Container transport: On the road with Sydney Sideloaders
Business & Logistics
Container transport is the specialty of the company Sydney Sideloaders. They make use of customer trailers – and the Actros. A pleasant side effect on many of their runs: grand views of tourist attractions in Australia’s leading metropolis.
When the support legs at the front and rear of the trailer slowly and quietly start to unfold, it makes you think of an oversized Swiss army knife equipped with all kinds of fold-out gimmicks. But once the two hydraulic cranes swing the container suspended from massive chains sideways and gently set it down onto the tarmac, it becomes clear that we are dealing with some really sophisticated technology with plenty of power behind it. “It’s an Australian thing – even though it is made in Sweden,” says Chris Divis. The name for this “thing” for loading and unloading containers – hardly ever deployed in Europe, but finding plenty of use in Australia – is “sideloader”. And it has also given Divis’ company its name: Sydney Sideloaders.
The first part of that name speaks for itself, even in Europe. The transport company is based in the biggest metropolis in Australia, and at the biggest container port “down under”: Port Botany. The port’s cargo cranes could easily be seen from the company premises – if it weren’t for the stacks of containers blocking the view all around. The reach stacker is also hard to see for all the dust it stirs up as it moves ceaselessly between the stacks, carrying containers from A to B: “This used to be tarmac here,” says Divis, pointing to the ground under our feet. “But over time the reach stacker has ground it into dust.”
It’s obvious that the team of Sydney Sideloaders, just under 30 strong, has plenty of work which largely revolves around these standard-sized steel boxes. “We actually outgrew these premises a long time ago, but the location here at Port Botany is simply too good to let go,” explains the 51-year-old. This is because it is mostly containers that arrive here, and these are then moved by his people – some 12 000 containers last year.
“This puts us into the medium-size-to-biggish bracket among the container carriers in Sydney, and in the sideloader segment we are number one.”
Australia’s transport market is heavily dependent on imports. This is why most trips set out from one of Sydney’s ports – where the sideloaders are loaded just like any other trailer. They prove their great advantage at the destination: “Our drivers can take the containers straight to the recipient and put them down themselves,” explains Divis. “They don’t have to rely on any additional equipment or on anyone’s help.” Once a container has been emptied, the recipient lets them know and a driver comes to collect the box again and takes it to a container yard at the port – and the game starts all over again.
“Sydney is a place like no other! We do make point of arranging attractive runs through the city for our drivers whenever possible.”
– Chris Divis, Director of Sydney Sideloaders, talking about trucking in a very special metropolis
Delivery at any time – day and night.
This added flexibility is much appreciated in the construction sector, for instance, because it means construction materials can be delivered to construction sites at any time of the day or night. “But we really move absolutely anything that arrives at the port, from clothing to car parts, from medical equipment to foodstuffs. We also handle the customs services,” says the entrepreneur. Many of his customers are brokers, but they also include importers and retailers.
Most of the deliveries go to customers located in the greater metropolitan area of Sydney, this city of five million inhabitants. They frequently go across the world-famous Harbour Bridge, and past the no less iconic Sydney Opera House. And Chris Divis as well as his drivers are far from blasé about the attractions their city has in store: “I have been all over the world, but Sydney is a place like no other! And we do make a point of arranging attractive runs through the city for our drivers whenever possible.”
Divis established the business in 2005 together with his brother Tony, and the two still share the management of the company. Whereas Tony used to be a banker, Chris has been in the transport business for three decades already – first as a truck driver and then as the manager of a transport company. At the time they established their own company, not many transport business had sideloaders.
“We saw an opportunity and we went for it, and we have grown steadily ever since.” They started out with four trucks, and even though they have about 20 now, they don’t think this is as far as they’ll go. One of the things putting the wind in their sails is that purchasing power is high in Australia, and the population keeps growing. This means demand for imports arriving by sea will continue to grow accordingly. “Australia’s own production is negligible by comparison,” explains Divis. The lion’s share of the imports is from Asia, and most of that comes from China.
The cargo is moved using the Actros almost exclusively. It was about three years ago that Chris and Tony Divis began to convert what at that time was a “mixed” fleet into a straight Mercedes fleet. “What persuaded us at the time was the ‘Agility’ financing programme that Mercedes-Benz is offering here in Australia, which provides us with certainty in terms of the outgoings for maintenance and repairs.”
And then it was the trucks themselves that won them over, the way they performed, adds Chris Divis. “Once we took delivery of our first Actros 2653 in 2017, it quickly became clear: this truck is in a league of is own!” Since then, another Actros has joined the fleet. “The drivers are regularly approached by colleagues working for other businesses because they would like to take a closer look at the truck.”
Aside from runs in and around Sydney, the drivers sometimes also head out to more remote destinations. And for about 20 per cent of all trips, they use equipment other than the sideloaders. For example, the day we met Chris Divis, a semi-trailer towing a low-bed trailer on which boxes full of generator parts were lashed down was ready to leave the small warehouse on the company premises. “Warehousing services are an add-on that we offer our customers. For instance, we are one of only a few transport companies that are allowed to handle hazardous cargo in the port precinct.”
Whether they are carried on a custom trailer or some other trailer, many of the deliveries are not time-critical as such, says Chris Divis – only to add with a smile that everyone in the team was nevertheless doing their best to get the goods delivered as quickly as possible. “And this is exactly what customers have come to expect from us by now.” It is an expectation the Sydney Sideloaders have created themselves, and one which they clearly live up to: “We’ve already been working hand-in-glove with many of our customers for years now!”
Fotos & Video: Alexander Tempel