City Crane Trucks has built its business by building the best relationships with its customers – Words by Stuart Martin, images by Christian Brunelli.
Building relationships in the transport business is a cornerstone of any successful enterprise, not only with customers but also with your suppliers.
In Bruno Simone’s case, good relationships with clients, suppliers and staff of City Crane Trucks has been critical in establishing the Adelaide-based business as a leader in its field since it started in 1999.
Having started the business on the back of a well-used Hino traytop truck – previously used for carting fruit and vegetables – a crane was installed, and so began the crane truck business.
Nearly two decades later the City Crane Trucks fleet now numbers more than 30 vehicles, with two Freightliner Argosy crane trucks among half a dozen Freightliners within the company’s fleet that also has Volvo, Isuzu, Iveco and DAF representatives.
Currently, the City Crane Trucks largest unit is a DAF CF85 fitted with a Hiab 800E7 crane, which it claims is currently the largest crane truck in Australia – Mr. Simone said when fully extended to 28 metres it can pick up 1 tonne, or 15 tonnes can be hoisted at a range of 4 metres.
“The DAF is our biggest, while the smallest truck can go 14 metres and pick up 500 kilograms, or at 3 metres it can lift 4 tonnes – we have 30 cranes and it’s a big variety”.
There’s no element of complacency in the City Crane Trucks boss, who is planning to add to the Argosy population of the fleet next year, testimony to the breed’s performance for the company.
“The DAF’s crane next year is coming off and going on a twin-steer Argosy, that’s next year’s project, we regularly upgrade as many as four trucks a year,” he said.
The crane changeover follows almost two years of solid service from the latest Argosy to join his fleet – “that’s been on the road for almost two years. It’s pretty busy all the time – we use the Freightliner Argosy and Columbias for our bigger 30-tonne cranes”.
“That Argosy is a 10-year commitment, the smaller ones are 5 to 7 years, the Argosy’s crane is relatively small, but it’s an expensive piece of equipment,” he said, while not wishing to disclose beyond “six figures” exactly how much one of the rigs would cost to purchase and fit out.
The fleet numbers just over 30 trucks – the majority being prime movers and a handful of rigid trucks – including an Argosy Cat C15 with a Palfinger PK73 crane.
Mr. Simone said the more recent Argosy – a twin-turbo DD15 twin-steer 8×4 90-inch mid-roof with an 18-speed auto and Palfinger PK63002 crane – was also well suited to crane applications.
“It’s a good truck, it’s lived up to expectations….we pick our trucks mainly for weight distribution, and the Argosy has good steer weight, good tare weight. Obviously the support we get as well from the manufacturer, again, it’s a relationship thing,” he said.
The company looks after its equipment on site, performing all its own trailer maintenance as well as intermediate servicing. This is particularly relevant given the number of idling hours completed while undertaking the crane side of the vehicle duties, with the trucks receiving workshop attention on-site and at dealers when diagnostic work is required.
The City Crane Truck fleet now also includes an all-terrain fork truck, the result being a fleet of crane trucks suited to a wide variety of tasks. Work requirements can be extremely varied, ranging from the installation and retrieval of the Clipsal 500 racetrack concrete barriers and site huts, as well as transporting household products, timber trusses, bricks, Gyprock, lawn, safes, windows, septic tanks, concrete pits, pools and large rocks – even fake crocodiles for restaurant chain Outback Jack’s.
“Whatever we can pick up, deliver and install, we’ll do it, we deliver pools, hoist them over the house, we’ve done marble benchtops, pianos, furniture, anything,” Mr. Simone said.
Although based in Adelaide, the trucks are involved in intra and interstate transport of loads ranging from the conventional to the less common.
A few minutes on the company’s new-look website or its Facebook page picture gallery is evidence of the varied loads it has been tasked with transporting.
The famous “Malls Balls” – a prominent double-sphere sculpture and a staple feature of the Adelaide CBD’s Rundle Mall shopping precinct – were removed when major works were undertaken in the mall. The City Crane Trucks crew were trusted with the task.
City Crane Trucks is a family-owned and operated business employing around 40 staff, with Bruno’s wife running the accounts and his brother in the role of general manager.
Mr. Simone said business was good, but the biggest problem is finding qualified driver/crane operators – he gestures at several trucks in the yard that are in need of operators.
“We can grow, but to do so you need the correct people and our struggle is to find the right operators for the cranes”.
“That’s our struggle, to find the people to make it happen, we’re busy but there are a few trucks parked out there because we can’t get operators for them,” he said.
A genuine family business, the management looks to keep its workforce (many of whom are long-term employees) happy and motivated with social events, as well as offering a bonus system to reward staff who put in extra effort.
“You get the right people in, they work hard and they’re paid well for it, they’re here for 12 hours a day sometimes,” he said.
“Our guys get the award rate and penalties, but we work on a bonus system, the more you put in the more you get back out, it works for about a third of our 30-odd drivers who see the opportunity and take it up,” Mr. Simone said.
“Staffing is the biggest problem in this industry, not the drivers but the crane operating side. I can get drivers, but not many can operate a crane, there’s a lot of procedures and OHS to it before they are able to become proficient,” he said.
Mr. Simone said the business was well established and had thrived in the boom times and weathered the tougher times.
“An old fella told me once, if you’ve got a business that won’t run without you, you don’t have a business, you have a job. You need to build a business that operates without needing you there, it comes back to the people,” he said.
“As long as we stick to the budget and keep moving forward – we’ve done our hard times, we own the land and it’s a bit easier now, it would be hard for someone trying to start today,” added Bruno.
The Freightliner Argosy is available in 6×4 and 8 x4 configuration powered by either the Detroit DD15 in ratings of 500-560 hp with 1850 lb-ft of torque or the Cummins X15 in ratings of 485-600 hp and with torque ratings of 1850 -2050 lb-ft. Transmission options include the Eaton Roadranger manual or UltraShift Plus AMT. In an 8×4 application the Argosy is only available with a 90-inch cab, but in prime mover form the cab options include a 90-inch, 101-inch and 110-inch mid-roof sleeper, plus a 110-inch raised-roof sleeper cab.
Axle choices range from parabolic front taper leaf spring suspensions with Daimler or Meritor axles together with Meritor rear axles and Freightliner AirLiner, Hendrickson PRIMAAX and Neway AD-246 air suspensions or the Freightliner TufTrac six-rod steel spring suspension with ratings from 106-140 tonnes GCM. Roll stability control, traction control and ABS safety systems are by Wabco, and Bendix disc brakes are available when specified with the Daimler front axle package.