C&L, Case Studies, Features

Jewel in Matherson Crane Hire’s crown

2020 sees Gladstone based Matherson Crane Hire celebrate 40 years in business. To mark this milestone it ordered a Liebherr LTM 1120-4.1.

2020 sees Gladstone based Matherson Crane Hire celebrate 40 years in business. To mark this milestone, managing director, Wayne Matherson recently ordered a Liebherr LTM 1120-4.1, the first to be delivered in Australia.

It all began back in the 70s when Neil Matherson was working for Evans Deakin Industries (EDI) Hire as a crane operator. At the end of 1979, he told his boss, Ivan Ruzic he wanted to start his own crane business.

“At the time, there was a lot of work in Gladstone. I went to Ivan with the idea of starting my own crane business and he was that supportive, he even promised to give me work. My wife Beth and I borrowed $50,000 and started the business with an 8t BHP on a Chamberlain tractor, ‘an 8t wobbly’,” said Matherson snr.

“Ivan was true to his word and EDI Hire were supportive, so much so, they spent time showing Beth how to keep the accounts and manage the business. We never looked back,” he said.

Back then mobile phones didn’t exist, and Beth would take the phone calls on the landline, and relay the bookings via UHF and repeater stations. Customers were more organised in those days, said Matherson senior, booking cranes a week in advance. The early business was a family affair, with their five-year-old daughter Tanya, answering the phone and taking bookings when Mum and Dad were busy.

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“It was all hands on deck, with everyone pitching in and I couldn’t have done it without Beth, she had the toughest job,” said Matherson snr.

With a continued focus on customer service the business grew, cranes were replaced every five years or so. Crane two was a 10t BHP “wobbly” on a tractor base. Crane three, a 12t Linmac and crane four a 16t Linmac; then the business started to grow. In 1996, Wayne Matherson’s brother in law joined and for a while it was the two of them operating two cranes. When Wayne joined in 2000, it was the three of them with three cranes.

“We were basically doing our thing, you didn’t have the legality of the rigger at the time, so we were rigging our own loads and we were running around like madmen. We have always been 100 per cent in Gladstone and proud to have serviced the community for all this time,” he said.

It was around 2005 when Matherson began thinking there had to be more to the business.

“You never stop working in and on your business, but we were working six and sometimes seven days a week. It’s hard yards being an owner operator and I thought we should probably start employing people to assist. Also, the riggers law in 2005 forced us to have extra people on hand.

“At that point we purchased our first slew crane a little Kobelco RK 160 and a Demag AC55 City Class which were in demand from the market. We steadily built the business, becoming familiar with the equipment we had, and we organically grew. We didn’t have unrealistic expectations or plans for the business, we wanted to service our customers well, grow with them and take the opportunities for future growth as they presented,” he said.

Gladstone is a very fluctuant market and business must be able to adapt to the ups and downs says Matherson. There was a boom in Gladstone around 2010 and the business grew to include 23 employees and 10 cranes. Today, it’s trimmed back to 13 staff and 9 cranes. The business grew essentially on general hire which included work in the housing sector, light commercial and some industrial applications.

“As we grew, we were able to take on larger profile customers, and we looked at general industry more, without losing sight of the customers that got us to where we were. We still love our general hire. We now hold multiple industrial maintenance contracts and service a whole gamut of customers, across various industry sectors including power stations, aluminium refineries but we still go and lift the cubby house for mums and dads,” he said.

According to Matherson, the relationship with Liebherr started in 2011. He also explains his thought processes when choosing the right crane for his fleet.

“We purchased our first Liebherr, the LTM 1055-3.2 in 2011. At the time it was the right machine for the market. I don’t look at cost of cranes until I’m ready to buy. I look for the right machine with the right capabilities and after that the price is what it is.

“We love the Liebherr. It is a high-quality and super reliable machine and the service and support from Liebherr has always been fantastic. They also understand that some decisions don’t always swing their way and that sometimes their product doesn’t always suit my market,” he said.

“Two and half years ago, we bought the Liebherr LTM 1060-3.1 three axle through Bryce O’Brien, the Queensland/NT sales manager. It simply nails the three axle market and the decision to stay with the quality product has proved to be the right one. We’ve just ordered the new 120t four axle, the LTM 1120-4.1 which lands in January 2021. We’re going to be the first customer in the country to receive this model, which is pretty cool,” said Matherson.

The LTM 1120-4.1 is the most powerful four-axle all-terrain crane ever built. The new 120t machine breaks into a performance class which has previously been the sole preserve of five-axle cranes. As far as boom length is concerned, it is on a par with 200t class cranes as its 66 m telescopic boom is the longest ever to be installed on a four-axle mobile crane. Liebherr will start deliveries of the new LTM 1120-4.1 in January 2021.

“It’s an unbelievable machine. We’ve been looking to upgrade our four axle 100t class for a while but in our view, no one had quite hit the nail on the head. In my opinion, new products from manufacturers were worse than the previous models and I wasn’t sure what to do. Then Bryce contacted me and said ‘hey we are doing this and I said ‘yep sold, order it’,” said Matherson.

‘It has an amazing capability with 66 meters of main boom but remains very versatile and manageable with a counterweight package of only 31t. With the four axle base, and being a taxi business, I can utilise the machine in the smaller market and roll it in as a taxi crane with no counterweight and compete in the 70t market. It hits my target needs and then exceeds them and I’m getting more than I wanted from the machine which is great. It opens up what we can do as a business.

“Once again, Liebherr has done it first and produced a product that ticks all the boxes. It sits well with me because I know I have the support of a fabulous family owned business as well. Liebherr is a quality product that is super reliable. The LTM 1120-4.1 is going to be the diamond in the crown,” he said.

Going into this year Matherson could see business confidence returning to the Gladstone economy with a reasonable number of projects on the table.

“2020 was looking OK but the COVID-19 restrictions have obviously impacted on business confidence. But now the restrictions are gradually lifting and with the government stimuli fast tracking infrastructure works and construction projects, we are looking positive.

“We don’t need the rebound to be massive, we just need consistent growth and confidence and I believe we are coming into that period now. We are also confident we have the right partner in Liebherr. They really are a super reliable product, and in our opinion, they are the Rolls Royce of the crane industry. I’m sure there will be a lot of Liebherr users that agree with me,” he said.

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