Forty Years On

Renfrey Plant Hire

When Kevin Renfrey and his wife Claudette set up the company, originally known as Renfrey Excavations, in 1974, there were fewer than ten excavating machines in the whole of South Australia. They still own the company; General Manager Chris Bradley explains that it just gradually got bigger, although it has always retained its Adelaide base.

The recent market conditions in the state have been no better than elsewhere in Australia, but Chris says Renfrey is relatively fortunate in that its range of equipment is very versatile and can be used in light mining applications, right through to civil construction, and on up to oil and gas, quarrying and infrastructure construction. “We are spread around geographically with different customers doing different things,” he explains. “Diversity works well for us.” It is what has kept Renfrey busy – a bit like maintaining a share portfolio instead of a block of a single company.

Following the deferment of the Olympic Dam project (BHP-Billiton’s copper and uranium mine some 550 km north of Adelaide, where a $20 billion expansion is on hold), Renfrey began an active search for alternative opportunities and some useful potential surfaced in Northern Territory. Accordingly, the company entered into a strategic agreement with a Territory based hire operation, Wilson Hire, which has benefited not only both companies but their clients too. “Where we start is around the 20-tonne mark which is where they finish. They have the largest fleet of smaller gear in the whole of the Northern Territory so it is highly complementary,” Chris explains.

Wilson Hire is the specialist hire division of CAPS Australia, an Australian owned company with well over 30 years of engineering experience in the supply of compressed air, gas and power generation equipment. Wilson has considerable experience in hiring equipment to contracting, industrial and mining companies, with an extensive range of modern equipment.

The partnership is in full swing at the Cooper Basin (site of some of the most important on-shore petroleum and natural gas deposits in Australia) and Renfrey has recently established a new depot at the Moomba centre. Renfrey administers that depot but it also runs a full range of Wilson items such as generators, light towers, pumps and other important lighter plant to go alongside, or more accurately below, Renfrey’s own equipment for the Basin. Together, the two companies can offer a true ‘one-stop shop’ for just about every item any customer might require and Chris believes this is the only instance of such a wide product offer in the Cooper Basin.

If there is a secret to Renfrey’s success, says Chris, it is probably in the way it treats both its customers and its suppliers. “Respect” is the watchword. “Long term returns are only achieved through the best work and providing superior value to our clients,” says Chris. “Central to our success is our commitment to serve our clients. They are the core of our business; we are driven to serve them with constant dedication. Our success depends upon the maintenance of our reputation for service, honesty and our ability to fulfil our promises.”

The company recognises that it needs its suppliers to provide good service when something needs to be done or something goes wrong – and even the best and most carefully maintained plant occasionally needs attention. So while Renfrey does drive a hard bargain and seeks value for money, the team knows there is little to be gained by hammering suppliers into the ground because that hardly motivates good suppliers to provide optimum service, and Renfrey cannot offer its own clients that level of service without the support of its own supply chain. “It’s all about treating people the way we like to be treated ourselves,” says Chris. “We aim to be very professional in everything we do.”

To enhance the reliability of plant that has in any case become better-designed by OEMs and more dependable in recent decades, Renfrey has been taking every opportunity to reduce the age of its fleet and replace machinery at a relatively early stage. This is part of the company’s overall objective to help its customers. “What we want is for them to get more work, with less risk and better results,” shares Chris. Risk is a matter of reliability as well as safety, about punctuality and back-up services too. “Having all those in place, having all the systems of communications, we can respond very quickly and minimise those risks.” Good quality control procedures and checks before plant leaves the yard, and good training of staff to ensure they ask all the right questions, are also vital to the smooth running of a hire fleet.

Chris says that Renfrey listens carefully to what a customer needs to do, not just what plant he or she wants to hire. The company’s staff have enough experience to be able to suggest methods of getting a job done (perhaps with a specific tool or attachment) that may not have already occurred to the client and may in many cases lead to that client being able to garner more work while tendering or undertaking a job. “We are able to give advice and we are very flexible on how we set up jobs,” says Chris. The team’s head count is just short of 50 people and they are not short of experience in the field – they are “happy to sit down and talk about the challenges or intricacies of any particular project and work through the best way to approach it.” In addition, as Chris points out, “we have a huge network. When you have been in business this long, you get to know a lot of people who know their business.”

Clients usually have a pretty good idea of what is required but often there might be a specific methodology they may not be aware of, or a machine with a special application. It is not unknown – though given Renfrey’s extensive fleet it is very much an exception – for the company to suggest and source something outside its fleet for a special and more accurate approach to a particular job.

All items are monitored via IVMS (akin to GPS) which offers a number of important remote-operation benefits including the ability to shut off a machine in case of something going wrong (the telemetry of modern machinery enables early-warning in many instances). But no matter how remote the location – and by the nature of the business, Renfrey’s customers are in some of the remotest spots on the continent, working on pipelines, airfields or mine sites – the company can send a fitter to look after machinery on site if desired, even moving in a container of wear parts and spares and a service truck to support a project where required.

The fleet is centralised but the logistics of getting large plant to the remote site is something Renfrey takes care of, using dedicated subcontractors who know about abnormal or oversize loads. Far from being limited to the Adelaide area, Renfrey has recently had (or still has) plant as far afield as the East Kimberley, Mareni, 300km west of Alice Springs, Daly River and Karara on the Western Australia coast. There is a storage yard at Whyalla, but of course the ideal is for equipment to move from one customer at the end of a hire directly to the next client, with staff tending to refurbishment and clean-up between hires on location, as a series of checks and services must be carried out before a new customer takes over any item. Indeed, the company’s popularity transcends its locality, and Chris is proud to say that this is because “we are very competitive, we offer an excellent service and we are preferred supplier to the likes of BIS.”

Strategic Resources

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September 26, 2017, 7:21 PM AEST