2015 Cover Stories: Smith Haulage

By: Paul Howell


Smith Haulage, based on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, is a classic rural transporter, with 52 years of history carrying livestock, bulk, and general freight handling. Director David Smith says the family business has more to achieve in his generation and the next

2015 Cover Stories: Smith Haulage
Directors David Smith and Sue Smith make up the family business’ two-person board.

 

It’s a rural transporter that may be small by some yardsticks. But 52-year-old Smith Haulage aims to make a big impact on not just the markets it serves, but across the transport industry as a whole.

Director David Smith says the company’s 14 prime movers, based out of Tumby Bay on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, handle the full gamut of local work while also keeping other communities connected to Adelaide, and taking livestock as far afield as Darwin to the north and Melbourne to the east.

At the same time, Smith says the company looks to do its part as an industry leader.

"We have a strong emphasis on accreditation," Smith says, listing off the company’s participation in a range of voluntary programs.

Smith also takes a role in several industry associations, liaising with government to advocate for safer and more efficient road transport.

From a single truck

It was David’s father Lawrie Smith who first got the family name associated with rural transport. He and his wife launched the business as LN & GR Smith in 1957.

With a single Ford 750 rigid tray truck, Lawrie Smith worked the livestock trading routes between farms and markets across the Eyre Peninsula.

"From there it progressed to moving livestock to Adelaide, with a more powerful rigid and trailer combination [a Ford 850]," David Smith says.

He left school and began working with the business just as it was ramping up to general freight and investing in its first semi-trailers.

It began hauling baled wool into Adelaide, and then general freight — servicing stock agents mostly — on the return journey.

"Things got busier over time, and it grew to what it is today," Smith says, noting that the growth has been purely organic, and not reliant on mergers or acquisitions.

"We were growing at a sustained 30 per cent a year for a while," he says.

"That’s very difficult to do that while still maintaining and upgrading equipment."

Smith -Haulage ,-Operator ,-ATN

 

Livestock trade

Certainly, the business is very different today from what it was 10, or even just five years ago but Smith says it will always be a rural-based operation, with livestock transport at its heart.

"It’s not the biggest percentage nowadays, but it’s certainly a core part of what we do," he says.

Smith Haulage uses a mix of B-doubles and Type 1 road trains to haul Eyre Peninsula sheep between local markets and the saleyards in Dublin, north of Adelaide.

The company also makes regular journeys to abattoirs in Murray Bridge.

The company may have a long history with this work, but Smith says it still has its challenges today. Wider access for Higher Mass Limit (HML) vehicles is at the forefront of his mind. He notes that most local councils won’t allow these trucks on to their local roads, which connect farms to the main arterials.

"We transport from the farm gate to the city market — everything from the farm gate goes on road," he says.

If livestock transporters were able to use their most productive vehicles for these journeys, it would be worth up to $20 million to the industry as a whole, he says.

Finding skilled and capable staff is another challenge for the livestock side of the business.

"I think livestock transport drivers need to have been born into the farming business to want to do it," Smith says.

"Handling live animals are very different to general freight duties — it’s harder, messier, and often involves longer shifts."

Specialist livestock transporters also operate with a second level of regulatory oversight, with both road transport and animal welfare issues at play.

Smith -Haulage ,-Operator ,-ATN4

 

Diverse rural services

Even the largest of transport operators can’t afford to put all their eggs in one basket, so it makes sense that Smith Haulage has diversified away from livestock-only cartage.

Its services also now include general freight between Port Lincoln, Tumby Bay and Adelaide, and bulk deliveries of grain and fertiliser.

Smith says it all demands a diverse investment in a range of trailer types and sizes.

"You cater for so many different freight types: general, machinery, bulk, refrigerated, and livestock," he notes.

"The whole business is about being flexible and diverse. It’s got its complications obviously, but it’s just part of what we do as a rural operator."

Smith Haulage also has a general freight service to Roxby Downs, primarily servicing the remote mining town’s businesses with food, alcohol and hardware stocks.

While the town has been hit hard by the drop-off in the mining sector, Smith says he is confident it — and his business’ 19-year-old relationship with the town — can survive the temporary economic malaise.

"There’s been a bit of impact, and that’s affected us," he says.

A diverse fleet

Smith Haulage also welcomes diversity in its prime mover fleet, though for different reasons and with a much shorter history.

"For many years, we were 100 per cent Scania," Smith says of his company’s brand loyalties.

"We bought a Volvo roughly six years ago, and were very happy with it."

The company now has four Volvos on its books, but even the preference for European makes is now changing.

"As of the last two and a half years, we’ve introduced the three Americans — a Kenworth, a Mack, and a Western Star."

Smith says the change was in part due to requests from his livestock drivers, who were keen to have larger cabin space for the often long-haul journeys.

The company was also taking advantage of special offers from the manufacturers — Smith says single brand loyalty can these days mean missing out on the best available deals.

"It will continue to be a mixed fleet," he says, noting that a fifth Volvo is due to be delivered this month.

Smith -Haulage ,-Operator ,-ATN3

 

Giving back

He’s also determined that that fleet, however small, is still one of the safest and best performing on the road.

To make sure, Smith puts the whole company through the rigours of a wide range of industry accreditation programs.

An accredited TruckSafe member since 1998, Smith Haulage has also signed up to the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme, Truck Care, and the Cold Storage and Distribution and Retail and Logistics Supply Chain codes.

"Accreditation is vital in our industry," Smith says.

While some larger business partners require it as a matter of course, being up to date with industry standards also means improved workplace efficiencies, staff retention, and greater respect from enforcement agencies.

"I believe that it makes my business a better business," Smith says, before adding: "Get accredited, or get inspected."

That’s not to suggest there is any cynicism about the industry’s relationship with government. Rather, Smith says this is currently as mutually beneficial and respectful as it has ever been.

As SA president of the Livestock and Rural Transport Association (LRTA), and former president of the national body, he says the industry is slowly making headway along the legislative path to sensible heavy vehicle regulation.

"You’re never going to make any changes by throwing stones," he says.

"I’m a big believer in working with the industry. That’s evolved to a place where you can actually work with governments as well — there’s mutual respect."

Along with his LRTA role, Smith is also part of the Remote Area Consultative Group and on the national brake advisory committee.

He is the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) representative for the national body, and also an active member of the SA Road Transport Association.

Smith -Haulage ,-Operator ,-ATN5

 

Succession planning

Combine all that with the actual transport business he is running, and it makes for a busy schedule. Still, Smith has no plans for retirement, at least not in the next five years.

Asked where he sees himself come 2020, he hopes to still be leading a growing business in what will be a fast-evolving industry.

Beyond that however, he hopes the next generation will be willing and ready to step into leadership roles with the company.

The two heirs-apparent are son Andre and nephew Cameron, both of whom are already working in the family business.

"They represent a good mix of skills and have a lot of respect for each other," Smith says, noting that Andre completed his business degree before taking on a back-office role, while Cameron has several years of driving experience with the company.

Smith says there won’t be any pressure, but if they are keen to take the next step, he and fellow director Sue Smith (Cameron’s mother) would love for them to carry on the family business.

"It will be about giving them the skills to take over the business in the future — but in a bit more than five years I hope."

 

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