Traditional Values, Future-Driven

In Short Story February 2022, February 202211 MinutesBy Dave McCoidMarch 15, 2022

It’s a great industry. The rural sector is still the backbone of the economy but, man, there are some changes coming that we have to be prepared for. The cost of carbon is really going to impact the industry, and we’re now placing huge emphasis on efficiency and the load factor. That’s really the core of my function in the business at the moment, working with a team on efficiency and ensuring we get as close as we can to ensuring every kilometre we run is a loaded one. You just have to.

“We’re also investing heavily in a storage and logistic hub at the depot here in Ashburton. It will have silos, controlled temperature storage, and a rail siding. If we’re going to get to where we need to be in terms of emissions and carbon, we have to invest now.”

It sounds daunting, but Mark Wareing’s demeanour throughout the conversation is one of positivity and enthusiasm. That’s normally the case with blokes like him: when you’ve grown up surrounded by endeavour and ambition, it’s usually all about discovery and new opportunity. There is only one measure in the glass… It’s half full.

“Rural’s [the business] great. Some people have worked here longer than I’ve been alive. We recently had three retirements of 50-year- plus staff.” Then Mark laughs, “Bloody hell! We still have customers who refer to us as Burnetts!”

Sitting in the head office of Rural Transport, 50-year- old Mark Wareing is the son of Philip Wareing, founder and managing director of the significant primary sector logistics business that bears his name.

Mark Wareing, in front of Rural’s modern headquarters in Ashburton, is excited about future opportunities. He believes that looking forward and managing compliance around emissions will intensify the relentless pursuit of efficiency in the road transport industry.

Both Mark and his brother Simon are directors in the Rural Transport and wider Philip Wareing businesses. Mark is typical ‘South Island’ regarding engagement, outlook, and perceived position. He started behind the wheel as a young fella and loves talking about the trucks he drove as much as any of us: the Ford Louisville with the L10 Cummins and its successor with an M11. And like so many in his position, he loves nothing more than going for a blast and ‘scratching the itch’. His business card simply has his name and contact details – no title. That tells you that he’d fit right in at the Kurow depot. South of the Cook Strait, it’s always been about ‘getting it done’ first, pats on the back second, titles, and accolades a distant third.

The irony is when you’re focused on outcomes, with a few kgs of ambition and prudence thrown into the recipe, you still end up sitting in one of the country’s state-of-the-art greenfield transport depots.

Rural Transport’s storage and logistics headquarters on Northpark Road in Ashburton was opened in 2014 on the company’s 10th anniversary in operation and is the match of anything between Cape Reinga and Bluff, probably Australasia for that matter.

“Yeah, it’s pretty much on the money. The only thing we’d do differently is turn the weighbridge access around. Sometimes the queues get too long.

In some ways, we’re outgrowing it already! There’s just a constant flow of trucks in and out all day, either on business, or to use the weighbridge or wash.”

Agh! The wash. The Rural Transport wash facility is something that does have to be seen to be believed. In a commercial world so stricken with compliance fear and stress, truck drivers are finding it harder and harder to access wash facilities to decontaminate between loads. Not so if you’re within a bull’s roar (or sheep’s baa) of Ashburton. The colossal four-bay drive- through wash at Rural, computerised, staged, is the godsend for many a local truck and passers-by.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” says Mark. “It bloody cost enough! It’s just used constantly! Day and night.”

Rural roots

The name Rural Transport was born from the purchase of Owens Rural in 2004 by a consortium comprising Philip Wareing Contractors, Wilson Bulk Transport, and Owens Rural manager at the time, Brian Thomson. Owens Rural was a direct commercial descendent of local and regional icon, Burnett Transport, hence Mark’s comments about some of the old farming locals still calling them Burnetts.

“Owens boss Don Braid wanted to get out of rural transport, and Philip and the others saw a huge opportunity,” says Mark. “The business was in a prime location for not just animal farming – it’s smack bang in the middle of one of the country’s horticultural food baskets. Philip Wareing Contractors and Wilson Bulk Transport both took 45% and Brian the remaining 10%. Brian worked up to a 20% stake but died in 2014 of a brain tumour while in his 40s. It was a bloody tragedy; he was a great mate of mine.

“Owens had run a lease model, but that wasn’t the model the new owners ran, so they shed all the lease gear in the course of a year, replacing it with their own trucks. TR Group were bloody outstanding to work with over that period. They understood that wasn’t our way and worked with us to exit.

“It was the eventual sale of the old Owens Rural depot here in town to a property developer that helped with the purchase of this site and allowed us to build the facility.” Focusing in on the Kurow branch – its roots hark back to Waitaki Transport, and the buyout of that company by Owens Rural.

“In the time we’ve owned it, we’ve opened depots in both Fairlie and most recently Waimate, and that’s all about closing circuits and making corridors more efficient. We’ve had a bit of a restructure in the stock division in the past couple of years and things are working well. We’ve put a lot in place, and it’s paying off.”

The state-of-the-art wash facility is used by both company trucks and those in the area needing to wash out between loads.

On the subject of trucks

“The relationship with Southpac goes back to 1991. I was driving an International 3072B, and it had a leaking hub seal. I called Philip, and it was never going to make it back to Methven, so he sent me into Timaru Motors. That’s when Philip met Russell Marr and Mike Gillespie, and the relationship started from there pretty much. When the split in that business happened, Russel went to PCV, and Mike went the other way to Southpac. We maintained relationships with both over the years, but Southpac’s certainly become the dominant supplier.

“It’s about back-up and support, Dave. That’s really the key. There are 92 DAFs across the group, with some in build, and about 31 Kenworths in the fleet also.

“The guys will always tell you more power would be good, but I remember the first 525 [hp] Foden turning up and thinking, ‘Man! That’s the ultimate!’ Now the DAFs are 530! Yep, I appreciate things have changed and weights are up, but running up and down the east coast, there’s really only the Kilmog, north of Dunedin, and the Hundalee hills south of Kaikoura that are a bit of a grind. Plus, there’s more and more traffic every day. You’re not really getting anywhere any quicker. It’d be nice to have 700hp, but you’ll only be a minute or two quicker where we operate most of the time.

“Yeah, we’ve had great run from the DAFs, all in all. The 60,000km oil change intervals are a real good thing. And that’s the same right across the spectrum of work.

“All things considered, we’re pretty happy with the trucks, but like I said, it’s about support, and Southpac has been very obliging the whole way through.”