08 Oct

Our story…As featured in BPW Magazine

Gates Haulage has serviced many industries over the past four decades, shifting focus to suit the changing needs of customers in the Illawarra region of New South Wales. Based in Gerringong, just south of Kiama, this family business started like many others – with one truck and two brothers.

Gates Haulage began in 1971, but brothers, Bryan and Stan Gates began working together years earlier. “We started with a Leyland Comet carting pit props for the coal mines,” says Bryan. “We were in Kiama then and just a couple of young blokes.”

In 1980, Bryan and Stan bought a yard in Gerringong and established Gates Haulage. Bryan’s home was on the property and the office barely one hundred yards from the back door. It stayed this way until a year ago, when the business moved across the street.

Bryan jokes about his commute to work and the perils of navigating traffic now that he has to leave the home property to go to work now. But with 7 or so staff onsite, moving the office into a refurbished home in a neighbouring street made sense.

“We’ve been here 12 months,” explains Paul. “It was an old house and an opportunity came up so we turned it into our office. It’s been a lot better over here. I think Dad would like us closer. Now he has to walk across the road rather than out into the backyard!”

In the 1970s, Bryan and Stan also carted fish out of Eden to Sydney and from Rose Bay back down the coast. “We threw the fish in the tippers, with ice and tarps,” says Bryan, laughing at the memory. “At the time, you wouldn’t get stopped because of having perishable goods on board.”

Expanding fleet and operations

Today, Gates Haulage runs a fleet of around 40-50 trucks. Bryan’s son, Paul came into the business 18 years ago and oversees logistics; and while Stan has retired, his son, Stephen came into the business five years ago and now manages compliance.

“We started off carting timber mine props – they were cut to a certain size and used to prop up walls – but eventually, the mines moved to steel props and because BHP owned most of the coal mines in the region, well they decided to use their own steel as props,” says Bryan.

The Gates brothers learned to adapt.

“There were no refrigerated trucks to do those jobs those days,” he says. “We carted ice for many years to the campers. There were iceboxes in Kiama and Gerringong and it cost 40 cents for a block of ice. We used to sell 4 or 5 tonnes a day.”

These days, the business services a broad range of customers. For the last 20 years they’ve been hauling quarry products to construction sites, most of which are in Sydney, as well as hazardous waste products to waste facilities, and other specialised freight to as far away as Alice Springs and Kalgoorlie – although these are the exception rather than the norm.

“The main business is the construction arm,” says Stephen. “There’s so much construction and infrastructure building going on in Sydney, and that’s where most of our work tends to be.” The fleet is made up mostly of tippers and a cement tanker, with quad dogs, cube bins and semi trailers among it.

“Over time, we might have worked for all the majors,” says Paul. “But we just decided to look after our customers who’ve always been there, year in year out. We’re pretty loyal to our clientele and because of that, we’ve grown as they’ve grown.”

Stephen agrees. “We don’t have any major customer or contract that’s more than 20% of what we do. That’s why we have such a broad fleet, we’ve tried to cover all areas, so if someone calls up we can take care of them then.”

On the move

While 98% of their work is in feeding the construction industry in Sydney, Gates Haulage still does a lot of work out of the State Rail Quarry in nearby Bombo. “All of our work is ad hoc,” says Paul. “We move 200 to 250 loads a day and try to make it work for everyone.”

The main office is an impressive set up of display monitors with tracking software that shows the location of every truck on screen here and also in the workshop via a tablet.

“We like to think we’re bigger than we are,” laughs Paul. “The screens and tracking help us to do right by our drivers and our customers.” The business recently purchased new trailers from Sloanebuilt and we chose to run them on BPW equipment.

“We have new tri-axle trailers, quad dog tippers running on BPW equipment,” says Paul. “They’re all Sloanbuilt. We don’t go anywhere else and we don’t haggle with them. We’re very much about service and loyalty and they’re very good to us.”

Of choosing BPW, Paul says: “It’s just a very good product.”

“We have some rough jobs,” says Bryan. “We do a lot of excavation sites, so we’re not just delivering to concrete plants. It’s tough of the gear and tyres, so we need to be able to get in and out of tight and congested sites, especially in Sydney.”

Gates Haulage trucks must negotiate Mount Ousley, a treacherously steep road crossing the Illawarra escarpment, which at its peak reaches 803 metres high. “It’s a very hard hill on the trucks,” says Paul. “We go up there three times a day and you get found out pretty quick if you’re not running the right gear.”

Keeping it in the family

Across the road, in the workshop, there are two full-time mechanics, a boilermaker and an apprentice, as well as casual staff who come in to help out with overflow work. There’s also a third generation testing out the waters, Paul’s 14-year-old daughter has been helping in the office some weekends.

“We’ve been lucky in the last few years and we have good staff,” says Paul. “We really never planned to grow, it just came out of necessity more than anything else. I think by having extra hands to help, things have become easier in the business.”

“When I started here we didn’t really have any drivers up for Long Service Leave but now we have nearly a dozen guys who are due,” he says. “It’s pretty rare in our industry and we’re quite proud of that for what was a backyard company, to have guys who have been with us for so long.”

“Dad doesn’t have many holidays, so we’re trying to work on that,” adds Paul, wryly.