By Julius Grafton
In July we had the pleasure of a short NZ tour with ENTECH NZ Roadshow. Having done this across Australia for some years we were keenly anticipating our new experience.
Figuring out what to take was easy, we had airline baggage limits so no touring drawers cases or all the stuff we have at HQ. An Australian tour starts with about nine cubic metres of our freight. We have 2 cases of power cables, a case with black table cloths, another case with metal stands we use to signboard each exhibitor space. Then there is a drawers case for our touring registration, with laptops, printers, paper and working admin things. Another drawers case for tools, and a dolly loaded with 15 cable trays.
For NZ we hired everything we needed from Oceania, who also supplied our two trucks and crew. The way things turned out, we will review what we do in Australia.
It was almost exciting rolling up for the flight to Auckland on Sunday July 24th. I was joined by my long suffering senior colleague Steve James (pictured left) and our spank boy, Jackson (aged 19).
We were not impressed at the new deal from Virgin Australia which includes exactly no food at all unless you buy it. This marvelous innovation is also matched on Air NZ. After three foodless hours we arrived and queued for immigration, then the longer queue for customs screening. This almost always involves your bags being x-rayed, as the Kiwis have very strict biosecurity regulations and there are severe penalties for anyone who breaks the rules.
The queue is always entertaining as you inevitably see some hapless tourist bailed up and relieved of their food, feathers, bones, tusks, furs, skins, hunting trophies, stuffed animals and reptiles. Or their weird medicinal whatnots accompanied by futile protestations as the tut tutting border cops wave fingers and shake heads.
Finally into a taxi to experience the weirdness that is Auckland’s road system – the South Western Motorway from the airport to town suddenly stops and throws you onto suburban streets. Living in Sydney where the M4 motorway does the exact same thing, it almost felt natural.
We holed up in the Langham Hotel, which is most excellent, and enjoyed a small but excellent steak downstairs.
MONDAY: LOADING DAY
Our roadshow always starts from a freight depot where we unpack every exhibitor consignment. These are supposed to come ready roadcased, but often are on shrink wrapped pallets. On our SECTECH roadshow we marvel at the ingenuity and imagination that goes into what some cabinetmaker somewhere interprets is ‘a roadcase’. Some of those look like something from the Crypt in ‘Search for the Lost Tomb’.
We unwrap, make sure all the cartons on the pallet are labelled, and load these loose items into hired roadcases which we label with the exhibitor name. Our biggest day doing this was in Sydney last February where we had 30 exhibitor shipments with at least half on pallets. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at Oceania to find 23 consignments all lined up – with just two of them on pallets!
To make a good moment great, we then met the Evitan crew of loaders. Eight better guys you’d be hard to find – we were not sure what to expect. These guys threw themselves safely into the task. What was also unexpected and rewarding was that Oceania’s drivers – Conrad and Ford – were expertly and enthusiastically supervising and controlling the truck packing.
In Australia the general expectation is that the drivers stand around and watch, hands off, as the loaders load. We are used to the Australian pace, so the Kiwi pace was surprisingly brisk.
“So what does Evitan mean?” I asked a crew dude. “Bro, it means Native, backwards!”
Well inside two hours we were finished, as opposed to the usual four hours it takes in Sydney. Also refreshing is the hourly rate – we pay the loader agency NZ$27.50 per hour (A$25.80) and in Sydney we pay upwards of A$48 per hour. One difference is that in NZ they have a four hour minimum call, in Australia it is three hours.
Somewhat at a loose end, we went back to the Langham for some last minute visitor promotions and emails.
TUESDAY: SHOW DAY
New Zealand wakes up two hours earlier than Sydney so it was a crazy early start for the 6am load in. A nice constant winter shower was belting down outside as we loaded into a taxi for the short ride to the AOTEA centre.
There we were impressed to not only find our two trucks but also all our loader friends, and the venue event coordinator all on time and ready. The Lower NZI room was also ready to go, our event brief had been read and actioned. There was nothing in the way and the heating was mercifully turned on.
The first thing we do after induction is to measure and mark up the floor. On this tour we needed 29 spaces, each measures 3 metres by 3 metres. First thing we do is use a laser measure to crosscheck the venue plan is correct – sometimes they are out a bit. We can’t place a stand space across a fire escape or block a fire hydrant, and we have to also allow 3 metres aisles. We also look at where the three phase power originates as we need space for the distribution boards.
We use a rope marked every 3 metres as a short cut. Measuring and marking up at 6am before breakfast is never easy, the three of us blundered around while the loaders quickly unloaded and stashed the endless array of cases into a holding area.
Once we had 29 spaces marked up, we taped a sheet of paper with the exhibitor name in front of each. Then the loaders started to deliver cases to each space. Our attention turned to powering up.
New Zealand also redefined power up, because at each of our three cities the local crew were more than capable of following direction and also knew the fundamentals.
You’d think it is easy and you’d hope loader crews would know the basics. There are some rules. We start with everything being recently tested and tagged, and travel with more cable than we think we need.
We supply one ten amp feed to each space, this was a little confusing in Auckland as the Oceania three phase distro’s come loaded with 8 x 15 amp outlets, instead of the 12 x 10 amp we are used to in Australia.
Keeping 29 power runs neat and tidy was important, as was not leaving unused cable rolled up as this causes it to overheat when heavily loaded. Many of our exhibitors needed all 10 amps, so excess cable needed to be laid in a figure 8 pattern neatly out of the way.
Running power neatly is time consuming the first time you do it, luckily our morning schedules were totally under control in NZ due to crew enthusiasm and energy!
From venue entry at 6, we were powered up by 8 and ready for the exhibitors to come in and unpack their display gear. As they did, the loaders wheeled out their empty cases and stashed them.
A ROUTINE DAY
The loaders clocked off and went home progressively, leaving the three of us to run the registration and look after the exhibitors. After doing this many times, we were almost ready for anything and easily handled small issues that popped up.
Once happy hour came to a happy end at 6pm, the loaders regathered and the empty cases materialised. Exhibitors are always keen to get away and have dinner, so the pack down never lasts longer than 7pm. By then the kiwi crew had much of the power cables rolled and the floor just cleared.
This was were New Zealand won us over, because those drivers just smashed it, supervising their truck packs. We walked off the floor when the last exhibitor left, and were seated at dinner by 7.30pm. In Australia we have to do a final after the truck is supposedly ready to go as we often ‘find’ stuff that has been ‘overlooked’. This tedium has sometimes meant a mad dash for last orders at a restaurant at 9.30pm.
There are a few drivers in Australia who can be trusted to check a venue is empty, mostly they are simply automats that reliably drive from A to B and that’s it.
Such a beautiful city, showcased as you fly down the bay to land along the shore. The sign at the airport says ‘Welcome to Middle Earth’. A taxi ride around the bay delivers us to the Intercontinental Hotel which is right opposite our venue, Shed 6 at TSB Arena.
Walking past the venue we deduce it is available to mark up, and a quick call means we are in there doing tomorrow’s chore today. This was just as well because the load in is direct from truck to venue floor, there is nowhere to park cases while we mark up.
We’re enamoured with New Zealand now, and have a chilled evening meal at a restaurant a few blocks away. We’re glad we took an Uber because it was up hill and down dale to get there.
Next morning it is much more relaxed due to the floor markup being ready, so I just wander over and greet the loaders from Eugene Pope’s Strongback Crewing. I’m again infused with confidence because this is a bright and switched on mob, quite unlike some (not all) of the characters who turn up in Australia.
Everything then goes precisely to plan with the exception of the free parking which turns into a complete debacle. Wilson Parking are just a bit too big and impersonal, so a communications issue saw us given ‘Pay and Display’ tickets for the day.
Anyone who comes to our Roadshows knows that the usual routine at most big city parking stations is to grab a ticket from the boom gate and pay on the way out. We bulk buy exit tickets and hand one to each pre registered punter. But in Wellington this was not possible.
Wilson took our $3,000 and didn’t explain they changed to Pay and Display. This would never work, since the punters would need to park, leave the car un-ticketed, and walk to us to get the pay and display, then walk back to car to put it on the dashboard. In the meantime, they may have had an expensive parking violation.
‘What can we do”? we asked Wilsons. The answer was a variation of ‘tough luck’.
So we put several loaders wearing orange hi-viz at the entry to each car park (there were three different Wilson locations). Armed with a list of registered punters, they dished out the ‘pay and display’ ticket.
It was expensive, and it was deadly boring and cold for them. We deeply appreciate their willingness.
Steve and Jackson flew home on Friday and I headed to Queenstown for a weekend with Kate. We all reunited at the George Hotel on Sunday afternoon, one of the nicer places you’ll find anywhere.
Monday at 6am we are faced with minus four degrees and a lack of taxi’s, eventually we find an Uber and arrive late at the venue. Fortunately the drivers and Andre Goldsmith’s crew are already halfway through tipping the first of the Oceania pans.
I didn’t mention, NZ has a different trucking fleet to Australia where we normally tour in 48’ semi’s with a Kenworth up front. Over there they have a lot of Japanese imports, typically a Fuso rigid twin steer with a lazy axle. These carry about 60 cubic metres, compared to around 90 cubic on the Australian trailer.
Plus you can’t just ‘whistle up another truck’, like we can by using ATS in Australia. They are big enough to be able to do that, indeed we had that horror in February when we realised for a variety of reasons that we would not fit into two trailers.
Our Christchurch venue was the Airforce Museum and it was a bit out of town, on the site of the former Air Force Base at Wigram. The exhibition hall is very large and contains several aircraft. Luckily it also contains 22 kilometers of heating pipes under the floor!
The trucks could back in, and the door was shut to keep the warm air in. Apparently it takes several days to warm the place up, such is the huge volume of the enormous hanger.
We did a routine markup, and then wrestled with the unusual 60 amp 3 phase power outlets. Fortunately the venue had breakout boards, so after some searching and improvisation we had a successful power up.
The day proceeded as planned, everyone did the business, and when we pulled the plug at 6pm it was with firm knowledge that we would be back to do it all again in two years.