In the house Reece Allen grew up in, they had a saying: the four Allen boys never met a machine they couldn’t drive.
Reece, the owner of Jacob’s Equipment, puts it down to being a farm boy. “That’s just how we grew up – driving trucks and machinery,” he shares. “My dad owned a trucking business. We’d spend our weekends helping him load soil and doing deliveries. So, from a very young age, I was operating machinery”.
It was this dab hand at the wheel that ultimately led Reece towards a promising career in the earthmoving industry. But not before he tried his hand at a very different skill.
“I’m a qualified carpenter by trade – I did my apprenticeship back in 2004,” Reece says. “I was very ambitious as a young bloke. I wanted to be a builder and run my own business. That was the dream.”
That he did, picking up government stimulus work as a carpenter subcontractor. Unfortunately, the payment terms were a bit much to handle for a young kid, just starting out. “I was still in my teens,” Reece recalls. “And the problem was, the government paid quarterly. I wasn’t mature enough to handle that type of commitment. I bought a lot of toys – boats, motorbikes, anything a young bloke would want. Then I’d have to go home and ask my parents for money to see me through the next quarter. It just wasn’t working for me.”
Tired of the cashflow issues, Reece decided to give something outside the building industry a go. “I got a job with a maintenance company, mowing highways,” Reece explains. “I didn’t think it would last very long. it was only a stop gap to be honest – I was overqualified to be cutting grass. But I developed from there and became their lead machine operator.”
What had been a temporary solution soon became a new career path.
“The plan was to bide my time in that job until my older brother established his carpentry business, then work for him,” Reece explains. “But then I enjoyed the freedom of being outside on large work sites. When you’re building a house, you’re in the same spot for weeks. In the civil industry, your work site could be anywhere along a 40km road. It just felt like the industry I should be working in.”
Reece took up a new position with Evolution Road Maintenance (now part of the Evolution Group) which saw him develop a whole new skillset. “We did a lot of specialised things – bridge expansion joints on motorways, bearing replacements, bridge jacking and guard railing and wire rope installation,” Reece recalls. “I was using equipment only a handful of people in Australia know how to run. There’s no manual and no courses etc. At that point, I didn’t want to go back to carpentry. The civil industry was where I’d found my home. It’s what I wanted to do.”
The industry certainly loved him back. Reece moved rapidly through the business. “I started as a labourer, but quickly went to become a supervisor, then manager and regional manager. Now I’m the Group Regional Manager,” he says. “I’m looking after five depots from Coffs Harbor to Perth. I love my job and I love the company.”
As grateful as he is for his current job, planning a future for his family inspired Reece to strike out on his own. “I started Jacob’s equipment because a lot in my life changed,” he shares. “We had my son, Jacob, three years ago. And it’s hard for our generation to purchase new homes and things like that. So, I just thought – while I’m still young and able to work hard – I’d put everything I have into starting my own business on the side. I’d love to hand that over to my son, one day. If that’s the direction he wants to go.”
Of course, it’s a juggle managing a job, a family, and a side-business. “We have a couple of machines and a truck. And a little bit of work coming in for the equipment,” Reece says. “But Evolution Group has given me so much. I want to repay that, as well as doing what I know is right from my family. So, it’s about maintaining a clear separation – I’ll give everything I can to Evolution, then whatever’s leftover I give to Jacob’s Equipment.”
This isn’t Reece’s first rodeo when it comes to running his own show. “I had what I call a false start back in 2019 – I still had that little bit of immaturity about me,” Reece explains. “I’d just had a son. I was excited. And I went out and I purchased a heap of advertising – fridge magnets, cards, banner etc. But then I wasn’t ready.”
Learning from that experience, Reece took the time to do some careful planning so he could confidently re-launch his business. “It took two years to write and submit a proper business plan and do some market research,” he says. “It’s a competitive industry, so I wanted to see where I could add value and develop into that niche.”
Since he was starting out fresh, Reece felt he wanted to take that journey with a brand who understood where he was at. He found that with the Huski excavators – a newer offering in the market.
“I decided to go with Toyota Material Handling and purchase the new Huski machine,” he says. “I was looking at an alternative brand that was better known in the industry. But there’s just so much competition – everyone’s looking for an edge. Something extra to give to their customers. And, although Huski excavators are new to the market, it’s not a new company. And with a name for being one of the toughest and reliable vehicles in our market, I felt confident. I don’t feel they’d bring out a substandard piece of equipment.”
Of course, Reece did his research. “The Huskis have actually been in Australia for a couple of years,” he says. “I looked at where they’re made – they have good components and they’re put together in Italy. So, I went into Toyota Material Handling and had a go driving one. It was smooth. The same, if not better in some areas, than some of their competitors. And Huski skid-steer loaders have been one of the best in Australia for over twenty years so they have that name and that dedication to backup service. It just made sense for me.”
With that strong presence in the market Reece is sure he wasn’t the only one waiting for Toyota Material Handling to throw their hat in the excavator ring.
“People using the Huski skid-steers would ask them, ‘When are you bringing an excavator?’ Because everybody loves their skid-steers,” Reece explains. “The backup offered by Toyota Material Handling and the reliability. It was only a matter of time.”
But the brand took its time for good reason. “They needed to get it right,” Reece explains. “If you’re going to do an excavator, you get one chance in this market. If it’s a dud, no one will talk to you. I think that’s why it took them so long – they wanted to be sure they had something that would be a formidable force.
Reece chose to buy an excavator over other machine types, as he felt it had broader applications. “We started with the excavator because that’s the flagship of any business. So, we got that brand new with a custom-built trailer,” Reece says. “That’s the way to do it, because you can take on more work – anything you can do with skid steer, you can do with an excavator, but more. It made sense to build up some bank, then move to the skid-steer loader – which we did. Then we bought a truck and some extra gear after that.”
It’s Peter Bower who looked after them from Toyota Material Handling’s Sydney branch. Reece has been impressed with the sales process and service. “He’s been amazing,” Reece says. He even offered me to take one home and operate it for a couple of days to see what I thought. I didn’t take up that option, but the fact he was willing to go out on a limb and help a start-up business meant a lot to us.”
In terms of attachments, Reece has chosen a range of brands. “We’ve got the Digga auger attachment and some Universal augers. I wasn’t going to muck around with standard augers, so I actually got rock combination augers,” he says. “Sydney is built on one of the largest sandstone shelves in the world. So, I just went out and got what we needed to service our area.”
With downtime being the biggest expense in any earthmoving business, Reece was keen to buy a machine with excellent back-up service. “It hasn’t just been, ‘Hey Reece – here’s your excavator. Now go away, I don’t want to hear from you’,” he shares. “Pete calls up and asks how I’m going. We’ve spoken about servicing, too. Wherever I am, he’ll send one of his guys to give it the first service and make sure they’ve looked after me. So yeah, he’s been really good.”
Reece credits both Peter and Toyota Material Handling as a major support in starting Jacobs Equipment. “Peter stands out as someone who helped facilitate the start of my business,” he says. “Whether it becomes a multi-million-dollar business or stays humble, he’s one person that we’ll go, back to, ‘he was there at the start’. Toyota Material Handling was a company that really helped us out.”
Having done a few jobs on the Huski excavator, Reece reports that he’s more than happy with its performance. “It’s just so smooth,” he says. “They’ve packed a lot of power into a compact machine. And, being electronic over hydraulically driven, it’s grunty but not overstated or clunky. Typically, when you put the revs up high on an excavator that’s hydraulically driven, it’ll be jerky – especially on smaller machine. But the Huski suits our purposes perfectly.”
Ease of use is also a plus. “It’s a machine even a less experienced operator can get on and do a great job,” Reece explains. “And I won’t be operating it all the time – I might have one of the young blokes driving. Having the Huski means I don’t have to worry about the job he’s going to do, because the machines are so easy to use.”
The quality of the machine’s build is obvious. “It has been reinforced in all the right spots,” Reece says. “Typically, you start to see cracks and sloppiness. But the Huski is just so strong. Yes, it’s a nice-looking machine but, when you look closely, you can also tell it’s a tough little machine.”
And his favorite thing about the Huski? “The colour,” Reece laughs. “I love the light blue. It sends a statement. It’s eye-catching when you’re driving up the road. People look at it and you can see them thinking, ‘What’s that?’ You know, I’m looking out my window at the machine on its trailer right now and, yeah, it’s the colour. It’s gotta be the colour. It just gets to me.”
Good looks aside, Reece says he’d recommend Huski to anyone with absolute confidence. “They’ve got that guarantee of service and the backing of a large company,” he says. “Toyota is ingrained in Australian culture and the way we do things. Then you bring in their Toyota Material Handling range and it’s just a no brainer.”
Jacobs Equipment has enjoyed a solid start, working on a lot of drainage jobs. “There’s a few farms that have aqueducts buildups, so we’ve been clearing those out,” Reece shares. “At the moment we get work just through word of mouth. A lot of people were expecting me to make this move for a while. So ‘ve done zero advertising this time..”
In terms of the future, Reece feels Jacobs Equipment is on the right track, “For me, it’s a matter of just keeping on,” he says. “We have an excavator, a skid-steer and a truck. I’ve already spoken to Toyota Material Handling about a Huski skid-steer trailer combination. Then, if the business gets too big, it’ll be about getting someone I know and trust in to run it for me. I need to maintain my current employment level and repay the trust and respect Evolution Group has put into me. But it’s just not going to slow me down. If that means I need to pay someone to manage then I’ll do that.”
The ultimate dream, Reece says, is to have his little man, Jacob, take over. By the sounds of it, that wheel is already in motion. “He won’t get off the machine,” Reece laughs. “We’ve had to buy an excavator toy for his birthday that he can sit on and operate. We take it with us when we do jobs on a weekend. After I’m finished, he gets in the excavator and he sits on the same trench and has a go – a three-year-old! He says it’s his excavator.”
And so, the legend of the Allen boys’ uncanny driving abilities lives on.
For more information freecall Toyota Material Handling Australia on 1800 425 438 or visit huskiconstructionequipment.com.au