Innovation. Grit. Integrity. Respect. Four simple words printed on the coffee mugs at the Kennedy Trailers manufacturing facility in Bairnsdale which could be interpreted as a mantra that has served the company well since its inception in 1986.
From humble beginnings in a modest shed in the Gippsland town, the company started by Garry Kennedy currently custom-builds a variety of logging, platform and side-tipper trailers which are distributed around the country.
Today, the day-to-day running of the business is overseen by Garry’s sons, Cory and Lyndon, with the business managing to negotiate the tough times over the last couple of years with the double-whammy of the Black Summer bushfires and then Covid.
Recent times have seen a consistent production of equipment out of the Kennedy Trailers facility which is spread over a large site on the outskirts of Barinsdale, with Cory Kennedy providing some history of the company since its creation to the current day.
“This area always had a large hardwood forestry industry and Garry came from a logging background, he got his boilermaker ticket and did a lot of work on fishing boats in his apprenticeship. He then went into field service working out of a ute, before moving into a shed fixing and refurbishing logging gear, such as log grabs and dozer grapples,” Cory explained.
It wasn’t long before Garry’s expertise was called on to modify a logging trailer which became the first of many.
“He had a jinker chassis which was a McKee jinker back then, it was a tri-axle and one of his customers said ‘I reckon we can make that into a folding skel’, so it became a tri axle jinker with a set of beams on it,” said Cory.
“It was literally designed on corkboard with an old cornflakes box, cardboard cut-outs for the first design – it would be awesome to still have now.”
While the finished product was not the first folding skel trailer of its type built, variations in the design helped take the concept forward.
As such, this built the business, along with further design and innovation, particularly in the realm of folding trailers for B-doubles and quad dog applications in the often-mountainous operating environments.
“It opened up the gates to a folding skel, especially with the benefits they get as in a lot of places they can’t get into unless they have a folded trailer,” added Cory.
“Dad was keen and still is on the design side of things, he’s always trying to re-invent bits and pieces . It’s pretty cool when you look back through the photos and see these designs come out, the best one I have seen is a folding quad dog which was essentially a pole trailer which morphed into a sliding beam trailer.”
Along the way the Kennedy outfit has diversified into other types of trailers, initially with a project building road train side tippers for a former logging operator in the 1990s.
“The side tippers originally came about through Doug Gould, an ex-logging operator from Healesville, then based at Kalgoorlie. He pretty much rang Dad one day and said, ‘would you like to build a side tipper?’, and that’s how we started in that market.
“For example, between 2009 and around about 2013 we sent about 50 quad sets over to IES [who had purchased the Gould operation as this stage] in Western Australia in that time – we had a bit of an opening up into Queensland as well.”
The company has over the years also built a number of low loaders and 3×8/4×8/5×8 heavy haulage trailers and in more recent times with the expansion of wind farms, has also moved into building platform module trailers for wind turbines.
The company prides itself on being a custom builder rather than a mass-producer of trailers, with the customer’s requirements at the forefront.
“Everything we build is a one-off for that customer, and with a custom build there is two sides, you can have ‘extreme custom’ and it can be a thorn in our side, but it gives the customer input, and if there happens to be any issues along the way it gives you a way to help address it,” he said.
Having outgrown the original site, and with the various sections of the business working out of different sheds in the Bairnsdale industrial area, in 2008 the company moved into a new facility which Cory reckoned they had again outgrown by around 2012.
The operation handles everything in-house, from design and fabrication through to paint and electrical, along with the fit-out of trucks with the engineering required to handle log trailers, in particular.
The company also carries out refurbishment and maintenance on trailers and transport equipment. Across the business around 60 staff, including a number of apprentices, are employed, with Cory of the belief that having staff flexible to the task at hand is an important factor in building a successful operation.
“Because of where we are, we have skilled and non-skilled people, and everybody plays an integral role somewhere along the line,” he said.
“Currently we have forestry, heavy-haul, and side tipper trailers all being built out in the shed, so our staff have to be adaptable. They might be today working on a trailer that will be hauling a wind turbine or a tunnel boring machine and tomorrow might be building a log trailer that is expected to do 2 million kilometres carting pine up the highway.”
Depending on the type of trailer being built, yearly output can range between 150 and 230 trailers, with Cory thinking that the order sheet for future production was in pretty good shape. It would seem that the business is well placed for the future with Cory firmly of the belief that building a custom product in-house from start to finish also helps build the business.
“Front to back, a sheet of steel comes in and a trailer rolls out, and there is so much variation in what we do here.
“By adding that custom step and if you can have the customer having the input into the product, you are also building a relationship with them rather than just selling them a commodity.”