Attcall Civil

Attcall Civil and Kobelco: a partnership to last every season

Nature has a way of breaking what does not bend, and since change has been a constant for Clint McKinnon, Managing Director and founder of Attcall Civil Contractors, you’d have to assume he’s someone who rolls with the punches.

Even the story of how Attcall Civil got started demonstrates Clint’s ability to see when something’s not working, take stock, and seek out a new path to tread.

“I was a truck driver in the early days and wasn’t making a hell of a lot of money,” he shares. “I blew a tyre on the way to the markets one day with my family in the car. And we worked out we could either repair the tyre or buy some clothes for our daughter. And I said, this just isn’t the way for me. My parents helped me secure a loan for $50,000, and I used that money to purchase a Bobcat and a tipper. That was back in 1995.”

Of course, Clint was no stranger to the industry. “My father was always in the earthmoving business,” he says. “In his younger days, he drove dozers, excavators, and trucks. That gets into your blood. So, it was the easiest route for me, as I’d done it casually, previously. I had some expertise, and I knew that’s where I had to go.”

The first business was originally named for Clint and his wife, Michelle. “So, we were C&M McKinnon Excavations,” he says. “But, at the time, we also registered another business, Attcall Plant Hire and Haulage. The idea was we were always ‘At Call’ – you call, and we’ll supply. That’s why the phone is on our logo. And, as we developed the business into more plant hire and haulage, we reverted to Attcall Hire and Haulage. Because the name told you exactly what we did.”

In those early days, the business concentrated on Bobcat and hourly hire works. “Just before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, there was plenty of that type of work around,” Clint recalls. “After that there was a slowdown in the industry. That hourly hire work went away as people started doing their own works with their own machinery. It didn’t kick back into gear again until around 2004, when some more infrastructure works came back into New South Wales.”

That period was a bit of a struggle. But the McKinnons reframed it as a challenge. “We started tendering our own works to building companies and such,” he says. “Winning projects as the second tier – so, there’d be the developer or the builder or the state government, and then us.”

Kobelco Customer Attcall Civil

Come 2009, the GFC brought new challenges. “Once again, we got hit with that downturn in the industry where hourly works weren’t relevant,” Clint says. “But we were able to maintain a level of civil contract works. So, we designed a new business, incorporating our core civil contract brand. From then on, we’ve been Attcall Civil Contractors and we’ve concentrated on contracting our own projects.”

That ability to change and evolve is something Clint feels is essential for success in any venture. “Business is difficult at any time,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to expand and contract as needed. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, whether it be weather, fires, COVID, global financial crashes, or recessions. But I think a business that can adapt will make it. And we’re fortunate we’ve got good clientele and support. We’ve been able to stay around.”

Not that it hasn’t been a steep learning curve over the years. “I came in as someone who knew nothing about running a business,” Clint says. “It was simple goals in the early days; make XYZ per week. But, once you start to grow, if you take that same methodology forward, knowing what you need to earn every week to survive and what your risk value in that is, that helps along the way.”

The business now boasts a whole raft of different types of machinery, but it all started with a skid steer.

“The skid steer was an easy way of getting in,” Clint explains. “It was very low-cost. Not like going out and spending $300,000 on a new dozer. And the return on the capital with just a skid steer and a small truck was pretty good. There was plenty of work around if you were good at it. So, like any business, we started small and evolved as we grew. And we have been very fortunate. We’ve picked up great clients and formed some really good partnerships, including Kobelco.”

When Attcall first got into excavators, Kobelco wasn’t really on the radar. “In the early days we had a Caterpillar excavator,” Clint says. “That’s what was around at that time and Kobelco weren’t well-known like they are now. They’ve come a long way with their branches and service ability. Also, the machines themselves..”

As the brand got traction, the potential cost savings made it a no-brainer to give Kobelco a go. “We always look for a financial gain in the market,” Clint explains. “And Kobelco could offer that. They had a great quality machine at a competitive price. And they did a lot of work around servicing and parts supply. So, when you weren’t losing out on the other end and you were saving money on the purchase price, that’s going to make people head that way.”

The first Kobelco Clint purchased was a secondhand 7.5-ton knuckle boom. “It was a small round cab with a sliding door, it was a great machine,” he recalls. “We went for the knuckle boom for the versatility. When you’re a small business and you only have one machine that size, it’s best if it can do multiple jobs. And with that machine, we weren’t limited to one type of excavation.”

Kobelco Excavator On A Jobsite

These days, Attcall has more than 20 Kobelco machines on the books. “We have around one hundred pieces of plant all up, but obviously Kobelco only do excavators,” Clint says. “But that means they’re very good at what they do. And we try to only use the best.”

So, how does a small business achieve that kind of growth? “It really comes down to the quality of the operators and staff who work for us,” Clint says. “That and really good clientele. And, also, a bit of luck. Business is so often based on that. If you’re in a conversation and that turns into something else, then it’s just luck.”

That said, Clint acknowledges you make some of your own luck, especially in terms of having that reputation for being a business that people can count on. “Reliability is so important in the construction industry,” he says. “And the machinery is a big part of that. You have to be able to turn up every day and know they’ll just work. That’s why, across the board, we don’t tend to go with cheaper brands.”

Downtime is the biggest cost for any earthmoving business, but particularly for Attcall with their dual model of contracting and dry hire. “We’ve always had the dry hire side of the business,” Clint says. “It’s how we supply more machines for ourselves as contractors and gives us links to other companies. That way, if the machine’s sitting in the yard and somebody wants it, it can still be working for us. So, reducing any downtime is critical. When one machine’s down, it could affect 12 other trades on the site that day. So, there’s that knock-on effect. But we have very little downtime with our Kobelcos.”

Even beyond the quality of the gear, Kobelco has become a key business partner for Attcall. “We’ve built really strong relationships with the dealer principles because of that original machine,” Clint shares. “We deal with Michael and Ralph Gerace, the principles at STM – Sydney Trucks and Machinery. They’ve been great friends for the last 30 years. Originally, they were more into Iveco, Mitsubishi, and International trucks. But once they got into the Kobelco brand, we jumped on board with them in a big way.”

Clint reckons having that dealer relationship is very important. “They’ve done things for us that a normal dealer wouldn’t do,” he explains. “They supplied another machine when ours is down and they couldn’t get something for it. Engaging with us around future planning. These days, they’re taking on some of the servicing of our machinery and costing that prior to purchase. And the service ability is second to none.”

On that, Kobelco seems to have done a great job with parts supply at their Eastern Creek facility. “They’d have to be among the best,” Clint says. “We are never down because of parts. And it seems like everybody else has struggled with that over the past 12 months. It just goes to show the effort they’ve put behind that. And that’s effectively a bonus for the dealers – having that part supply to back their service.”

Clint says he’s even had the opportunity to experience, firsthand, the pride Kobelco take in offering the best quality gear. “We did a trip to Japan a few years ago and saw the factory there,” he says. “It was an eye-opener for us to see how much effort goes into building these machines. They’re very open and straight-up guys. They take on board what you say and use that information to improve what they do.”

The most recent Kobelco to join the fleet is the SK380 XD. “It’s a 38-tonnner, so a lot heavier duty than the standard machine,” Clint says.

“It’s been upgraded in its pumps and final drive areas. In the track gear and the extended dipper arm. And it’s got a higher value from the top of the track to the running board. The extra clearance underneath the machine gives the operator a better visual. It’s also got a slightly longer dipper arm, which means we can excavate further in the ground from one point. And the hydraulics on it – a lot of machines can either bulk out well, or trim up well. This machine allows us to do both. So, the hydraulic pressure in it is very good.”

Clint McKinnon on the new SK380XD

They decided to purchase both the zero-swing SK380SRLC and the standard SK380XD model. “Both of them serve a purpose,” Clint says. “We are finding that we do need some of those bigger machines in tighter places. But where we don’t need it, we use a conventional machine. They’re just a bit easier on the load side of it. A bit more balanced.”

Clint says industry changes demand that larger size machine. “They’ve taken over where we used to use a 30-tonner,” he explains. “We’re moving away from inner-city works out to areas with more open space. Plus, we’re expected to work at a faster pace. And, because we don’t want to push the operator harder, we go with larger machines for certain works. That way they can get their job done in less time, without extra pressure.”

With every development, Clint sees advantages beyond the features of any one Kobelco model. “Anything that’s an improvement within the machine goes towards the longevity,” he explains. “We used to say 5 or 6,000 hours was the end of that kind of gear. Now they’re pushing upwards of 12. That stretches our purchase price over a longer period. So, the running costs of that machine are down. And it just gives us a longer time with the machine.”

Speaking of running costs, fuel economy has, of course, become a major concern. “Fuel economy has never been more important,” Clint shares. “With the price rises, we’re pushing 70 cents a liter more per day. So, if we can get an economical fuel range out of it, it’s obviously better for us. And our Kobelcos stack up really well in terms of that. They’d be probably 10 to 20% better off in fuel economy. It’s a big gap.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the machines are easy on the eye. Presentation, Clint says, is very important in business. “Your brand, these days, is a big factor,” he explains. “We’ve always thought about that. And we’ve never been shy in branding our gear. We want people to know who we are. But in that way, it’s your people that make the biggest difference. As one of our BDMs always says, our customers see us maybe once a month, but they see the guys out on site every day. So, we try to make sure they’re very respectful of that when they’re wearing our logo.”

Looking towards the future, as a family business, there’s a new generation coming through. “I’m still the managing director – although sometimes it doesn’t feel that way,” Clint laughs. “My children are starting to take over. I’ve got my oldest son, Jacob, as General Manager. And my youngest son, Brandon, is General Manager of Operations. My daughter is head of HR and administration and Michelle, my wife, is in there doing wages and some of the accounting. Then there’s also my daughter-in-law who does our media and events planning. So, it’s a big family business, now. It’s time for me to step a little to one side and let the younger guys come through.”

Clint says he hopes in 10 years you’ll find him roaming around Australia somewhere in a caravan. “We see generations in this business, not just one,” he shares. “I’d like to think we’ll still be here in a hundred years’ time. That I meant something. Left a legacy.”

With that young blood in the business, Clint expects there’ll continue to be changes and developments. “I hope the guys venture out and take it in a new direction,” he says. “They have different goals from what I had. I just wanted to provide for my family. They’ve got the security of quite a large business behind them. So, they’re a bit freer to have different ideas. I think that’ll see us go a long way.”

With such a strong relationship with Kobelco already established, Clint is confident that won’t change anytime soon. “My kids also have that relationship with those businesses,” he says. “And with Kobelco’s backup and the quality and reliability of the machines, there’s no reason to break it.”

In the short term however, Clint’s staying put. “There’s still that responsibility for me to be here,” he says. “I’m still the founder and head of the business. And while there’s a part to play, I’d like to play it.”

Written by: Australian Earthmoving Magazine

Kobelco Machine Working On A Jobsite