As family-run waste collection and recycling company VinsBins marks its 15th birthday, its owner, Vin Cheers, reflects on the part played by efficiency, employees and equipment in running a successful business.
VinsBins may be a small business, but its owner has always seen the big picture when it comes to driving it forward.
Managing Director Vin Cheers has a straightforward recipe for building the business: employees, equipment and efficiency.
“It’s the calibre and strength of the staff that help us deliver the best service to our customers,” says Vin. “Having said that, you can’t run our sort of business on worn-out gear. We’re big fans of using technology to help things run smoothly and efficiently.”
‘Efficiency’ is Vin’s guiding principle. He continually analyses and reviews the company’s operations to ensure maximum efficiency.
Alongside that, he is committed to running a waste business with the environmental aspirations more commonly found within the sustainability report of a large corporate.
Based in Dromana, Victoria, VinsBins started from humble beginnings. Vin had been working as an interstate truck driver for many years when he decided to open his own business in 2000. Supported by his wife, Jane, he set up from his home on the Mornington Peninsula with one hook truck and two homemade bins.
“I had the truck branded with my name plastered all over it – VinsBins – much to the embarrassment of my children, who I used to drop off to school at that time,” recalls Vin.
VinsBins was then at a small yard in Rosebud for 10 years before moving to the current 6,150-square metre Dromana site in 2011.
Central to the premises is a large transfer station, which copes with deliveries of up to 850 cubic metres of waste each day.
All trucks return to the transfer station and each bin is unloaded directly onto the concrete floor. Drivers then hose out the empty bins, ready for the next delivery.
A team of 12 employees in the shed drive skid steer loaders, excavators and forklifts to sort the bin contents. A typical eight-cubic metre load can be dropped and sorted within 15 minutes.
The concrete, steel, clean wood, green waste and cardboard are separated and sent off in bulk containers to recyclers. The bricks and soils are fed into a two-stage trommel and picking line. As the bricks and masonry are fed off, any general waste for landfill is dropped onto a walking floor that feeds a further bulk container.
The soil waste is fed into a Bost soil screen and then sold on to landscaping suppliers.
Vin says constructing the recycling plant has two benefits for the business: it saves money by paying less in landfill charges, and it generates some income from selling the sorted recycled materials.
“We’re not trying to save the world, but to reduce how much waste goes directly to landfill, and reuse materials that can be recycled,” Vin says. “Ten years ago all of the waste we received was destined for landfill, but now we’re down to only 18 per cent, a number we verify and audit quarterly.”
Adding to VinsBins’ green credentials, the premises have 30 kilowatts of solar panels that provide 90 per cent of its power needs, and 66,000 litres of tanked grey water for vehicle and bin washing.
Today, the company has around 40 employees, 15 trucks and more than 500 smartly-branded bins. It sends out and collects between 100 and 150 bins a day.
Despite its growth, VinsBins is still a family affair. Vin runs and shapes the direction of the business. Jane is a director and the office manager. Jane’s sister, Virginia, has been on board for about 12 years overseeing administration and logistics despatch. Their son-in-law, Mark Yeats, is the business services manager.
Out of the 40 or so employees, there are many with long service, such as Tony Williams, the yard manager. Vin attributes much of his company’s success to them.
“Our business has been growing by about 15 per cent a year for the last few years, and a lot of that is due to our staff and reliable equipment,” says Vin. “Our people – their hard work, attitude and loyalty – is a real strength. But to that you need to add quality equipment and fleet.”
One area where Vin has prudently invested to maintain efficient operations is in trucks. He’s added to the fleet gradually as the business has grown.
Wedded to European trucks for his larger transport applications, Vin has switched to Scania recently as part of a calculated and careful fleet acquisition program.
“About two years ago, Scania’s sales manager for east Victoria, Ben Nye, came over to give us a test drive of an eight-wheel demonstrator,” says Vin. “I was impressed by how the vehicle drove and its features, and said when I was in the market for a truck I’d be in touch.”
In 2014, Vin invested in two 6 x 2 P280s, both of which have had the wheelbase shortened and lifting tag axle specified, and a one-year-old 6 x 4 P320 for the fleet.
“The lifting tag axle reduces wear when negotiating tight collection locations and for manoeuvring at the waste transfer station,” Vin explains. “I like the fact Scanias come with weigh scales on the axles with the readout in the dash display. It means we know how heavy we are and removes the potential for a ticket for overloading.”
Another reason Vin chose Scania was fuel economy. They use about 25 per cent less fuel than other trucks, about 30 litres per 100km. VinsBins also added air deflectors to the roofs to further increase the fuel saving and provide an extra promotional opportunity.
“Euro 5 Scanias are more fuel-efficient and emit fewer pollutants. For a company aware of its carbon footprint, this is important,” he says. “The newer vehicles have a lower tare weight, so they can carry a heavier payload.”
“This is an industry built on low margins and high turnover of bins,” explains Vin. “Running reliable vehicles that offer efficient fuel consumption and can carry more helps keep the business competitive.”
Vin’s drivers have also taken the Scania Driving Training program, where they learn how to drive the truck to achieve more efficient fuel consumption. Scania trucks have an on-board system – the multi-function display – which shows the driver how changing their driving style can reduce fuel use by about 8 per cent.
“At first, the drivers weren’t sure about the training,” says Vin. “But they got on board when I explained that with the money saved on fuel, I could buy other equipment to make the business stronger.”
When it comes to choosing new vehicles, Vin says experience helps when finding the right one to meet the company’s needs – both his knowledge and that of the dealer account manager.
“I’ve been around trucks all my life, so I have a good understanding of what I’m looking for,” Vin says. “So I normally go straight to Ben at Scania, drink their coffee, and discuss what I need and he advises where they can help.”
Vin has also been impressed with the Scania aftersales experience. Its service centre at Dandenong maintains the vehicles, which also helps in the smooth running of the business.
When a vehicle is due for service, it will drop a bin in Dandenong, proceed to the service centre, and the driver will be collected by another truck in the area, with the reverse occurring for collection.
The VinsBins vehicles are smartly presented, constantly moving, and well looked after by a loyal and respectful group of drivers, who are fiercely protective of their mobile offices.
“Initially they were apprehensive about the Scanias because most drivers prefer a manual gearbox and these were automatic, but they are happy now,” Vin explains. “They enjoy the driving environment. Scania are not physically demanding to drive and the engine is quiet. The cab is comfortable and has features like seats with built-in hands-free for mobile phones.”
VinsBins has a number of supplier relationships that contribute to the smooth running of the business.
All Vin’s trucks are fitted with an Italev hook made by BoB Systems. Wastech Engineering, with whom Vin has also had a long relationship, fits the hooks and looks after his hydraulic needs. Hyva also modifies the trucks with hooklifts, trailer and ancillary equipment.
Rear Vision Systems supplied the fleet’s on-board cameras. They are fitted to two areas of the vehicles. The one at the back of the truck facilitates hooking up the skip, and there are two inside the cab, one facing the driver and one facing out of the window.
“It’s a quality tool that gives us the ability to check what happened in the event of an accident or complaint,” Vin explains. “If we get a call about an incident we can review the footage. It settles issues very quickly and protects our reputation.”
“We also record the drop and sort process for safety and efficiency purposes,” he adds.
GPS, supplied by Navman, is also vital to operations. With each truck making around 12 bin movements a day, GPS allows the office to monitor the fleet’s location. This helps the business be responsive to last-minute or urgent customer orders.
“Our booking system is integrated with full vehicle tracking,” explains Vin. “If someone phones for a bin drop and we can see a truck with an empty bin is on its way to a non-time-sensitive delivery nearby, we can redirect that vehicle.
“Sometimes the customer has barely put down the phone before the bin turns up and that really impresses them. If customers are impressed by us once, they will use us again.”
The business uses additional technology to streamline operations.
“We send jobs directly to the drivers’ iPhones or iPads, so they have all the job information electronically in real time,” Vin adds.
He may spend most days in the office, but Vin likes to keep in touch with the coalface of the business.
“I still drive once a fortnight,” Vin says. “I like to understand what my drivers experience, to get a feel for how the trucks perform, and to see where we can improve.”
Vin is looking forward to building on the company’s strong foundations to secure continued growth in the future. With its large premises, he is applying for planning permits to expand the operation. He expects to have a new workshop built by the end of the year. This will provide more space for the company’s two full-time mechanics/fabricators who maintain the fleet and bins.
“We’re very competitive and we strive for growth,” Vin concludes. “We want to do all we can to remain efficient and offer a professional, value-for-money service to our customers.”