When our Larry met ...Tatra's swinging axle
LARRY Gill is not the type of man you could easily forget. Equipped with a welcoming presence and a broad smile, the vintage larrikin would undoubtedly find himself at the heart of most social gatherings.
It is this warmth, his rare ability to value those he works with, and his financial modesty that has allowed Larry to establish Offroad Trucks Australia as one of the nation's most reliable heavy duty truck suppliers, the sole distributor of Czech brand Tatra.
"I first found out about these trucks when I got a brochure from my friend in Sydney - I saw the swinging half axle,” Larry said.
It was that brochure illustrating Tatra's unique axle design that marked the first step towards the thriving business he has today.
"Because I had been around trucks all of my life, but when I saw that axle, I couldn't understand it.”
For curiosity's sake, Larry, who was working as an auctioneer valuer at the time, decided to explore the brand a little more.
"I gave them a call, but of course they couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak Czech. It was quite funny.
"We didn't even have emails in those days, fax machine was about it.
"The lady on the phone found someone in the factory that could come and speak English, because Tatra had business in China so the Chinese bloke was the one speaking English to me. It was amazing.
"So somehow along there we started talking and he agreed to send me a VHS of the trucks.”
When the tape finally arrived, Larry's head began swirling with ideas about the truck's potential on Australia's "rotten roads”.
"When I got the VHS and saw what they could do on this test track, it was just mind boggling.
"Trucks could not do this stuff without breaking a chassis, I thought why didn't we have these here.”
Larry soon made another call to his international counterparts, in the hope of becoming Australia's Tatra dealer.
"He said 'Why not', he didn't know where Australia was and I didn't know where the Czech Republic was,” Larry explained.
"So we headed across there in shorts with no idea of the extreme cold, landed at Prague airport in minus 15 degree weather.
"I had no idea, I nearly died,” Larry said.
But that was decades ago, while it wasn't an easy logistically, Larry being the bloke he is, he clicked with the Czech way of life developing a strong business relationship across hemispheres that has lasted to this day.
Offroad Trucks now sells to specialised industries in mining, drilling, forestry and other service industries.
The specialist market is soon to expand as increases to the legal steer axle ratings allow the company to dip their toe in the civil sector.
But a steady as she goes attitude will still be key during the next phase for the Western Australian local.
"No rush, we will get there,” he said.
While the rigs are big and the clients are bigger, when it comes to his team and expansion, Larry does not overreach.
"I am fortunate I own the company, I don't have partners, I don't have investors, I don't have shareholders, its just me, and then its going to be Amber,” Larry said gesturing to general manager Amber Gaden.
Amber, one of Larry's daughters and second-in-command is an example of how the family business model really can succeed.
"I put all my money back into the business,” he explained. "Everything we buy we own.”
A plan that has clearly benefited the business, leaving them not just debt free but as one of the few Western Australian businesses expanding since the end of the mining boom.
Like so many of Larry's other investments, the expansion is modest, and a clear investment back into the core of the business.
Instead of show rooms and new office facilities Offroad Trucks is extending its spare parts warehousing to ensure each Tatra vehicle sold in Australia never goes without.
Priding themselves their ability to deliver parts to our clients within 24-48 hours the $5 million dollar spare parts stockpile is worth its weight in gold.
"It's everything, everything is after sales” said Amber who has been the bright and driven right hand of the business since she left University.
"Direct sales is a small part of what we do,” she explained.
Outside of the spare part guarantee Offroad Trucks Australia also supplies mobile instructors and a full driver training school in Perth.
"It is all very well to get the sale and sign someone up, but it is looking after them and getting them to come back.
"Are they looking after them in the workshop when the call up for advice or training? That is the focus.
"That is more important to us than anything,” she said.
But as big as they have become, the pair hope to keep the team small for as long as possible to avoid corporate bureaucracy.
"That's what we think makes us special, we are a really small and connected, we look after each other and just get in and get things done,” Amber said.
In line with the theme, the Offroad family is provided lunch and eats together.
"But you know we fight like family and we live like family,” Larry said.
"I still wash the dishes and clean the toilet if I have to - we are a team after all.”