Cover story: Ideal Fabrication

By: Vivienne Haldane, Photography by: Keegan Clarke-Latham

A Pukekohe truck servicing, engineering, and fabrication business is proving that a bit of adversity only makes you stronger

One happy transport business owner received an early Christmas present, and it was the right colour as well: Christmas tree green. Well, that’s my description, but by the time this story goes to print we’ll be well and truly over Christmas, so perhaps I should say, correctly, Forest Green.

In early December, TSMS (Transport Solutions and Management Services), based in Ngaruawahia, took delivery of their brand-new Freightliner, which was thoroughly spec’d and blinged up by Ideal Fabrication in Pukekohe.

Done to spec

TSMS’ brand-new Freightliner, all blinged up

Greg Hickford says his team went all out (as they always do) to make the TSMS truck outstanding. As Greg says, "the favourite part of my job is sitting down with our clients, asking what we can do for them, then making it happen."

"TSMS owners Dave and Colleen Matich came in every week to check progress. Colleen was the driving force for the bling work; she wanted lights, stainless steel and plenty of chrome and at one stage said, ‘I think we can go further’. She had some very clever ideas and knew exactly what she wanted."

Greg says the guys set to work on the Freightliner adding the fine details that clients love, such as chrome, stainless steel and LED lights. "We chose invisible body mounts for the exhaust, and six-inch straight pipes with no shield on them. Because it had DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter) mufflers, we had to come off the back of them and go under the cab to get to our straight pipes.

"As well, Dave wanted to match his diesel tanks on either side but didn’t want another diesel tank, so we made a tank, welded up the diesel cap in it and put a toolbox at the end of it. This matched it to the other side and gave him a toolbox for his gear," Greg says. "The green strip lights are mounted on stainless, giving them a mirror image to reflect the light even more than it normally would. These are simple things and done well, are very effective."

The mean, green, fantastic machine, now hooked to a B-Train, is set to begin linehaul runs all around the country. "Even though the trailer, which was fully repurposed by Roadmaster Ltd, is 18 years old, you’d think it was brand spanking new," Greg says. "Fleet Image painted the truck - they did a wonderful job. With its new set of curtains, it’s a sharp-looking rig." Truck fabricator Nathan Neale and his son, auto electrician Kyle Hickford from Wired Auto Eelctrical, also helped bring the project to life.


Lights and plenty of chrome

Ideal Transport Engineering have three parts to their business, the others being Ideal Truck Services and Ideal Fabrication. First, the manufacturing side, the second for servicing and repairs, and thirdly, high-end bling: chrome, stainless steel and aluminium.

Greg and his wife Edwina set up their new business in Pukekohe 10 years ago and are pleased to have found business booming once more, having faced some tough times during the GFC in 2008-9. He’s a fitter and welder by trade, having done his apprenticeship in Kerepehi then worked with his father, Stuart, a transport engineer in Pukekohe. Greg has been in the transport engineering business for 28 years.

Setting up fresh in 2010 was a risk Greg and Edwina were prepared to take.

"After coming out of recession, I went truck driving for a year. When we began Ideal Truck Services, my aim was solely to do servicing and repairs, but once we got up and going and people realised I was building bodies again, we got into building trailers, trucks and everything. It went from there," Greg says.

"When our lease came to an end, we couldn’t find a place big enough for the whole business, so we decided to split the business onto two sites: Ideal Truck Services and Ideal Transport Engineering. Then seeing an increased demand for the high-end work stainless steel and chrome, luckily another workshop came available close by, so I snapped it up for Ideal Fabrication. Truck Services do all our hydraulic work for Transport Engineering and my certified welders go out to Truck Services to do the welding. Working on multiple sites keeps us humming along and allows us to put the workforce where we need it."

Greg has 15 employees including fitters, diesel mechanics, apprentices, sheet metal workers, fabricators and contractors with Edwina in the office. Building on his reputation and surrounding himself with the right people has been the key to his comeback, he says. "Within the industry, I knew a lot of people and had their backing, so that helped us to move forward."

The lockdown blues

Alloy fuel tank converted into a toolbox

Having navigated their way through the NZ-wide, Covid-19 lockdown, it was a rude shock for Ideal companies when a second lockdown hit and Auckland became an island in itself, marooned from the rest of the country. It impacted on business severely.

"The first one was good as gold; the government paid the wages for the guys, and everyone was in the same boat. During the second one, because we were in Pukekohe, right on the border, it put us on the back foot, big time. We had six staff members in Waikato who couldn’t get to work during lockdown. That was very soul-destroying, mentally and physically on our guys. Stress levels were high because they didn’t know if they were going to get paid or whether their jobs were safe, and I couldn’t give them any direction.

"You’d go to the boundaries where the police were and ask them, ‘why aren’t my staff allowed to come to work?’ They’d tell me ‘the Ministry of Health says you aren’t allowed to cross the boundary.’ Then you’d look on TV and here’s the police saying we are letting through 97% of the people and they were telling me my staff are the 3% that are not allowed through. It was a very stressful month."

Bouncing back

Fleet Images painted the truck

Greg is happy to report business is on the upward swing again. "We are busier now than we have been for the last three years. Why that is, I am not 100% sure, but the phones are ringing hot," he says.

"I usually get around 20% of my quotes in, but in the last three weeks, I am getting 50%. I don’t know whether it’s because people are changing directions with what they are doing or some other factor. I also think it’s because the interest rates are so low at the moment; guys might be taking the opportunity to upgrade their fleet."

Greg says the biggest complaint right now is getting enough available product. "I think the big corporations thought we’d be in a recession now and they pulled back on stock levels for New Zealand, and that’s hurting. Common size materials are just not available, and there are 2-3 weeks lead time to get parts, so yeah, it’s frustrating, but you adapt and change to the circumstance," he says.

"You find another way to do it - you’ve got to think outside the square. That’s what we did with that Freightliner; we thought outside the square and adapted along the way."

After lockdown, Ideal Transport Engineering moved into a new building in Nelson Street, Pukekohe and in August 2021, Ideal Truck Services will move into another purpose-built building in Austen Place, Pukekohe. Greg is pleasantly surprised at how things are working out, which goes to show that you never know what’s on the horizon. It might turn out to be the best thing ever. "The fabrication side of our business came out of the blue, just like the child you weren’t expecting or planning, but it’s there and doing very well," Greg says. 

"Engineering is flat tack too; we are outstripping our expectations."

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