Fifty years of constant growth

20 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineFebruary 22, 2018

Photo: 1980s Dale Freightways load for the Think Big projects with TRT trailer and hydrasteer axle innovations, which gave better overall trailer manoeuvrability.

Careful planning, good timing and a will to take on the big challenges have seen TRT – Tidd Ross Todd Ltd – hit half a century of constant growth.

TRT‘s history, 50 years of it, is one of courage, camaraderie, and common sense.

Courage, because TRT is among the most innovative trailer builders New Zealand has produced, and is one of only a few – so far – to successfully take on the Aussies; camaraderie because that was at the root of how the company started and is still a guiding principle; and common sense because the founding fathers had it, forged their company from it, and subsequent generations never lost sight of it.

Photo: From left: Robert, Dave, and Bruce Carden, 2017.

Bruce Carden is the manufacturing director of TRT. He and engineering director Robert Carden are the sons of one the company‘s founders, Dave Carden. Dave is retired and the other originals – Jack Tidd, Jim Ross and Norm Todd – have passed on, but their ethos of hard work, innovation, and competiveness they instilled in TRT lives on, and was crucial in the decision to move into the Australian market.

To gain an understanding of how that came about, we need to go back a bit. In fact, a long way back, to the years leading up to the company‘s formation in 1967. It was centred around Waikato.

There were two mates, Jim Ross and Norm Todd, recently demobbed from the air force and wanting to start a repair shop. With the help of local cheese maker Jim Wallace they opened Ross Todd Motors in Leamington on the outskirts of Cambridge.

The workshop is still there.

Photo: 1970s TIDD tag trailing axle installed.

For a time, the boys did it rough but they were old mates and they worked it through, and the business, mainly cutting down old cars and converting them to half-ton utilities, saw the company grow and move to Cambridge, where Ross Todd Motors still operates.

That growth didn‘t go unnoticed by another local, Jack Tidd, who, along with Aucklander Ray Vincent, was the young company‘s first equipment supplier. Jack bought into the business.

Photo: An impressive lineup of early mobile cranes outside the company‘s HQ in Hamilton.

With all that going on, their attention was naturally focused solely on their business – not on a little engineering workshop in Putaruru and its owner, a young fitter-turner barely out of his apprenticeship. Bruce Carden takes up the story.

“Dad was making significant waves building crane carriers. Jack Tidd was in the same business. The difference was that Jack assembled his from imported components and Dad built his own from scratch, and along with it a reputation for innovation.

“The competition was pretty fierce back then, though it was never personal. Jack Tidd, being the clever business operator, decided to merge his company with Ross Todd Motors and the offer also went out to Dad‘s Southside Motors and Engineering – to form what would become Jack Tidd – Ross Todd Ltd, New Zealand‘s only specialised crane carrier manufacturer.”

For some reason Dave was never interested in having Carden added to what was already a cumbersome company name (mercifully later shortened to TRT), but crucially for what was to come, he would insist on a third of the shares in the new company.

That traction and the innovation Dave Carden was justly renowned for would set the seal on what TRT was about to become.

Photo: Right: TRT parts teams are known industry wide for their expert knowledge and 50 years of experience. Left: Truck and trailer parts, sales and service are all part of the TRT operation in 2018.

The new company continued with the profitable manufacturing lines at the time. They built TIDD logging jinkers and TIDD trailing axles, which were supplied and fitted to all makes of trucks. The cranes and TIDD crane carriers (the company‘s staple), service vehicles and transporters – particularly transporters – stayed. The company was thinking and building big. So, too, was the country, and that could not have happened at a better time for TRT.

Rob Muldoon‘s ‘Think Big‘ policies were coming online and with them the need to transport heavy equipment through often difficult terrain. That imparted in TRT two immediate mandates. The first was that the company would have to build a lot of equipment and quickly. There were other crane carrier builders by this time and imports were making their mark, but none had the scale or the resources of TRT. Within a veryshort period, TRT had produced 200 crane carriers, by far the bulk of that required for the New Zealand market.

The second mandate was the need to think fast and innovatively. The mixed terrain of New Zealand and the fast- evolving earthmoving equipment and cranes TRT trailers were carrying didn‘t lend themselves – often – to off the shelf solutions. Tailor-made trailers became the norm, and TRT invested heavily in research and development, and continues to do so today.

Even so, the go-to company was struggling to meet demand and with its new Hamilton plant working to capacity, TRT started importing fully built up Grove cranes. That, too, continues today: TRT has an agency association with Grove that goes back to 1972, though now under the auspices of American-based company Manitowoc.

TRT was the first Grove distributor outside of the continental United States.

So, as Bruce puts, cranes were in the TRT bloodstream from the beginning. The point now was that the stream was about to increase dramatically and start flowing across the Tasman.

In 2011 development began on what TRT would later characterise as the world‘s safest pick and carry crane – the TIDD PC25, a compact 25-tonne capacity articulating crane. The PC25 was the first articulated crane to be designed with a genuine in-built fully certified Roll Over Protection System.

Moreover, with Wabco ABS fitted as standard, the TIDD PC25 has the shortest forward projection and tightest turning radius in class, providing outstanding manoeuvrability.

Bruce describes the design process that led to the development of the Tidd PC25 and, eventually, TRT‘s full- scale assault on the Australian market.

Photo: The TRT shareholders cut the cake to signify the start of the next 50 years. From left: Robert, Carolien, Jenny, Dave, Mary and Bruce Carden.

“We had been exporting specialist trailers to Australia since 1992, so it wasn‘t entirely foreign to us. But what we did see was a possible opportunity in articulated cranes. The dominant crane over there, working mainly in the mining industry, was the iconic Franna brand of cranes. There were probably about 3500 Frannas in use at the time and the company had been in business for about 30 years, so for us to break into the market was always going to be a big ask.

“But that coincided with the Global Financial Crisis and whilst everybody – including ourselves – was hit hard, the Australians recovered more quickly.

“That‘s when and why we decided to go after the Franna dominance with what we considered a better and safer crane.”

Bruce says the development of the PC25 is the perfect example of the TRT collaborative approach. “We brought in everybody from the crane service side, the manufacturing sector, the design team and sales department, to come up with a product that frankly from a specification point of view, can‘t be beaten.”

Photo: Left: Two of TRT‘s groundbreaking PC25 articulating cranes, dubbed the safest pick and carry crane in the world, being the first to have an in-built fully certified Roll Over Protection System and WABCO ABS. Here the pair complete a double lift of a Grove Rough Terrain Crane for transport at TRT‘s Hamilton site. Right: TRT are New Zealand and Queensland distributors for the Grove Crane brand,
shown here are a GMK3050 and a GMK5100.

There is a design and manufacturing acumen in TRT that goes way back and as we have already noted, spans generations. But those are only two sides of a successful manufacturing operation. Certainly, they are enough to produce quality equipment. But selling it requires other factors to come into play. One is timing. Robert recalls that the move into Australia was perfectly timed: the bottom was dropping out of the New Zealand market but Australia was relatively buoyant.

“The exchange rate was also in our favour and manufacturing costs in Australia were comparatively high. We would have a price advantage from day one.”

The other factor leading to business success is savvy – commercial acumen and expertise – and TRT has had it from the very beginning. The founding fathers knew how to identify a market opportunity and then meet it head on. But they were essentially trailer builders and that is why TRT has always had an independent board of directors to provide the builders with business advice, and it was a board recommendation, and then ultimate a family decision Robert says, to act on that advice.

Business acumen is also the reason for Kevin Chubb. Kevin retired recently as TRT‘s managing director. He was previously a management consultant. It was his business acumen – certainly not his trailer-building ability – which has seen Kevin credited with steering the company through more than two decades of consolidated growth. It wasn‘t meant to be that way; Kevin was originally employed by the company as a consultant in 1997 to prepare a three-year strategic plan. That timing coincided with the retirement of Dave Carden, at the age of 67, and the need for a new managing director. Kevin fitted the bill.

So, everything was in place. The company had it all: reputation, resources, culture, manufacturing expertise, sales and management expertise.

TRT was ready to take on Australia and become a truly Australasian company.

Photo: TRT celebrates 50 years with their team, customers and supporters on 9 December 2017.

The first step was to send Bruce and his family to open a Brisbane office. It wasn‘t easy, recalls Bruce, far from easy.

It started strong, though. TRT‘s reputation had preceded it; the company was respected for its long involvement with Grove, and its specialist trailers – particularly house-movers – had found a ready and sustainable market. And that was without a physical office in Australia.

Photo: A Rheinmetall tipper body manufactured for the Australian Defence Force parked outside TRT Brisbane.

However, they wanted more, and Bruce was sent over to study the markets, sort out the opportunities. He found them in lowloaders, or ‘floats‘ as they are called in Australia. Moving heavy vehicles, particularly for the asphalt industry, was a cumbersome business in Australia, often involving multiple vehicles and trips. Noting this, Bruce returned with a design requirement to build a lowloader that could carry three pieces of equipment for the asphalt industry at once, in one trip.

So, the TRT Mid Tipping Deck Lowloader was an immediate success. TRT had traction. All through innovation.

But the initial impetus was not to last. Bruce had returned to New Zealand and at that point 70% of the trailer builds were being exported to Australia, making up for a depleted economy in New Zealand – “broadening the load” as Kevin Chubb wanted and anticipated. But then infrastructure in Australia went through a bad spell and 70% plummeted to 5%.

It recovered with the advent of the TIDD PC25, but Franna saw the danger and a price war began.

Photo: 2001, The world‘s first road train installed with TRT‘s TractionAir CTI system.

“It got to the point,” says Bruce, “that the market suffered from a dramatic slow-down and pricing would not fix it. We decided to hold production and focus on other activities while the market for pick and carry cranes recovered.

“We are now back in the build business and exports to Australia have resumed.”

It was the kind of strategic move TRT is renowned for. There is little they do that is not the result of careful planning but they also can react quickly – and mostly successfully – to unforeseen situations.

“Part of the reason,” says Robert, “is the family culture.”

And he is not referring solely to the Carden family.

The company has 200 staff, 170 in Hamilton. It is a multifaceted company: trailer designers and builders, crane sales, service and parts, truck and trailer parts, sales and service. In its 50 years in business, it has built trailers that have become legendary – on both sides of the Tasman. TRT is known for taking up the challenge with inventiveness, with innovation and with success.

According to Robert, the company‘s success today and its celebration of 50 years in business is attributable to every member of its staff and the shared commitment to produce something special. To be special.

“We are extremely proud of the TRT brand, its history and what it stands for. It is our people who have done that for us. Even to the point, which is unusual in our industry, of giving us a global reputation.”

There will be few in Brisbane, and virtually none in Manitowoc‘s home base in Pennsylvania, who will have heard of Waikato locations such as Putaruru or Leamington. Very few even inside TRT know the contribution to their company of a cheese maker named Jim Wallace or a bloke from the big smoke called Ray Vincent. But they know Tidd, Ross, Todd and the Cardens.

They are all part of a 50-year history of a company that so often has made history itself.