“With COVID things have been busier than ever – I think that’s been reflected in transport generally.” A simple statement but one which has had resonance for Nick Plummer, who oversees his family’s transport business Plummer’s Freight, from its depot at Albury on the NSW-Victorian border.
Established in 1988 by his late father Ken, the Plummer operation has grown from a one-truck business running from Albury to Griffith to a five-vehicle fleet covering Canberra, Wagga and Melbourne as well as the wider Riverina area every day.
After Ken sadly passed away from Sarcoma (cell based cancer) in 2016, Nick has managed the business which now runs four rigids and a semi, with five on the staff including Nick’s brother Finn, with the goal of the business based on providing a reliable and personal service to its customers.
Having grown up in the business, Nick left school and worked at a few different things before transport came to the fore again, “I did a few bits and pieces around the place and ended up doing five years at O’Brien’s Transport here in town, I guess that was my apprenticeship and I came back here when dad got crook and needed some help. Pretty much the family business has been my life,” he said.
As the business has grown, so has the need for trucks to do the job, with Ken’s original prime mover, an Isuzu Giga (“put up with all kinds of abuse!” said Nick with a smile), retired in favour of a Mack Granite, with the fleet also running a mix of Hino and Isuzu light and heavier rigid tautliners, with Nick looking at potential expansion into another truck with dog-trailer to put on the Melbourne run in the future.
The secret to the continued and steady growth of the business has been keeping the customer base diverse and providing a personal association according to Nick- “We focus on small freight – people want that good service some of the big guys can’t provide these days. We don’t chase big contracts we just focus on providing a service.” He went on, “A lot of our work has come through word of mouth -obviously if you get leads or opportunities you follow them up but you keep your eyes open and have that personal service.
A lot of people don’t want to ring a call centre just to get a delivery booked -offering that personalised service is the key,” he explained. To that end, some of the Plummer Freight customers include Westrac/Caterpillar, Makin’ Mattresses, Visy Industries and a number of the wine producers in the Griffith/MIA region of New South Wales.
The changing dynamics of manufacturing and transport has also seen Nick cast the net wider over the years to include Melbourne as one of his areas of operation. “Freight out of Albury when compared to 10-15 years ago is completely different – a lot of businesses from around here have disappeared so I have had to change my aims towards Melbourne – if I was still just looking at Albury I would be treading water…the potential for freight out of Melbourne these days is unlimited,” he said.
With 2020 being a tumultuous year on a number of fronts, the COVID situation has provided a boost to the business after some uncertainty in the early days when a lot of things were still unknown, “At the start of it I had a sleepless weekend thinking ‘jeez where are we headed with this…am I still going to be in business in 3-4 months?’, but it has been the complete opposite for us – we have just had our two busiest months on record,” he explained.
The company has implemented a COVID policy in line with government directives including social distancing, sanitising and face masks, and given that the company trucks are crossing the Murray River between Albury and Wodonga a number of times a day, permits and procedures have to be adhered to for both states. “We put our policy into place to protect ourselves and our customers…everything you can do you should do; we just need to be human and take care of everybody,” he said.
Despite being more busy with the increase in freight movement due to the COVID pandemic Nick is mindful of the impact on his growing business, “You have to be smart about it, I don’t want to heavily invest in new equipment just because you have a lot of work – when things start opening up and so forth the freight might slow down.”
For now, the Plummer operation is of a good size where Nick can oversee the management and also get behind the wheel. On the Saturday of our chat at the Plummer Freight depot in Albury, Finn had been out in the Mack getting some miles up as he prepares to upgrade to a HC licence.
As the business looks to the future Nick is mindful of not losing sight of keeping the focus on his customers. “Things have grown the way they have through half luck and half hard work….you make your own luck in transport a bit I believe. Its just a matter of trying to keep to your roots as a small family-owned and run business and provide that good personal level of service by staying true to myself and where I came from.”