C&L, Features, Queensland

Barrelling the swell from city to surf

How a husband and wife team, turned a dream into one of the largest crane businesses on the Gold Coast.

How a husband and wife team, turned a dream into one of the largest crane businesses on the Gold Coast, Surf City Cranes.

With customer service and satisfaction a major priority, Surf City Cranes boast a modern crane fleet providing lifting solutions from northern New South Wales to the Gold Coast and North Brisbane.

Sharon and Jon Morrish first moved from Brisbane to pursue Sharon’s role as General Manager of The Southport Yacht Club at Main Beach on the Gold Coast. Sharon had prior managerial experience in leagues clubs as well as on Hamilton Island.

Jon worked in construction roles with scaffolding crews as well as dogging and operating a tower crane at the redevelopment of the once famous Pink Poodle. He then took a full-time position as an operator with a long-standing general crane hire company on the Gold Coast.

“I read a book by Robert Kiyosaki called “Rich Dad Poor Dad” which advocates the importance of financial literacy, financial independence and building wealth through investing in assets and this triggered the inspiration to travel to Melbourne to purchase our very first crane from James Equipment,” Jon tells Cranes and Lifting.

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“The crane was a Tadano TR200M-4, rough terrain crane which we still have today. A few years earlier, we had moved into a house in Currumbin, and we used the equity in the home to buy the crane. At the time, it felt like we had gone to the casino and thrown everything on one number,” he said.

Jon explains how they settled on the company name.

“We spent hours writing down dozens of business names and it wasn’t until Sharon had an event at the club, a yacht race called Surf to City, that we found what we were looking for. Surf City Cranes (SCC) summed up our intention to provide crane hire services from the Gold Coast to Brisbane,” he said.

With an overdraft and very little cash and two small children, Sharon worked endless hours at the club while Jon drove from site to site knocking on doors looking for job opportunities.

By mid 2007, and with the construction boom in full swing, Surf City Cranes was busy cross hiring with other crane companies to cover projects and the business got busier. By the middle of that year, Sharon and Jon had another child, made their second purchase, a 50t crane to cover a long-term dry hire contract and Sharon left her position to concentrate on their own business and the family. 2008 saw SCC selected as the “go to mobile crane” provider for the Banora Point upgrade project with Abi and Seymour Whyte JV.

“The business kept growing year on year and with the amazing quality of the staff we attracted, more investment in quality reliable used cranes and tele-handlers was needed to support the construction growth from Brisbane to Byron Bay in northern NSW,” said Sharon.

Surf City Cranes also proved its ability to diversify with an invitation to tender for labour hire for the construction of the Nauru Detention Centre in Micro Indonesia. This meant operating numerous cranes with capacities ranging from 25t mobiles up to 180t crawler cranes, semi-trailers and telescopic-handlers. Surf City Cranes were supplying up to 30 staff on a fly in fly out basis for two years. More recently, SCC completed the Dyandra underpass for the soon to be second Brisbane airport runway as well constructing a brand-new quarry crushing plant for Boral at Kingsholme/Yatala.

With 17 mobile cranes with capacities from 12t up to 130t, 4 tele-handler forklifts and numerous trucks in the fleet, the company recently took a major step with the acquisition of a brand new Liebherr four axle 100t class all terrain crane, the LTM 1090-4.2.

“The purchase was a direct result of upgrading the fleet and investing in the future with the advanced new technology from Liebherr’s mobile crane division. The LTM 1090.4.2 features technology, we believe, will be a benchmark for years to come,” said Jon.

“In my opinion, the LTM 1090 4.2 is the latest, new age development in roadable, 4 axle, 100t class all terrain mobile cranes on the market. This machine will service any customers needs in the 40t to 80t class division, without the need for additional support transport or additional counterweights,” he said.

“It offers a massive 60m full powered boom pinning system with the all-wheel steering system allowing manoeuvrability in tight access areas. It also offers the operator simplicity of operation in terms of crane set up,” said Jon.

“The full counterweight option and additional fly/jib makes this machine a leader in its division for radius lifting of 700 kg at 62m radius from the centre of the crane. This model has replaced an 80t class machine from Liebherr and when you compare similar charts the new crane’s 8.8t counterweight configuration compared to the full 14.5t counterweight option offered, means a massive increase in the crane’s capabilities,” he said.

Today, the SCC fleet consists of the following class of machines:

1 x 2.5t Manitou Buggy Forklift;

3 x Manitou telehandlers with capacities from 3t to 12t;

4 x Frannas with capacities from 12t to 25t;

1 x 13t city crane;

4 x 25t Tadano rough terrains;

6 x all terrains with capacities from 35t to 130t;

1 x TATRA all terrain 12.5t Hiab;

2 x Scania tray tops;

1 x Mack tray top and trailer;

SCC offers this equipment on dry hire rental for project works including carpark construction, airport redevelopment, defence centre upgrade and construction, road and highway building, quarry shutdown and construction of new plants.

Sharon said that the work they do influences the make-up of the fleet.

“We were asked to supply a tele-handler, so we went out and purchased one; we needed a couple of crawler cranes, so we dry hired them. We do our due diligence and research what the market requires, if the machine is under-utilised, we chase up a market in that area to increase its use or sell the unit if need be,” she said.

“To ensure the fleet is well maintained, we have had our own in house experienced, qualified mechanic and we also outsource to manufacturing contractors and business operators to maintain and service our equipment,” she said. “We maintain each crane as per the manufactures specifications and frequently more depending on the type of work the crane is conducting.”

In December 2018, after many years of recording and improving systems, SCC obtained its QES ISO Accreditation in 2018 for Quality, Safety & Environment.

“We have our code compliance for government work. We also conduct annual crane inspections as well as quarterly lift testing and tagging all of which is above and beyond industry standards,” said Jon.

“The accreditation not only raises the bar and encourages ‘buy in’ from staff and employees, it also offers customers a guarantee for benchmark systems and processes and assists our customers to win projects in conjunction with their own ISO accreditations and standards,” he said.

“We have thought about how we can be more efficient in all aspects of the business, how to provide detailed plans for projects, improve job site efficiencies right through to the improving the flow of maintenance jobs in the work shop. We encourage our staff to lift the bar every day and to be better than they were yesterday. For this to happen, we have to provide a safe, happy and motivated work environment,” said Jon.

SCC staff levels can range from 20 to 40 depending on the number of projects being handled at any one time and according to Sharon, staff retention levels are high.

“SCC might be a family business, but it is really about everyone who works with us in the business, it’s their lively hood and it’s part of who they are,” she said.

“We have staff who have been with us for 10 years and we also have staff that we bring in for specific projects. We are just starting to look at mechanical traineeships, in the past the paperwork has been a deterrent but as we have grown, we can see the benefits of offering traineeships and we are ready now,” said Sharon.

Typically, SCC is recognised as providing solutions for commercial builders. These have mainly been Tier Two builders, but over the last 18 months the number of Tier One builders engaging with them has increased dramatically.

“We have had the same customers since we started,” said Jon. “We provide a stress-free solution and we build relationships with our customers from Northern NSW to North Brisbane and all of South East Queensland. Everything we do is designed to go above and beyond with the service provided to our customers,” he said.

For SCC, safety always comes first, as Jon points out. The company has a number of measures in place to ensure lifts are conducted safely. These include pre-starts, lift plans, toolbox talks, CoR certificates.

“We also conduct site inspections prior to every first lift, and we use programs like Liccon or Kranxpert,” he said.

Maintaining relationships with suppliers is also a key strategy for SCC. Sharon explained that they have been using the same suppliers for over 10 years and they have the believe if people do the right thing by them, they will do the right thing by them.

“The support we receive from our suppliers is very important, we need support on the ground, not online,” she said.

As far as the future is concerned, Surf City Traffic Control and Surf City Tower Cranes are on the list for possible developments.

“In early July, we put a couple of staff through traffic control training and we are now compliant,” said Sharon.

“We’ve been investigating tower cranes, but market prices are very low, so we will continue to do our research. Currently, we are adopting digital platforms throughout the company, developing our own app and we continue to thrive on change.”

“The current market conditions mean margins are small which lead to crane prices being at their lowest in 12 years. It’s a tough market as compliance expenditure has increased by 15 per cent, labour has increased, but hourly charge out rate is lower,” she said.

“Our team are everything to us, they are exceptional, and we believe there is no better when it comes to customer service. Our aim is to help our customers with the best and most economical solution. We value our company, we believe that safety comes first, we appreciate and reward our team of people, and we thrive on change,” said Sharon.

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