20 years of Australian Coastal Shipping

AUSTRALIAN Coastal Shipping is celebrating a milestone this year. It’s been 20 years since the launch of ACS, and in that time the independent company has grown into a strong team of specialists in sea freight, rail and road transport services.

The company is now headquartered in Mount Gambier, South Australia, but its story begins with two workmates and a humble freight forwarding business.

A network of spare bedrooms

Business partners David James and Tom Pinder established ACS in 2004 when David identified a gap in the local freight forwarding market.

“For the first five years it was just the two of us,” David said.

“We were both working from our spare bedrooms at home – and working hard.”

The team expanded from two to three when ACS general manager Michael Johnston arrived in 2009. It now comprises a team of 11, predominantly situated in Mount Gambier, with additional team members working remotely in Adelaide and Melbourne. David attributes that growth to ACS’s ability to understand and comprehend its customers’ needs and provide a high-quality, tailored service.

“Our team actually takes the time to understand the needs and requirements of our customers,” he said.

Room to grow

The office dynamic experienced a notable shift when women began applying to work at ACS. David recalls a time when the industry, including his business, was driven by men who were passionate about freight forwarding. However, it has become evident that women could be equally passionate. Currently at ACS, the men are now outnumbered by women, reflecting a diverse and balanced workforce.

David James

David James

One of those women is Customer Care Specialist Megan Dempsey. Megan joined the team about two years ago. She lights up when she talks about her passion for customer service – this passion runs deep through the entire team.

Megan’s focus is mainly on the rail aspect of the business, but she enjoys exploring different facets of the company, such as shipping.

“We have this amazing team of professionals all very skilled in their particular areas of expertise, but as a team we are also able to support one another in our roles, which provides an opportunity for continuous learning and professional development,” she said.

“This collaborative approach not only enriches the team, but also ensures a seamless continuity of care for our customers.

“Seeing how much the business has grown in a short space of time, it’s just exciting to know that you’re making a difference.”

A melting pot of experience

Megan’s background is in neither transport nor logistics. She previously worked in local government, bringing her administrative and marketing skills into her role at ACS.

Megan Dempsey

Megan Dempsey

It’s a similar story for many of the staff at ACS, and the diversity of skills and backgrounds is intentional.

“The great thing about getting people from different industries is they bring all of this different experience and look at things completely differently,” Michael said.

“I mean, we’ve got someone who’s got a long history in local government, we’ve got a plumber, and we’ve got someone who’s managed and owned large hardware stores. The diverse range of experiences and exposures within our team brings valuable perspectives and expertise to the table.”

And from David’s perspective, the opportunity to train and sustain new recruits of all ages has enabled the business to grow.

“And the best part of it for me is seeing a new staff member join our team, and then six months later, seeing how far they’ve come. And after 12 months, how they’re actually becoming experts in the area that they’re working in. That to me is the best thing about the business that we have.”

Real customer service

The ACS culture that’s emerged over 20 years is the outcome of investing in community, staying small and valuing people. Long-standing relationships with partners and suppliers mean the company is able to service any location in Australia. The expertise that builds over time is what ACS customers experience in their interactions with the company.

Michael Johnston

Michael Johnston

But genuine customer service – a human connection on the other end of a call or an email exchange – remains a cornerstone of the business.

Communication technology has supported ACS over the past two decades, and it will continue to be an important part of the company’s growth. But Michael believes industry tends to let new technology overshadow and even replace people.

“That just goes against what we do; we use it to complement our services and make it easier to talk to us – not remove anyone,” Michael said.

“I believe it is so important to be authentic; I am really proud of the team that we have and the genuine care and effort they invest in moving freight anywhere in Australia for our clients.”