Translating innovation into growth

In an era of fragmenting customer demand, the ability to translate innovation into volume production has become a competitive advantage. Relying on a swift decision-making process and a high level of cost awareness, Kennedy Trailers has become a prime example of a modern mid tier.

Established in 1980 by Gary and Debbie Kennedy, Kennedy Trailers has gained renown as a boutique brand in Australia’s logging industry. In the 1990s, for instance, it invented the celebrated folding skel that is able to hydraulically fold onto the prime mover.

But, when the industry slowed down about a decade ago, the family business decided to establish a second mainstay and ventured into building side tipper trailers for the gold mining industry in Western Australia.

The keen move soon paid off, but it was the involvement of Gary and Debbie’s technology-savvy sons Lynden and Cory that gave the new division a genuine boost. “We didn’t just want to push for more growth, but tried to lay a solid foundation for the company’s future development,” says Cory. “Therefore, we invested in research and development and streamlined our production process to reduce manufacturing cost.

“Today, even long-established brands like Kennedy face heavy pressure to stay at the forefront of technology,” he explains. “That’s why we had to establish a new, transparent business structure that would allow us to produce a high quality product at low cost.”

Due to Lynden and Cory’s involvement, the utilisation of staff and equipment went up to 85 per cent, allowing Kennedy to produce up to two tippers a week. “We know we are still a boutique brand that does not rely on a high interval production line, but I also know that we are able to compete with the big players in regard to quality and price.

“Using modern high-tensile steel like Hardox, we managed to reduce the average tare weight of our tipper range to a minimum. In fact, I think it’s hard to find a comparable product that can compete in terms of build quality and price.”

According to Cory, Kennedy’s unique selling proposition is tare weight. “We’ve just finished a 40 tonne road train that can provide 118 tonne payload,” he says. “We can get a semi down to about 8 tonne – I think that’s a new industry benchmark.”

Delivering a lot of transport equipment to Queensland, Kennedy still offers a rugged heavy-duty model, but it is the lightweight series that has become the company’s new flagship. Revealing the company’s recipe for success, Lynden says that it’s all about production speed and resource management. “If the right people are doing the right thing at the right time, you win. In addition, you have to nurture personal relationships as they are critical for successful business negotiations.”

Performance Based Standards (PBS), on the other hand, are not on Cory’s list. “We had a look at the PBS option as well,” he says. “But, we’re still struggling to see the direct benefits of it, so we stick to what we do best for now. We specialise in classic semi-trailer and road trains that cannot be found anywhere else in Australia.”

Kennedy Trailers was established in Bairnsdale, Victoria, in 1980. Gary Kennedy had just finished his apprenticeship as a boilermaker and bought an old Falcon utility to repair timber-working machinery in the bush. In the beginning, the company’s head office was his parents’ garage, but it soon became apparent that it was not practical to have heavy machinery in his parents’ driveway all week. As a result, Kennedy Trailers was born.

In 1982, Gary and his wife Debbie purchased a block of land and erected Kennedy’s first workshop. In 1986, they built their first log trailer, laying the foundation for a story of success.

By 1992 the company had outgrown the original workshop, so Garry and Debbie moved to a new factory in Kyle Street. By 2000, Kennedy Trailers were producing about 50 trailers a year and where employing 30 staff. Today, the company is healthy as ever, employing 21 staff and counting.

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