FRANK HUTCHINSON CELEBRATES 50 YEARS
Fifty years is a long time to have been facing the challenge of designing, manufacturing and exporting automotive spare parts, but Terrain Tamer’s Founder and Managing Director Frank Hutchinson is celebrating that exact milestone this year, with the company he started in suburban Melbourne in 1969
With only a few short years of experience learning about Bedford trucks as a parts interpreter for General Motors agent GV Clarke, Frank and his colleague Don Kyatt ventured out on their own with little more than $600 between them in 1969.
What they lacked in cash, they made up for with their computer like minds for parts interpreting; acute will to serve; sheer determination; and hard work.
In the early days Frank would start his day at 6am, visiting local workshops to take orders. He couldn’t afford to keep many parts on hand, so instead he would then visit individual suppliers to fulfil each of the orders before delivering them back to his customers.
“We didn’t even have enough money to pay ourselves wages at that stage, let alone keep hundreds of different parts, but a lot of our customers thought we must have had one of the biggest parts supplies in Melbourne and because I would deliver the orders, no one ever knew any different,” Frank explained.
As the company’s reputation grew, so too did their business, expanding to a second location in West Melbourne. Don retired early on, with Frank buying out his half of the business before taking it interstate and eventually internationally.
Over the years he grew it into the success story it is today, boasting more than 120 staff and 14 branches across Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Europe and most recently, Papua New Guinea.
While Frank continued to sell the Bedford truck parts he had started his business with, he also recognised the need to expand his range.
He had been selling a few Land Rover parts since the early days, but it was tour operator Bill King – who pioneered tour groups through the outback in the 1970s with Bill King’s Northern Safaris and formed what is today known as AAT Kings – that really made Frank take notice of the need for strong, durable 4WD parts.
Unable to fit many people in his Land Rover, Bill bought an M-Series Bedford to do the job instead, and was able to start sourcing parts from Frank, who was just up the road from his Melbourne headquarters.
Soon after, Frank sourced two Bedford 4WD truck chassis out of Germany that had been completely knocked down and sold them to Bill, knowing that these would be the perfect size for his tours and would fit a lot more people.
As they put the vehicles back together, they managed to convert them to right-hand drive, and Bill could finally expand his tour numbers with reliable vehicles that were ready to go.
If he ever needed replacement parts, and he often did in Australia’s harsh and unforgiving outback, Bill would come straight back to Frank. He liked the service and Frank was able to provide him with parts that would not only fit his vehicles, but last the distance.
“Working with Bill on those early tours was a real eye opener,” Frank remembers.
“It really showed us what the Australian outback was capable of doing to a vehicle, and what needed to be better and stronger. That formed a lot of the basis for what would become our Terrain Tamer brand.”
From there, the journey for Frank and Terrain Tamer of researching, designing, testing and manufacturing 4WD parts that are equal to or stronger than their original equipment equivalent began.
In 1979, Frank advertised for a motor mechanic and hired the one applicant who responded, a cocky mechanic he remembered from his time at GV Clarke, named Jim Dean.
At the time, this meant they were able to offer mechanical maintenance and engine reconditioning, but it would mark the beginning of a 40-year working relationship that would see Jim eventually become the General Manager of the company, spearheading many of Terrain Tamer’s innovative programs and initiatives.
Jim’s mechanical background allowed him to work closely with Frank to design practical solutions to the common problems that customers would report, and was key in researching and designing a modified input shaft for the Toyota Landcruiser 79 series, one of Terrain Tamer’s earliest innovations.
The shaft essentially increased the strength of the gearbox by up to three times and was one of the most popular parts in Terrain Tamer’s range at the time, one of the first of many that the brand could claim improved on the OE counterpart.
“No-one was really improving on parts back when we started,” Frank says.
“I’d mentioned the idea to many people and was always met with the same reply – why would you? Genuine was the pinnacle and they weren’t interested in fixing what they didn’t think was broken, but so many of these parts just weren’t standing up to what they needed to do.”
As 4WDs have increasingly become the vehicle of choice for industries and drivers, the problems that Frank assisted Bill King with all those years ago have now become the problems of mine operators, cattle station owners and recreational drivers around the world, and are constantly presenting Terrain Tamer with new parts to modify and new challenges to solve.
Many of Terrain Tamer’s more recent innovations have been driven by finding solutions to address the challenges of the mining industry, where vehicles work all night and day in extremely harsh conditions, and the constant maintenance of vehicles comes at a considerable expense.
Terrain Tamer reports one mine where vehicles worked constantly in underground slush, in conditions so trying that if they didn’t change brake pads every five days, they’d have to change both the pads and the rotors every seven.
Original Equipment componentry isn’t built for this kind of environment, says Frank, so knowing that these mines maintain a huge fleet of vehicles and that they need vehicles back in working condition as fast as possible, Terrain Tamer designed parts such as its Heavy-Duty Break Pads and High-Performance Disc Rotor range out of a need for improved parts that will last months, not days.
“Having ten or twenty vehicles off the road at a time obviously isn’t ideal,” Frank said.
“Time is expensive for any mechanic but especially in the mines, so we work on developing parts and solutions to help them save time and money on constant ordering and maintenance.”
After 50 years, Terrain Tamer is still privately owned, exports into more than 80 countries around the world and boasts an unmatched catalogue of more than 40,000 different part numbers, but Frank says this is only part of what has made his business so successful.
“Customers want supply, of course, but above that, they want service, they want to be treated well, and of course they want quality. We’ve just always tried to help them in all of those areas,” he said.
“I think our success and our longevity is a reflection of the passion all of our staff have for the brand, and the culture of listening, problem solving and hard work that has been our point of difference since day one.”
For more on Terrain Tamer, visit www.terraintamer.com.au