Two friends CJ Mahony and Phil D’Ath got into business on a bit of a whim. They've turned that fleeting moment into a thriving business by doing things others could not, and did not want to do. Coupling their ‘can-do’ attitude with a desire to use the latest technologies (like mobile VoIP business phone systems) - they're onto a winning formula.
What’s in a name?
As the name suggests, Agtrans started out life providing agricultural transport in Taranaki, New Zealand.
Under the watchful eye of Mt Taranaki, (an active volcano strangely similar to the famous Mt. Fuji in Japan), Agtrans operates a fleet of state of the art cranes, hiabs & heavy haulage transporters. They provide general transport, oversize load pilots, riggers, man-cages, silo and vessel transport & tip trucks.
The two owners CJ and Phil setup Agtrans on a bit of a whim. Phil had been farming and was looking for something new. CJ had a hire business with a few pieces of earth moving equipment laying about. The original idea was to join forces and build a little side business. Phil would drive the transporter, and they were going to move tractors around and do a “little bit of this and that”.
“It’s just sort of grown from there. We started with one truck and were very agriculture focused. As we saw instability in the farming sector, we changed to a much more commercial and industrial focus and rapidly grew.” CJ Mahoney
Their secret sauce? Just say “Yes”
Typically, saying “Yes” to every customer demand is a sure fire way to fail. But CJ and Phil made it work for Agtrans, and turned it into a strength.
Taking on difficult jobs that no one else wants to do, can be catastrophic for a small business starting out. Hard work, difficult conditions, and high margin for error and failure can quickly eat into cash flow.
However, CJ and Phil were able to see that the larger companies could not do these types of jobs. These larger companies may have had the equipment, but lacked the desire and in some cases, lacked the highly trained staff required to work in adverse conditions, such as those found in the Oil and Gas industry.
“Every time a new customer came along with something difficult, we always say, “Yeah, we can do that,” and then we go and scratch our heads to figure out how we’re going to do it. That customer led focus has allowed us to grow. “
Know where you fit, and own it!
Part of the success of Agtrans is that they saw a niche in the market and went after it - with gusto.
Unlike so many businesses that try to be “everything for everyone”, Agtrans focuses on solving one thing, and solving it very well.
Agtrans provides a 24-hour, seven-day business, lifting and moving - big, wide, heavy or oversized loads into awkward and hard to reach places.
This unusually clear mission statement is more akin to what you see from Silicon Valley software companies, not from a transportation company in the middle of New Zealand. This in and of itself gives you some idea of the unique thinking and approach that CJ and Phil have bought to their business.
Training people pays off big time
Agtrans have made a living from doing the difficult - walking the path less trodden. To do this safely, you have to have the right people, trained in the right way.
For instance, Agtrans do a lot of work in the oil and gas industry. They frequently provide crane hire and specialized transport in very hazardous conditions, hauling hazardous and difficult loads. It’s a very big part of their business and requires people with specialized skills.
Agtrans staff go through significant and expensive training to gain the qualifications necessary to be able to work in a multitude of different sites and locations. The result is that their team are highly skilled, and this has presented another unique opportunity for Agrans - specialized labour hire.
Local companies look to Agtrans when they need highly skilled resources for short term projects or jobs. It’s another example of not wanting to say “No”, resulting in a key market differentiator and new income stream.
Customers first, technology a close second
Agtrans have a history of adopting technology as a competitive advantage. They have made technology part of their culture.
CJ and Phil realized that if they could be better and more efficient than everyone else, and if they could do things a little bit differently, then Agtrans could carve out a space in a market where 500 companies are all doing the exact same thing. To achieve this, Agtrans turned to technology.
“Part of why we’re using Spoke is that we’ve always been a very technology-based business. Every time we’ve moved to something new, if there’s an opportunity to purchase the better version, the newer version, the more intelligent version, we’ve done that.”
Agtrans use a full suite of leading-edge technology. GPS monitoring in every vehicle, iPads in every truck, and company supplied iPhones ensure that everyone and every job is kept in sync. Moving to Spoke was a logical next step for Agtrans.
It was time to ditch the landlines
The old phone system at Agtrans was typical for a small business. A couple of landlines going into an office deskphone, that would be forwarded to mobile phones after hours or when the office staff step out for lunch.
CJ had been looking for something like Spoke for a period of time.
“We looked at a couple of different systems that appeared to do what we needed, but they all had some issues that weren’t quite going to fit us. And then I saw Spoke. I had a good look of it, it seemed to be really good fit for us. It’s got a lot more potential inside it than we use right now. “
Spoke allowed Agtrans to keep their existing 0800 business free-phone numbers and other landline numbers, but get rid of their landlines and office phones. And because Spoke provides virtual landlines, there are no more engaged signals.
Agtrans’ old office landlines (like all landlines, lines, or trunks), only supported one phone call per line. For Agrans, who had two lines, this meant that only two people could be on the phone at any one time. Spoke can handle 1,000 concurrent calls per line/number - companies no longer need to pay for multiple lines.
Now the Agtrans business is totally mobile. They are able to make and take calls anywhere, and can step out whenever they need to.
Phone tag and keeping in touch became more of a problem as we grew
Agrans is very much an onsite focused business. It’s not 20 people sitting in an office all day.
CJ is in the office doing the financial side and most of the longer term business management. Phil is more hands-on. He’s out onsite every day directing the day-to-day decisions, such as which employee goes to which location, etc. It’s important that the two keep in constant contact, but it’s very seldom that they are both in an office together.
Agtrans has an 0800 free-phone number that their customers love. As the business grew, more and more people started calling it, forcing CJ to divert the free-phone number to his mobile phone.
“The problem was I was receiving calls that regularly needed to be going to other people. We were constantly getting calls from people wanting to know where our driver was or wanting to communicate with our drivers, and handing out personal phone numbers and playing phone tag was not working.”
The communication problems became more acute when Agtrans hired a full time health and safety officer.
There were now more people to keep in touch with, and more and more often CJ was getting company calls on his mobile that he could not transfer from his mobile phone. Something had to be done.
With Spoke, Agtrans can now easily transfer business calls off their mobile phones and over to someone else. What’s more, they can privately chat with each other before transferring the caller, so there are no surprises. There is also an option to stay on the line after the transfer and have a three way conference call - a useful feature when explaining difficult situations.
What’s next for Spoke at Agrans?
“We’re at a point now that we’re constantly using it every day to make management decisions. We need to progress and get the rest of our staff loaded so we can do more transferring of calls to guys that are on the sites.
It’s [Spoke] pretty intuitive and fairly simple to use. I’ve installed it in a couple of guys’ phones that are not particularly tech-savvy and they are quite comfortable making a phone call and receiving a phone call.
The team calling is something that I can see a big benefit in it for us. We want to start utilizing that and the other Spoke features a bit more. “