Everyone knows Brown & Hurley, unless you’re new to town or not interested in trucks. Either way, it won’t be long before you drive past the service centre and the penny will drop.
Arriving at the Hurley Rd. HO, it seems that I’m at reception for only seconds before Doug bounds out to offer me a coffee. He’s younger than I anticipated, with a quick smile and an amiable welcome. Being big and broad, his shoulders are wide enough to force me into following behind, as we make our way down the passageway to his office.
They say you can tell the character of a company by the boss’ office and if this is the case, I’m looking forward to the interview. Dominated by a massive desk and sideboard filled with truck prints and Brown & Hurley memorabilia, the mood is masculine and down-to-earth – almost old school, apart from the flat screen. Don’t be fooled though … any impression that Brown and Hurley is all about the past is incorrect.
“This is a simple business, based around people,” says Doug.“Our Kenworth and DAF trucks certainly aren’t the cheapest in the market, so why do they have the largest market share?” he asks. “The quality is widely recognised, but it’s up to us as dealers and service agents to understand our clients, so that we sell the right product and then service it correctly.” Nice summary, but is that all I’m thinking?
I asked Doug about the challenges facing the industry, hoping to get some insights into what makes Brown & Hurley different from other dealers. Experience and zest shine through in the conversation that follows. Apparently, Australia has the most efficient truck industry in the world if we look at the cost and efficiency, thanks largely to the amount of road freight and the distances between our major cities. Secondly, the industry is becoming more professional, with driver education and safety improvement being the most obvious signs. However, warns Doug, the spectre of over regulation looms. “And don’t get me started on that dreaded carbon tax,” he warns. I find this an appropriate time to change subjects.
We briefly return to his earliest days in the family business, where a young Doug joined as a sales and spare parts cadet. The first big sale took a while coming, but was enthusiastically celebrated – as have many of the 9,000 Kenworths sold by the family business. “That’s the thing about this business. My brothers and I are second generation, yet we cherish and sustain the family culture, because unlike many larger companies, we can make decisions on the spot – which is great for our customers.
“My father had a great feel for clients and made the point one day in a sales meeting by banging a pair of shoes down on the table and reminding us that we until we’ve walked a mile in our customers shoes, we don’t know them.”
But Jack Hurley was more than a salesman – perhaps mover and shaker is a more apt description. He and a few Lions Club mates got together in the early ‘60s and decided to build a new road through the hills with all the borrowed earthmoving equipment they could scrounge up. Known as the Lions Way, the road opened up a new route from Kyogle to Rathdowney, creating alternative access to Brisbane for the first time.
Later, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Brown and Hurley saw the opportunity to expand the concept of truck dealership/service centre north into Queensland, which was self funded. “This is the beauty of our business,” says Doug. “We’re in control of our destiny, and being low on debt is not such a bad thing either.” Who of us would disagree?
It seems that the business world is agog about China these days and given the success their new cars are having, I asked Doug whether we’d see a repeat of this in trucks. There was enough hesitation before the answer to make me think I might have asked the wrong question, but relief was soon at hand. “Not at all,” says Doug, “I was in China last year, and their set up is completely different from ours. You see that they have much smaller loads. Their largest trucks will pull only half of the 70 tonnes that our big rigs will carry; so no chance of that happening. But I did see something in China that I really liked.”
“What was that?” I asked,.
“Their golf courses. Good value … I must get back soon.” Having fully explored and agreed on the injustices of the handicapping system, we moved onto the main topic and Doug’s favourite, truck servicing.
I was keen to learn why this is such an important aspect for truck operators, when most of us a fairly casual about booking in our cars. Guess no more. Let’s take a large prime mover. It will retail for up to half a million dollars, clock half a million kilometres per year (equivalent of driving to Bathurst and back every day for a year) and therefore the cost of being off the road for just an hour is, well, horrendous. That’s where the service aspect makes the difference. With highly trained staff, a full inventory of spare parts and scheduling flexibility, a big rig need not be off the road for long at all.
Forgive me for being politically correct, but it seems that training is a key factor for organisations these days, and I wondered if it’s critical to Brown & Hurley. “Most definitely. The whole industry is becoming more professional, and therefore so must we. Besides, where would the mining companies get their staff from if we didn’t train them up first!” It seems that there is a brain drain toward the mining sector, but let’s keep that amongst ourselves.
It seems to me that as our conversation draws to a close, Brown & Hurley might be taken too lightly or dismissed too easily as if they’re a quaint relic from yesteryear. But be reassured that the rearview mirror in the B & H truck may be a valuable legacy, yet their focus is very much on the immediate challenges ahead.
“Now, Paul,” says Doug, gathering his thoughts, “what about that coffee I was going to get you?” And then we both realise it’s been an hour, and our chat is over.
Thanks Doug, for the ride.