Paul Olsen, owner and director of Brolga Cranes had a vision of starting his own crane business, but getting support from the banks proved difficult. With support from the local business community, he managed to finance his first Franna and he recently took delivery of two more.
Paul Olsen started in cranes and rigging sector in the early 2000s. He worked at the Comalco aluminium refinery in Gladstone and when this project was completed, he moved across the Lamsons Australia. He was operating the 4100 and 4600 Manitowocs and this is where his career in crane operations really began.
“I realised I wanted to operate cranes and I was keen to learn and gather as much experience as quickly as I could and see where it took me. The journey took me around Australia three or four times and included working 2.4 kms underground, offshore and in the Pilbara in outback of Western Australia.
“Over the years I have been in positions where I have been operating massive capacity cranes like the Sarens Australia 1350t on the Liebherr LR 11350 and beside Sarens key operator Duncan Donohue. I worked with Universal Cranes Heavy Lift working on the Clarence River bridge operating their 750 lifting 200t bridge girders from barges. I moved to Boom Logistics as their heavy lift operator on the new LG 1750 on the Coopers Gap windfarm. This field of heavy lift operations took me to many places in Australia, but it also took me away from my family, I have two young children, they needed their dad and I needed them,” he said.
Olsen began researching the market to see where there might be an opportunity to get something started locally.
“I knew it would work if I had more control of the outcomes and where I could be close to my family. My research revealed I could register an Indigenous business and as I looked into this further, I found there were a number of high-profile indigenous crane businesses. When I looked into Queensland, I saw there wasn’t one and I registered Brolga Cranes.
Olsen explains the background to the name of Brolga Cranes.
“With the company name I wanted something that was traditional, native and Indigenous to Australia and the Brolga Crane fitted these requirements. The company was registered in August 2019, and it was also registered on Supply Nation which is the Indigenous Business Portal,” he said.
The designs on the Franna are very distinctive and eye catching. Olsen confirms he commissioned a high-profile indigenous artist for the artwork.
“We wanted a distinctively indigenous look to the cranes and so we reached out to a young indigenous artist in Bundaberg called Chern’ee Sutton. She is responsible for the design on the new $2 coin which is just in circulation. The coin design commemorates the indigenous men and women who have served in the military. We purchased the artwork which Chern’ee prepared and then we had this printed on transfers which we have been placed on the machines. We get comments all the time which is good for our business and also good for Chern’ee,” said Olsen.
“I started the business with the best intentions and not much more than this. I found myself in a position of what comes first, the chook or the egg.
I couldn’t get a contract unless I had a crane, and I couldn’t get a crane without work for it. During the first 12 months I built the business around policies, working on compliance processes and safety procedures.
“I went door knocking in Gladstone, approaching businesses and letting them know about my plans and trying to generate work. I was told there was no point getting cranes through me because I was only going to get them from another company. None of the banks wanted to lend me money and the Indigenous Business Australia couldn’t help either. So, I approached a couple of local Tier One companies and asked them to write me a letter confirming that if Brolga Cranes had a 20t Franna they would give me the opportunity to pitch for work. I ended up with six letters from companies around town and went to the bank. These helped secured my first loan for a 20t Franna and I took delivery of this in May 2020. I was delighted at the prospect of getting stuck into the business but just as the Franna turned up, so did COVID,” said Olsen.
As businesses were shutting their gates, all Olsen wanted to do was get stuck in.
“We were faced with the first six months of repayments on the Franna and because of the terms of the loan, we could have been paying off a 100t all terrain, it was a difficult time. But we kept door knocking and we kept over delivering on the work we generated,
we focused on servicing our clients and the client base began to grow. In the first two months and despite COVID we did really well. We secured work with Monadelphous here in Gladstone and they put me on a week’s shutdown. We supplied the crane which I operated and this really kick started the business,” he said.
Olsen explains how the business has escalated over the last 12 months.
“We’ve had the 20t Franna running around providing a good service and we’ve been working with a couple of the other crane hire companies in town. Because we are an indigenous business, I’ve painted our cranes with distinctive indigenous artwork and our cranes really stand out on a job site. People are watching us, they recognise the professional approach we take to everything we do and the additional support we offer customers. Therefore, a lot of the work we have picked up over the last 12 months has been from word- of-mouth referrals.
We’ve also continued to door knock and get onto lists as a crane supplier and letting potential customers know we are a small business, looking for an opportunity. We don’t want to take on the world, we want to grow slowly and sustainably, and we want to be a partner to the Gladstone and surrounds business community,” he said.
“We are now working with Tier One companies on two-week shutdowns, providing a 120t slew crane and two Frannas and up to 10 guys on a project. These have been on major sites and the feedback has been very positive. Customers have noticed our safety processes and procedures saying they are some of the best they have seen. We haven’t changed our approach, once we have opened a door, we pride ourselves on providing a service that is second to none. Businesses have been noticing our approach and have been reaching out to us. This includes smaller guys who might be putting in a swimming pool or it might be a 2am call to attend to an accident on this highway to help with the recovery.
With this approach, the business has continued to grow with the purchase of two 25t Frannas says Olsen.
“We’ve had a 150t crawler on a barge on project in Gladstone putting in piles and we have three other Frannas and we lease all of these. In the last 12 months we’ve been cross hiring 50t slew cranes up to 130t slew cranes for various projects and we’ve been working local companies like Scott Harrington’s Xtreme Engineering.
Olsen discusses the Franna pick and carry and how pleased he has been with the all-round performance of the crane and how it fits his type of work.
“The performance of the Franna is terrific. They are a well-known equipment brand in Australia, they are a very versatile machine, and our customers are very comfortable when we get them to site. We maintain our equipment to the highest standard, we don’t take shorts cuts and we run all genuine parts, so the machines are always operating at optimum levels.
“The Frannas fit our business model perfectly, we have two of them on projects up in North Queensland and another out west in the gas fields. Being versatile they are proving to be a well utilised asset which is really important from a business perspective. They are terrific around the smaller sites where access can be tight, the setup is almost immediate, and they are ready to lift. All this saves the customer time and money,” he said
Olsen recently took delivery of two Franna MAC 25s and they both went straight work.
“We’ve taken delivery of two new MAC 25s and both went straight to work. One is up north on a project and the second is working here in Gladstone. We didn’t have time to paint the cranes so I’m looking to send the new crane, which is in town, to Brisbane for painting and also upgrading it with the SuperLift and the new Robway safety system.
“The business is going OK. The local market has been a little patchy but there are a lot of new projects just about to start up which is good. We’ve been operating for about 16 months, so we are still new are there a lot of people that haven’t heard of us but having the support of locals like Scott Harrington is invaluable,” he said.