Australian fleet owner Craig Fox puts his success in the transport industry down to two things: only transporting paying loads and carrying a varied range of goods.
Six years ago Craig Fox knew next to nothing about trucks.
“I was a fisherman, but with the introduction of quotas the fishery became unviable and I had to look for something else to do, so I bought the trucking business from my father.”
At the time, Fox Transport, based in the town of Poirt Fairy in the province Victoria in southwest Australia, consisted of just three truck and trailer combinations. Craig saw some new opportunities to expand his fleet, and has since added two B-double grain tippers, a Tite-liner and a bulk chemical tanker.
“We’re still based in Port Fairy,” says Craig, “but we operate all over Victoria now. A typical B-double route might be to take a load of black decorative stone from our screening plant down to Melbourne, pick up a load of fertiliser and transport it to the town of Mildura, collect a load of grain or gypsum and transport it back to Gippsland or our home base. The driver will be out for about three days on a trip like that.”
Wary of being beholden to a single type of load, Craig has diversified as much as possible.
“Grain, lime, sand, stone, fertiliser, general freight, we do all of that,” says Craig. “We also have a chemical tanker so we can mix some liquid loads in there. When one line of business is quiet the others usually make up the shortfall. The variety also keeps the drivers on their toes, which they appreciate.”
A very hands-on manager, Craig is in one of his trucks every day of the week travelling locally, to Melbourne, Gippsland or to Mildura. During his travel breaks he spends time speaking with his customers, scheduling and making sure he meets everyone’s expectations.
“From my perspective, taking care of my customers is of paramount importance. If someone needs something urgently we’ll bend over backwards to re-schedule and accommodate them”, says Craig.
“I speak with my customers daily, so I know what’s required, and being flexible is imperative. Being in the truck also helps, because I get to experience exactly what the drivers are facing in day-to-day operations and see how the trucks are performing. This helps me get a sense of how we might be able to make things more efficient.”
From my perspective, taking care of my customers is of paramount importance.
With margins drawing ever tighter, fuel efficiency is one of Craig’s particular areas of interest.
“I’m very keen on fuel efficiency,” says Craig, “which is one reason why I use Volvo. We had some guidance from Volvo’s driver trainers and it really made a difference. Understanding a few simple driving techniques and using the technology in the truck to its full potential has had a big impact on our fuel consumption. We were getting around 1.8 kilometers to the litre before, now we’re up around 2.1.”
That equates to 240 litres less fuel, per week, per truck. It is not hard to see how this is a direct benefit to the bottom-line of Fox Transport. “Just by learning to use the I-Shift automatic manual transmission to its full potential, and taking every opportunity to coast instead of keeping the foot on the pedal, our drivers are saving lot of fuel,” says Craig, “and that’s with no negative impact on travel times either. We’re going to experiment with the diffs next with the FH and see if we can get the trucks to hold top gear a bit more.”
Recognising that efficiency is one of the only ways left to improve profitability, Craig is also looking to technology to give him a competitive edge.
“I’ve been using the Volvo Dynafleet system on my two FHs,” says Craig, “it gives me a great insight into all aspects of each truck’s performance. For example, Dynafleet made it perfectly clear that we were doing next to zero coasting. As soon as we recognised that, we started looking for opportunities, and now we spend up to 10% of our trip times coasting. That’s a major contributor to the fuel savings.
As an integral part of Victoria’s agricultural industry, and with business on the up, Fox Transport is looking to upgrade the fleet in the next year or so.
Dynafleet gives me a great insight into all aspects of each truck’s performance.
“We’ll update our trailers, trade in our old FH for a new Euro5 model, and probably upgrade for an FE 340 hp so we can increase the payload a bit on our local runs. However much we run around the state, we don’t forget our local customers.”
After just six years in the business it’s clear that Craig’s got a well-developed understanding of what makes a transport company tick.
“Doing the right thing by your customers, being as efficient as you can, diversifying and paying attention to detail, that’s what works for me,” says Craig. “But while we’re focusing on the technical side, we know that providing a reliable customer service is the most important thing. Without that you’ve got nothing, and we’ve built ourselves a good reputation by being able to provide the sort of personalised service that a small family-run operation can provide.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” he concludes, “it’s that in this game you never stop learning.”
Vehicles: FH Globetrotter XXL 6x4 B-Double; FH 6x4 B-Double; NH 6x4 B-Double; FM rigid with tipper trailer; FE rigid with Tite-liner body. The trucks range in age from 2002 to 2012.
Working environment: The Fox fleet load in diverse off-road conditions including sand, paddocks and mud, often using diff locks to get in and out, then running long distances on highways.
Applications: All the trucks except the NH have I-Shift automatic manual transmissions. The two FHs are equipped with Dynafleet, Lane Keeping and Adaptive Cruise Control.
Fuel consumption: The FH with 540hp achieves 2km/litre in the B-Double configuration, and up to 2.5 km/litre with a single trailer; the FH with 520hp manages up to 1.9km/litre.