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The power and the passion: how Jones Quarries Group is making things happen

Dan Jones, founder and Managing Director of Jones Quarries Group, is living proof of what can be done when you put some drive behind a dream. After cutting his teeth in the family business, he followed his gut, taking a confident leap out on his own to chase down the possibilities of reaching new markets, offering an exciting range of new products.

“It all began with my grandparents, who started Country Improvements Proprietary Limited in the 1970s,” Dan explains. “Pa was building dams and carrying out rural property works, and Grandma took care of the office side of the business. By the early 80s, they’d started buying up the quarry and then, over the next decade or so, they moved into selling the boulders and crush products.”

Like many in this industry who grew up around machines, Dan’s family album reveals an early interest in the family trade. “We were always around the gear. So, I was probably drawn to it because of that,” he shares. “And once I started working with Pa full time, that interest grew even further.”

For Dan, that spark grew into a real passion. And, as he studied for his business degree, he developed a clear vision for exploring new possibilities. “That’s when the quarry really changed direction,” he shares. We started making different products, but I also started to see gaps in the market. And that’s ultimately what led me to set up Jones Quarries Group.”

Not only did striking out on his own give Dan some wriggle room to grow, it also took a bit of the pressure off his grandparents. “I saw the potential of growing the business – different product lines and different gear for different projects. It really excited me,” he shares. “Obviously my new venture works alongside the existing business. But starting my own thing let me take on that bigger portion of the market, without Pa and Grandma having to worry about new clients coming through the door and all that extra workload.”

When it came to gear, Dan says his Pa’s always kept things pretty simple. “He had a couple of old dozers in the early days. Probably Komatsu and some of the old Caterpillar dozers,” he recalls. “Later he started buying wheel loaders and excavators. Never a huge amount of gear at any one time. Just upgrading when he could afford it.”

Daniel Jones with his dad John Rees.

In buying his first machine, a brand new Kobelco SK380XDLC, Dan was glad to have the benefit of his Pa’s experience to guide him. “I’d seen him buy both new and secondhand gear,” he says. “We were constantly getting mechanics to work on our secondhand gear. That’s more money and more downtime the business has to consume. I learned pretty quickly that, if you can afford to, it’s best to go with new gear.”

Add market conditions into the mix, and buying a new machine truly was a no-brainer. “Obviously it was a big overhead for a new business. But with the pricing of secondhand models at the time, while I had to wait a few months for the new digger to arrive, the cost was about the same, just without thousands of hours on the machine,” he says. “Then there’s the warranty and backup service. I was happy to be patient. And I was confident we had the work in front of us to be able to make things work.”

It’s a decision he’s glad of every time he starts up. “I can jump in, do my pre-start, and know that she’s going turn over and there’ll be no leaks, or anything like that,” he shares. “And, say there were any issues, that’d be fixed straight away. It’s a good sense of security, knowing you’re not risking any downtime. That’s essential for a new business operation.”

The machine is part of Kobelco’s heavy duty range, which is specked up to be suitable for quarry applications. “It’s essentially a SK350 with extra steel added for strength and stability,” Dan explains. “It’s perfect for our purposes. It had the right oil flow, the right pressure, the right weight to handle our attachments. We got quotes on a few different makes, and Peter Moore – and all the guys at our local Kobelco dealer, STM Trucks & Machinery– were great to deal with. We felt reassured this was the right equipment for our application and we’re very happy we went with the Kobelco.”

Daniel Jones with Peter Moore from STM.

Dan says working with STM was nothing short of fantastic. “I reached out to them for a quote, and Peter was the sales rep who contacted me. After I began dealing with him, I spoke with a few guys in our industry who also run Kobelcos and, funnily enough, they also dealt with Peter and couldn’t speak highly enough of him,” he shares. “It was good to know we were in safe hands. If ever we have any issues or questions, they’re on the phone straight away. The service is second to none.”

In the end, Dan says his purchase decision really came down to a combination of factors. “They were very competitive on price, which, being my first digger, was pretty important for me,” he explains. “And the warranty was among the best offered. But honestly, it was the overall feel I got from being at the STM yard dealing with Peter. And even the office staff there created a warm feeling for me and my partner.”

With downtime being any business’ biggest risk and cost, Dan reckons backup service is key to success. “We need production to run as consistently as possible to keep us on track,” he says. “Knowing that you’ve got a team around you who’ll get you back on the ground as quickly as possible is very important.”

Daniel Jones and Peter Moore

Any defence against downtime obviously includes maintenance. “Obviously we do all our own pre-start checks. But STM are handling any major upkeep of the machine,” Dan says. “So far, they’ve been fantastic to deal with. They show up when they say they will, which is very important. If we’re waiting around thinking somebody’s on their way and they never arrive, that’s time we could have been using the machine and generating income.”

In terms of attachments the Kobelco spends most of its time set up for sawing. “We’ve got two saws – one has three blades, and one has four. Basically, first you saw one direction with the triple blade. Then you swap attachments to the four blades, putting your crosscuts into it.,” Dan explains. “So, the idea is to get a perfect dimensional grid without having to mark every individual cut using a single blade, which really speeds up the process.”
Such specialty gear could only have come from a handful of places. “There’s only a couple of guys doing it, but it was Mick from Earthmoving Attachment Tools that built ours,” Dan says. “Pa had bought from him before and the feedback from people who had bought his saws for similar applications was great. So, we were very quickly pointed in his direction.”

For hitches, Dan has stuck with Geith. “I’ve got a Salmon GP bucket, and we went with the Geith because that’s the same hitch we had on our other digger,” he explains. “That way we knew all the attachments could be used interchangeably without any modifications. My grandfather’s always used Salmon – now known as SBA – and they’ve got a good relationship. So, we were keen to keep that going forward.”
Dan also has his Pa’s haul to dip into. “He has just about any style of bucket and ripper that you can get without getting too crazy with modifications,” Dan says. “So, yeah, I borrow bits of gear now and then. That’s, the beauty of having the same size hitch as his digger.”
Working together, the businesses serve a pretty broad customer base. “Obviously the larger blocks we produce are generally used for retaining walls. That might be someone working in their backyard, all the way up to a big civil project,” Dan says. “So, we’re not targeting based on the dimension or product. If they inquire with us, we’ll take on the order, as long as we can produce it. It’s exciting to see people use our products in ways we may not have thought of.”
Right now, Dan’s wearing a lot of hats, from Managing Director through to operating and being the first point of contact for sales. But that won’t always be the case. “We’ll definitely have a sales team at some point,” he shares. “But I think it’s always good to chat to your clients directly and build that relationship. It creates trust and means you understand their needs.”

Dan’s father is also currently upskilling to take on a new role within Jones Quarries. “He’ll eventually be operating the machine full time,” Dan explains. “He obviously has had a lot of experience in mines over the years, but more in digging and loading. The sawing application takes a bit of getting used to. So, right now he’s learning to operate the saws, and eventually he’ll be the main operator. Then we’ll put on another staff member to take over his current role.”

In terms of getting work, Dan’s approach to social media has proven to be a real asset. “A lot is word of mouth via a decent local client base. But one thing that’s really working well for us is our social media presence,” he shares. “Our promotion via our Instagram page is winning us a lot of work. But the key is, I’m never directly trying to sell the products. Just sharing what we do each day in the quarry – because I love it and people are interested. And now a lot of the inquiries coming through the door mention they’ve seen our page. We’re sending product up as far as the Gold Coast now. So, our reach is definitely growing.”
Surely the fact that Kobelcos look the business doesn’t hurt when it comes to stopping the scroll. “Presentation’s so important for attracting the right type of clients,” Dan says. “It demonstrates pride in your work. And I do think the Kobelco colour stands out from the rest. There’s no doubt about that. Drive past any work site and you always notice the Kobelcos first.”
Dan was also keen to get the machine sign written with the company name. “That was a no-brainer,” he says. “There’s a lot of people seeing our equipment and our products and our operation in the quarry now that previously wouldn’t have. So, we need to make sure we’re doing everything to a high standard. A fleet of well-branded, beautifully maintained machines will attract the best staff in the future, too. Separate us from some of the competition.”

In terms of that future expansion, Dan is taking a level-headed approach. “I’m not looking to set the world on fire straight away,” he laughs. “Just to grow the team and increase production at a steady rate. Build a good client base. Build a good following on social media. Build a recognisable brand. We don’t have to be the biggest necessarily, just a brand people know and respect, so when they think of sandstone, they think of us first.”

With sandstone, there are set volumes you can extract each year, but Dan says they’ve got plenty of room to ramp that up. “We’re operating well under those volumes at the moment,” he explains. “So, there’s definitely opportunity to increase production. That’s the biggest goal; to maximise output and offer a new range of exciting products. Not just the standard stuff we’ve done previously. That keeps things interesting for everyone working with us.”

Kobelco is definitely putting power behind Dan’s passion. “Since getting that machine, production’s increased at least 30 to 40%,” he shares. “If we can add another machine to the fleet in the next 12 to 18 months, we’ll be pushing a 60- 70% increase. And if we can maintain our margins at those increased rates, we’ll be in a good position to keep growing for the next four to five years at least.”

In the longer term, Dan’s keen to bring more of his operations in house. “I’d like to have our own fleet of trucks,” he says. “We use a lot of subcontractors. And they’re great, but I’d love for us to handle everything from the haulage to the quarry operation, to the sales side of things. It’s easier to serve your clients when you know, off the top of your head, what time a truck’s going to be in a certain place, who the driver is, and what material they have on at a certain time. Just makes for a smoother operation, overall. So that’s going to be important for growing the business.”

With so much going on at work, any downtime Dan enjoys is spent at the gym. “That’s my main outlet,” he shares. “You can’t beat it after a stressful day. I prefer a simple life. I love the gym. Love getting to the beach when I can. Enjoying time with family. Living pretty low key, really.”

So, as someone living the dream, what’s Dan’s advice for someone looking to set themselves up with their own venture?
“Don’t be scared to take on risks other people might tell you not to,” he shares. “There’s plenty of people offering advice who haven’t taken those risks themselves. But the mentorship you need is from people who are operating where you want to be. Otherwise, follow your heart and trust your instincts. If you’re passionate, there’s a lot more chance things will work out.”

How’s that for good advice.



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