Belco Trailers at Brendale has weathered tough times before and is investing in technology to sure up its future during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Neil and Sonya Newnham bought their business Belco Trailers just a few months before the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2007.
At that point, their bookkeeper and bank manager told them to walk away as they faced losing everything. But, with encouragement from their accountant, they decided to stick with it and find a way to make the business work.
They broadened their focus, from predominately marine and camper trailers, to include repairs and servicing, and government contracts.
It saved their Brendale-based business and provided a platform that has helped them navigate the economic fallout of COVID-19, 12 years later.
“In the January (2008), we did $22,000 worth of repairs and servicing,” Sonya recalls.
“Neil had always planned to target the infrastructure side of things such as councils, but we just had to do that earlier than we had planned. We weren’t anywhere near ready for it,” Sonya explains.
They signed up to Local Buy, so they could tender for council work and it paid off.
The following year, they secured a contract to replace the trailer fleet for Moreton Bay Regional Council. That ended up totalling 30 trailers, ranging from box trailers to 30-tonne plant trailers.
They now also supply Redlands and Brisbane City Councils, and councils in South Australia as well as Unitywater, SEQwater and many others.
Supplying the Australian Army with 40 boat trailers has helped them during the COVID-19 shutdown and they’re hoping other contracts they’ve tendered for will come off in the months ahead.
Sonya says they usually carry about three months’ work and September/October is traditionally their quieter time of year.
“When COVID-19 hit, we were worried about supply, and because we were doing the Army contract, we went and bought everything for 40 trailers so we could continue on to do that,” Neil says.
It put a strain on their cashflow, but was a necessary insurance policy.
The couple is also taking a punt on a new fibre laser cutter, which will set them back about $100,000 but dramatically improve efficiency.
“We’re nervous about buying this fibre laser cutter, but it might be good for us. We might be able to diversify like we did 10 years ago because we’ve got that,” Neil says.
During the past decade, they’ve built a reputation for quality customers can see and feel. It starts with expert design and is matched by a high standard of craftsmanship, using the best-quality Australian steel. Every trailer is guaranteed for 10 years and comes with a free three-month service.
“When we first went into business, Neil said I don’t care if I don’t sell the most trailers, I want to be the one that everyone compares themselves to,” Sonya says.
He wanted Belco Trailers to be the benchmark.
“That’s where we want to be,” Neil says. “I think we’re as close as we’re going to get.”
Sonya says the manufacturing industry needs more skilled workers and she’d love to see a bigger push in schools, so youngsters consider it a viable career option.
“The qualification that our boys have is ‘Automotive, Manufacturing Bus Truck and Trailer’. It’s a very broad range of skills, so they’re not just a boiler-maker or a welder and they’re not just a mechanic they can do everything so they can fibreglass, they can assemble, they can wire, they can do airbraking componentry. They have a huge skill set,” Sonya says.
“I think the kids would love it because it’s so diverse.”
It’s a trade that’s hooked this pair, and their yearning to be creative and tap into new markets will only strengthen their business in a post-COVID world.
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