far from the target port. But Vine says the Millers Group’s freight management system gives it an important edge for customers in the south-east.

These days, it is centred on three newly-purchased Kenworth super B-doubles, which ply a constant route between the port and the Millers container yard.

"They are operating 24-7, picking up two 40-foot containers each time," Vine says.

Customers are advised when their container is arriving at South Dandenong, and can nominate their own time for onward delivery to their own premises.

With trucks, drivers, and trailers all on-hand, and two (also new) Kalmar reach stackers manipulating the containers, Vine says the second part of each container’s journey is generally able to be scheduled very close to the requested drop-off time.

"A lot of our customers are here in Dandenong, so the total trip can end up being as short as 20 minutes," he says. "Even with longer journeys, we are far from the congestion of the city, so delays are rare."

Millers Transport Group does not serve many customers far to its west; ensuring containers do not have to double back toward the port.

"We’ve actually won national awards from multi-site customers for our ability to deliver as scheduled every time," Vine adds.

Using the Dandenong container yard as a staging post also helps Millers Transport Group return empty containers in a timely fashion.

Particularly where customers are close by in the Dandenong logistics precinct, the company is able to arrange pick-up for any time that is convenient.

The empty containers are then taken back to the port, two at a time, on an outgoing super B-double journey.

"Customers appreciate that they very rarely receive a penalty from the port for late returns," Gilchrist says.

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Service regime

Vine says that fleet management regime has been working better than ever before in tandem with the company’s new focus on customer service.

Since 2013, Millers Transport Group has provided each customer with a single service officer in charge of getting their container delivered on time and keeping them informed along the way.

"Their job is to fight for the customer, and that’s exactly what they do," Vine says.

"They make sure each customer has a voice when it comes to scheduling and vehicle allocation."

Most importantly, each customer is able to track their container from port to container yard, and ultimately to delivery.

"That gives everyone peace of mind and an appreciation for the fast turnarounds we are able to offer," Gilchrist says.

"We’ve had a tonne of good feedback about it, and several word-of-mouth referrals for new customers."

The service focus also extends to a range of value-adding offers, including the ability to quarantine cargo. Gilchrist says the Millers yard is accredited with the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), and is therefore able to hold on to any imported shipment that may have missed fumigation or inspection during its journey.

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A skilled team

Staff training has been another arm of Millers Group’s recent success, Vine says.

In particular, the company has embarked on a mission to have as many of its driving and mechanical staff cross-trained across several skill areas as possible.

In this way, drivers are also taught to handle forklifts; and mechanics can be given skills and accreditation on the reach stackers.

Vine says one of the firm’s mechanics was able to help out with driving duties over Easter, allowing it to maintain its delivery schedule throughout the recent holiday period.

"It means everyone can be covered if they are ever sick, or on leave," Vine says.

And while that was certainly the reasoning behind the new training regime, there are also other benefits that are proving well worthwhile.

The close to 45-strong staff have become more engaged with their work as a result, creating a strong culture of teamwork throughout the yard and office.

The company also now has the ability to roster what Vine refers to as a "loose man in defence": a multi-skilled worker who can pitch in to help with any task, whether it is loading or unloading trucks, or helping to manoeuvre containers or trailers to be in the right place at the right time.

"Not everything goes right all the time, so it’s great to have someone who can pitch in when it’s needed," Vine says.

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Family culture

Gilchrist says there is a distinctly family culture across the company, even aside from the fact that several members of the founding family, across two generations, remain in its employ.

As well as Gilchrist himself as operations manager, his uncle Glen Miller and mother Suzanne Gilchrist serve as directors.

Clinton Gilchrist’s brother Brenton is a fleet controller and his brother-in-law works as a driver and reach stacker operator.

Vine doesn’t have his own branch on the family tree but says everyone feels a part of it nonetheless.

He gave up his customer-side logistics career 18 months ago to work with the most professional and reliable transport operation he had encountered in that role.

"I’ve got to drive out from near the airport to get here every day," he says of his 63km commute.

"You only do that if you really appreciate what you do and who you do it for."

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Giving back

It doesn’t hurt that he has been with Millers during a period of unprecedented growth and further investment.

"Things have been going well the last few years, we’ve had a lot of growth," Gilchrist says. "When that happens, it’s important that you put something back in."

That’s exactly what Millers Transport Group has done, with millions’ worth of equipment buys, upgrades, and site works being completed over the past 18 to 24 months.

Alongside the three Kenworth super B-doubles, which have permits only for the handful of roads between the Millers’ container yard and the Port of Melbourne, including the Monash Freeway, the company now boasts 23 prime movers.

Gilchrist says these are mostly European brands, with Scania, Volvo, Iveco and MAN all represented.

Millers Transport Group also has around 75 trailers in its inventory.

But Vine says the "lifeblood" of the Millers operation is the two Kalmar reach stackers, only purchased six months ago to replace retiring models.

With their ability to manoeuvre, load and unload containers quickly, they ensure the yard is continually operating at its optimum capacity.

With the stackers playing such a key role, the company takes no chances.

"It’s important to have a spare — if one ever goes down, we definitely need the back-up," Vine says.

Millers is also in the midst of a full asphalting of its site.

Gilchrist says the heavy machinery has a significant impact on any surface it uses, demanding an extra thick pavement.

The main container yard has already undergone the upgrade, with the remainder expected to be completed within a year.

Gilchrist says Millers will continue to invest in people, culture and resources.

"This has been the priority over the past 92 years and will continue going forward."

 

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