For over 50 years Bob Barnett and his Wollongong-based family business (pic Montague St North Wollongong HQ) have been quietly building their courier network all along the Eastern seaboard.
With feeder depots now well established in the Gold Coast, Newcastle, Goulburn, Canberra and Melbourne and a new one recently opened in Coffs Harbour, the backbone of their freight distribution system is in good shape to support an ever-growing fleet of delivery vehicles.
And there’s literally hundreds of them, spread from north of Brisbane to south of Melbourne and most places in between. Some of the fleet are small-sized (1 tonners), most are 4 tonners and a number are huge semis tripping from Melbourne to Wollongong or returning most nights. They’re the ubiquitous blue and white courier trucks with the distinctive large maps on the side.
Barnetts’ Senior Logistics Manager Shaun Willis discusses with WOL the day-to-day issues involved in striking the right balance between optimising loads and meeting tight schedules.
Most vehicles are owned and operated by franchisees and Bob has personally financed many individuals and ex-company drivers into their own business over the years. Literally hundreds of small businesses flourish under the Barnetts banner and Bob has probably single-handedly been responsible for starting more small local businesses than just about any other person in Wollongong.
Interview with Bob Barnett
WOL: Why do you think Barnetts have lasted so long in such a competitive industry?
BB: I think the answer is deceptively simple. We concentrate on delivering our customers goods when promised.
WOL: That does sound overly simple for an operation that is obviously complex – you only have to visit the Wollongong HQ at 5.00-6.00am any business morning to see what’s involved in moving thousands of individual items to thousands of different destinations mostly hundreds of kilometres apart.
BB: My focus is always on achieving perfection. By that I mean not a single missing item and no damage of any kind … every single day.
WOL: Well that’s probably impossible.
BB: At one level I accept that. And I’m aware our figures are a lot better than most. But you have to believe the target is possible if you are to ever achieve it.
WOL: Is it not true that Barnetts are in fact a lot better in terms of delivery and damage than any of the other large transport operators?
BB: Of course we don’t have access to other companies’ figures. All we do know is that we are approached by their unhappy customers virtually every day and they are always quoting poor delivery times, damage and lost items as their reason for calling us.
WOL: Sounds like everyone should use Barnetts then.
BB: Nice idea, but we couldn’t handle everything. Apart from that the fact is there will always be operators who will cut prices.
WOL: How competitive are Barnetts’ prices?
BB: We’re certainly not the cheapest I know that. And keeping costs down to a minimum is my other focus, i.e. after delivering on time.
WOL: How do you achieve that?
BB: We are always looking at the ‘total’ transaction cost.
Let me explain what we see as the transaction: It usually starts with a phone order at our centralised call centre in Montague Street, Fairy Meadow (all Aussie and lots of family members – no outsourcing here). From then on all items enter our computerised ordering system and are continuously tracked electronically to their final destination. A single movement can involve up to four different trucks with two unloads and loads with forklifts plus storage at each end. Each individual part of this process has to be managed for both cost and payment purposes.
WOL: That sounds complicated.
BB: It probably is … but we didn’t get it right overnight. It’s taken us literally decades to develop the system we have today.
WOL: How can you improve the system?
BB: There will probably always be capacity issues (phone systems) and I’m always looking for ways to simplify processes or remove unnecessary tasks and incorporate any new technology when it becomes available. Last year we commissioned an App. That means you can now track loads 24/7 from your Apple iPhone. Just insert your Tracking Number – no passwords or Log-Ins are required. As part of that exercise we also developed a system for our larger customers to place bulk orders online.
WOL: What about ordering online for smaller customers?
BB: We were in fact one of the first courier companies in Australia to have a website with this type of feature. Of course virtually everyone does it now.
WOL: How popular is ordering online?
BB: Last year we made a bit of a push and increased our numbers by nearly 50 per cent but, to be frank, it was off a fairly low base and we would like more people to go online.
We see the transition as very much an age thing. For example, every time a new (younger) person starts at one of our long-term customers they start using our online ordering facility. It seems the old-timers just can’t break the habit of ringing and talking to a real person. You’d be surprised how many are on first name terms and talk to our call-takers several times every day.
WOL: What do you see as the longer term challenges ahead?
BB: Well I can’t imagine a future transport industry without couriers.
I think time-sensitive freight will continue to increase over time. You only have to look at what’s happening with Australia Post and all the online purchases they’re now handling to see that.
What our role will be is yet to be determined although we have prototyped smart lockers and we already have the resources and supporting infrastructure in place to proceed when we think we have the right solution. We’ll be watching Australia Post and Tolls’ efforts with close interest in the coming months and years.
WOL: What are the company’s short to medium term goals?
BB: Probably just keep on building more depots. Some things never change!
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