Opportunity from adversity

In Features, October 202210 MinutesBy Gavin MyersNovember 21, 2022

Small businesses need specific characteristics to ensure longevity and success. Grit, determination, resilience, agility and forward- thinking are just some, and all illustrate the story of TMS Contracting.

It’s always interesting to learn of the paths that got those we meet to where they are today. TMS Contracting owner Hudson Lusty always had an interest in trucks, but unlike many who own trucking companies, he didn’t get there in the driver’s seat.

He grew up on a farm north of Wellsford and loved driving trucks around the farm. His grandfather had a transport and lime quarrying business in Wellsford, and his uncle also owned trucks. However, it was the really big machinery that had Hudson’s attention.

“I started off with the territorials in the army; that’s where I got my driver training,” Hudson explains. “Then I branched into logging in the bush, which ended up taking the best years of my life, really. We contracted to Carter Holt Harvey and, unfortunately, got spat out the back end of the key supplier process when it all changed in the late 1990s.”

Hudson did private woodlots for a while, but the GFC soon forced a change of plan. He took the opportunity to head over to Western Australia to “get on the real big machines”. It was during his time in the Aussie mines that TMS came to be.

“It stands for Te Mata Station because my dad’s got a farm in Te Mata. When I formed it in 2016, the original plan was to buy and sell cattle and graze them on his farm. That never came to be but soon after, I discovered there was a demand for machine operators. So, in my R-and-R breaks away from the mines in WA, I started work as a machine operator contracting principally to C&R Developments, which was doing a stripping contract at Winstone Aggregates’ Hunua quarry. They’re a good company, I couldn’t say enough about the guys from C&R.”

A move from Auckland to Warkworth meant the end of the work with C&R, but a chance meeting with Doug Reddell from Red Dell Ltd meant Hudson soon had a replacement job as a machine operator subcontractor for his breaks back home. In late 2019, TMS purchased a CAT 310 Excavator from Terracat with the intention of subcontracting to Red Dell. Then Covid-19 came along and closing of the borders and ongoing travel restrictions meant regular travel to WA wasn’t possible.

Says Hudson: “That was a bugger because I loved the work over in WA, especially my last job with BHP Iron Ore where after a period of time in production crews I ended up training new operators coming onto site. BHP was a great company to work for, and during Covid I was able to work from home for a while, but that couldn’t continue full time.”

Hudson took the opportunity to ramp things up with TMS. In November 2020, he bought a Hino 300 from Shane Kemp at Hino Whangarei to support the digger and a Mack Granite bulk truck and trailer and a transport trailer. “And we’ve been building on that since,” he says. The Granite was put to work doing sub-contract work with Clements Contractors in Whangarei and with Wharehine Group on the NX2 Puhoi-to-Warkworth motorway project.

Hudson works closely with Doug to provide Red Dell with all its trucking, and he is working on developing opportunities with bulk haulage, containers and freight for other customers. That meant another vehicle was needed, and Hudson immediately turned to Shane. In June 2021, he ordered a new Hino 700, which was delivered in January – not too bad considering the supply-chain issues that have plagued the industry over the past couple of years.

“It was a total supply-package deal. They already had a build slot with Morgan Engineering for the tipper body, which was lucky because it’s hard to get build slots now. There’s a four-axle MTE trailer for it in the yard,” explains Hudson.

The 700 has been placed in the care of Tumai Ratu, who’s been driving for TMS for about a year. Since this is one of the first new Hino 700s we’ve encountered, we took the opportunity to get Tumai’s impressions.

“It’s a nice truck; there’s nothing hard about it. I like it. I drove the older 700 – a 2009 model – and this has much more room. The gearing is still pretty low, but comfort is good. It does run a lot better than the old ones and pulls easy with the trailer at 44-tonnes,” he says.

After just 36,000km, the 700 is averaging 2.0kml. Hudson adds that the exhaust brake and retarder are exceptional.

The one ‘hiccup’ Hudson’s had with the 700 called on all those small-business characteristics at once. “Three weeks after we got it, some arseholes broke into the yard and stole the whole exhaust system out of it. That was devastating. And they unbolted it, didn’t cut it out. There were very few of those on the road, and it’s totally different from the previous model, so you wonder what they were going to do with it. Took every bolt as well…

“We did all sorts to find it – the guys from Truckstops put in a massive effort calling out to scrap dealers, but nothing turned up. The worst thing was we couldn’t get any parts, and it was off the road for eight weeks before the parts arrived, which had to come in individually. It made a real dent in our financial situation, I can tell you!

“Insurance took care of it, but not the lost production, and we had to rent a truck from TR Group over that time, still paying finance on the truck. Luckily, we could get one from them. Oh, they took the 300’s complete exhaust unit as well.”

Setbacks overcome, Hudson currently keeps the Hinos busy with local work and sets the Granite on longer-distance projects, taking the opportunity to head out behind the wheel and “make things happen from the truck”. Hudson is yet another savvy operator to use MyTrucking software to keep tabs on day-to-day operations. “It’s an excellent platform, integrating with Xero, and it has revolutionised dispatching and invoicing for me. The best thing is if you want to know something, you pick up the phone and a human answers pretty much straight away.”

Tumai loads up at the Whangaripo Quarry.

The trucks operate up to six days a week, and another might be on the horizon as more work comes on through Red Dell. “We have a good arrangement – Doug’s specialty is finding work, pricing and dealing with council. I’ve been more on the delivery side, coordinating the trucking and material and looking after progress on the ground.”

As with many small, young transport businesses in New Zealand, TMS Contracting has faced its share of challenges. Hudson’s previous experience has allowed him to etch those characteristics for success in the company’s operations, and it seems he has TMS set on a good path.