No issue is more pertinent to the Australian economy than the transition from resource-driven growth to a more broad-based model. Construction and capital expenditure data have been indicating for a while that the end of the mining investment boom has well and truly come, but non-mining sectors still struggle to take up the running. Asset-heavy transport businesses are especially at risk, as they are often highly specialised and unable to change swiftly.
Minion Enterprises, however, is an exception to the rule. Created at the peak of the mining frenzy, it managed to diversify its product offering in a way that allowed it to grow continuously throughout the downturn.
In the past, Minion’s core activity was moving mining machinery from the Port of Newcastle to the Hunter Valley coalmines – leading to the rapid growth of the company’s over-sized and over-mass division based in the suburb of Carrington. Until recently, componentry for the diggers, dumpers and draglines used in the mines would arrive daily at the dock and generate plenty of specialised haulage work. And as many of the items were previously used, it was also necessary to wash and scrub them to satisfy quarantine regulations – an opportunity to add value that the Minion team seized when they saw it.
With the end of the mining boom now in sight and less material coming in, the company has managed to harness that ability to generate extra work in order to survive and thrive beyond its original field of expertise. Next to heavy haulage and quarantine work, it is now also hauling bulk and general freight and providing storage services, for example.
The latest and arguably most impactful value added is a special coal service. “We screen coal for customers on site and provide mine services, transport and all port and wharf related operations. About the only thing we don’t do is charter the vessel, even though we have done that too in the past,” says Managing Director, Darren Stocks.
Minion currently has 70 trailers of its own, with up to 100 sub-contractors engaged on a daily basis in single tipper, B-double and float work. Despite the much talked-about end of Australian mining, Minion’s specialised coal transport division handles 1.5-1.6 million tonnes of the black and brown gold per year – most of which is loaded onto the tippers at the mines by Minion’s own people and equipment. “What we do is provide and end-to-end service,” says Darren. “Our guys do the loading and we manage the weighbridges. It’s important to have control so that the fleet is never under-utilised because of someone else’s poor performance. By relying upon our own people we make sure the tonnage is maximised while weights are compliant.”
He adds a similar service is now also available to sand and gravel pits, where dedicated Minion supervisors are located on site. Minion can even move site huts around with crane trailers and an extendable forklift.
Darren and his team keep working hard to remain competitive. Minion’s coal division, for example, is now performing its own screening and crushing to obtain special size coal that is provided to businesses as diverse as flower farms and hospitals for their boilers – many of which are converting back to coal from gas due to the rising cost.
“That’s quite a specialised area and some of us have been doing it since 1989, so we have a good knowledge of that market,” he says – adding that historic steam trains also require “sized” coal. At the core of it all is the Minion staff, says Darren. “We expect high standards of our people and we expect them to do the right job and go home safely. They don’t have to speed or run over-weight and are provided with good equipment. What is allocated is doable and if there is an unforeseen hold up or problem, we’ll re-allocate the task,” he says.
To remain flexible enough to react to a changing business environment, Minion Enterprises has invested more than $5.5 million into its main site over the past few years. As a result, the operation has changed substantially over time, with many small improvements making for a more flexible – and profitable – whole. That’s also where the illustrious name stems from: When Darren and his partners created the company out of a number of smaller entities, they referred to them as minions during the inception phase. “Now we have more flexibility and can add value outside the classic transport service model.”