Apple Isle Achiever: Stateline Freight

By: Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi


A quiet achiever, Hobart-based Stateline Freight celebrates 25 years in business thanks to its strategic business approach

 

Starting out with one van and a truck, Stateline Freight now has 43 vehicles and seven forklifts

 

Brothers Paul and Gerard Ryan are marking the company’s 25th anniversary with their 52 employees, a little "gathering" to help reflect on how far they’ve come, but most importantly, the direction they’re heading into.

Seated at his Derwent Park office, Paul Ryan is reluctant to speak of the journey. His modest approach is the reason why the company has quietly been kicking goals when some other operators have crumbled during turbulent market times.

A former truck driver turned businessman, Paul Ryan is in charge of creating his own success. With a sharp focus on business growth, he’s been reinvesting money back into the company.

From humble beginnings with just one van and a truck, Stateline Freight now has 43 vehicles. It also has seven forklifts within four warehouses.

Australia Post was its first customer and still is, as one of 40 others.

The company was awarded a substantial contract in Hobart in 1996 and, by mid-1997, it expanded to state-wide operations.

It now operates throughout Tasmania, Victoria and Sydney, and also provides 3PL services to several national healthcare companies along with airfreight six nights a week between Melbourne and Tasmania.

The brothers had recently won a contract which saw the opening of their first Victoria depot in Epping. That business has grown by leaps and bounds.

"It all fell into place, it was exactly what we were looking for," Paul Ryan says.

"We started off with five vehicles in October and, at the end of May, we’re up to 17 vehicles; it’s been a huge increase in business and we’ve bought all new vehicles [for the Epping site]."

It’s not just expansion but how it is occuring aids the firm.

"The business has grown, I would say, by at least 35 per cent," Paul Ryan adds.

"We didn’t quite expect it to happen but it’s about the service we provide – years ago, it was all about the price but now it’s a combination of price and service.

"We don’t go into anything I don’t believe we can’t make a dollar out of, and or add value."

  

Left to Right: interstate driver Dennis Carmichael, Stateline Freight founder and general manager Paul Ryan and operations manager Garry Reid

 

Getting it right

Stateline Freight prides itself on service and presentation, so much so that it once got accused of "over servicing" a customer, Ryan explains.

"I don’t think it’s such a thing – for us, it’s all or nothing," he says.

"It’s a combination of what we can provide and what the customer wants; it’s not just there’s a van, pick up a parcel and go deliver it, it’s all a lot more involved.

"We like to get really involved with our customers through discussions. Our biggest five customers have been with us for five years or more, so we are big enough to get the job done and small enough to make changes immediately, it’s not a decision that has to go to the board, we can make a decision and move quickly.

"If something’s not right we can change it, it doesn’t get lost in personnel; we can fix it straight away."

The brothers have built the business to a manageable size and are good at retaining their drivers as they both believe in paying them above the award rates.

"Out of the 25 years we’ve had nine that have had long service with us; usually the good ones come to Stateline and stay because we pay more; they’ve got brand new vehicles, so good clean gear, and safety is a big issue for us and our clients, we push on that extremely well," Ryan says.

"If we can improve our bottom line then why not let the employees share in that side of the business.

"We make sure that they’re looked after; we are always lending them money or paying a bill for them so we’re also a bank but more importantly a family, if they’re sick or injured then it concerns us.

"It’s also about managing the money and cost which is what it all comes about, we’re extremely efficient in how we do things and unlike some of the bigger companies they have little idea of times and delays and that’s where they lose a lot of money," he adds.

"How you do your deliveries, save money, value add is how we can afford it. That’s an ongoing daily/weekly exercise; it’s making sure that everything is done, delivered in the most efficient way possible."

  

The Ryans are partial to Volvos

 

New gear

Stateline Freight has purchased two new Volvo FH540 and FH700 Globetrotter semi-trailers to service the needs of a new contract that brought about the need for larger trailers.

One was put straight to work between Hobart and Sydney, with the second to hit the road  in October.

The Vawdrey trailers are fitted with a double bar adjustable loader system that allows for double stacking of sensitive freight, without the risk of damage.

They’re part of eight rigids, three semis and 32 vans. The majority of trucks are Volvo.

"That’s been the way we’ve decided to go," Ryan says.

"The reputation, the finished product regardless of what everyone says; it’s the European finish and safety which is a big thing.

"If you’re going to buy a product you’re better off buying the best, that way you hopefully get a better run out of it and a better resell value."

Ryan prefers to be in control if his own fleet, hence the reason why the company very rarely uses contractors.

The company has a policy of one vehicle per driver.

Stateline’s growth has come about purely due to word of mouth. Ryan had worked for TNT Express in the 1980s as owner driver before retutning to Tasmania to work as a Hino sales representative.

"I then found there was a couple of areas in delivery there we could look at so I got involved with Australia Post and TNT," he says.

"We have built the business to a size that’s maintainable; we’re in a situation where we couldn’t be happier.

"Twenty-five years in we’re satisfied and very proud of where we’ve come from. You only have to look at our fleet; we have what I believe the best presented fleet on the road, our boys are all about cleanliness, uniforms and presentation."

Just like the future of electric trucks, Ryan can’t predict his own company’s upcoming.

"We’ll look at them (electric vehicles) but we won’t be the first to try them out," he adds.

"We’re not pioneers by any stretch of the imagination but we’ll move forward the future tells us which direction we go in, it’s impossible to set a plan for the next three to four years because that can change dramatically with the same type of explosion we’ve had in the last seven months.

"The plan is to be open-minded and clear thinking."

The company has steered away from carrying general freight due to price wars, Ryan adds.

"Because of the highs and lows of the volumes, it’s too unreliable and you could lose a customer for $100; there’s someone prepared to do it cheaper so we don’t get into bidding wars and pricing.

"It’s a combined operation with our clients and we tell them what we can do and how we can do it and it’s about value adding with our clients."

Stateline Freight uses sign-on glass technology and GPS tracking.

By appointing HR and workplace advisory service Employsure four years ago, the company is now across employment rules and changes.

"They make sure everything we do is above board and up to standards because we can’t be a transport company and know all the changes," Ryan says.

"We keep up to date but if a law changes we’re not necessarily informed on the day, you could be doing something wrong whereas Employsure notifies us if there’s a change.

"We use them to audit certain areas of the business, we look for advice from external qualified companies and they also handle our drug and alcohol tests done."

  

Stateline Freight founder and general manager Paul Ryan

 

A worthwhile journey

Ryan couldn’t be more proud of his achievements, saying the early days were not easy where the pair worked up to 20 hours, seven days a week.

"There were a lot of long, cold winter nights from Hobart to Launceston; snow, frost, ice and obviously working all day.

"We’re extremely proud of what we’ve turned into – the fleet and the employees. But also the image we have and the respect.

"I’m from an Irish background, so the harder it gets the harder I fight.

"There’s never been a moment where I wanted out of it and I think that’s also kept us grounded but has also made us appreciate where we are and what we have achieved."

The pair have no plans on becoming the next Toll or Linfox but do draw inspiration from such companies.

"Linfox is actually one of my heroes and the other one would be Alan Bond; he was and still is probably my hero. What he did and where he came from – he’s a nice guy whose generous to the community and gives back."

 

 

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