FIFTY YEARS! That’s a bloody long time to be tackling the challenge of designing and building parts to withstand the ruggedness of outback travel, but that’s the impressive milestone Aussie off-road icon Terrain Tamer has reached this year.
Terrain Tamer founder Frank Hutchinson has been there since the beginning, back in 1969, when, after four years in the banking industry, he decided to start his own spare parts company, so began working as a parts supplier at the local Bedford General Motors distributor – then called GV Clarke.
“For four years I worked learning all about the spare parts industry and in the last year I met Don Kyatt,” Frank recalls. “I told him that I joined this company to get experience and I wanted to start my plan ... and so, with the workshops and with my Bedford knowledge, GV Clarke offered me 30 per cent discount because I was moving down south. I wasn’t interfering with them, they were to the north and the north-west of Melbourne … so GV Clarke saw me not as opposition but perhaps as someone who could be a good customer.”
It was also at this point that Frank asked Don Kyatt if he was interested in joining a relatively young new-business owner in his latest endeavour and Kyatt agreed. Frank was quick to realise the potential and even asked Don if he could name the business after him, as the Kyatt name was so well-known in the Bedford industry.
The next 10 years involved a lot of hard work, building relationships and, slowly in the background, watching the Bedford brand die in Australia – something Frank knew he had to have a contingency plan for. Enter Terrain Tamer.
“We kept selling the Bedford parts, but I knew that I had to go to something else,” Frank affirms. “So I was selling Land Rover parts, and I was selling Bedford four-wheel drive chassis to (Aussie tour operator) Bill King in the early days, but I knew that I had to come up with a 4WD brand of my own. And that’s when I saw the name Terrain Tamer come across me and I’ve gone, ‘Yes ... that’s my name, that’s the name I need’ and so I decided to call it Terrain Tamer. So the Don Kyatt name is still the company, but Terrain Tamer is the brand name.”
Frank even designed the Terrain Tamer logo: two ’roos backlit by a beautiful Northern Territory sunset.
Aussie tour icon Bill King was, back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, one of the groundbreakers in terms of outback tourism. It was Bill’s initial problems with potentially dangerous remote-area vehicle break-downs – where help was often days away – that saw Frank resolve to produce parts that could be relied upon in those testing conditions.
Terrain Tamer’s journey to highly regarded manufacturer and supplier of robust off-road aftermarket parts that, in its entirety, now contains more than 40,000 individual part numbers and is distributed globally, had begun.
On the rough roads
OVER THE next decade Frank continued in Bedford parts distribution and some parts for Japanese-brand trucks, but he focused more on his push into the four-wheel drive spare parts market, with a view to not only supplying true spares but also delving into design and manufacturing of improved 4x4 spare parts.
“So the other thing I came up with was to make some parts better than genuine,” Frank says. “Everybody used to go, ‘Oh, their part is nearly as good as genuine and they’re a lot cheaper’, and I said, well what about ... let’s make the parts better than genuine. And I remember saying to a couple of senior manufacturing directors, well, you know we make parts better than genuine in some cases because the mining companies, or people in the outback of Australia, the parts aren’t standing up. So Terrain Tamer got a name for making some parts stronger than genuine. I think that was a world first as far as what we did, too.”
It is the close attention to – and immersion in – the off-road community that has been an integral part of the continued growth and success of Terrain Tamer. Visiting mining sites to see just how punishing conditions are there for work vehicles, chatting to outback tourers and station owners – all of this has been the backbone of Terrain Tamer’s ongoing development of equipment and parts that meet the needs of vehicles in these circumstances.
Terrain Tamer’s modified fifth gear for Toyota’s 70 Series Cruiser (dropping revs by around 20 per cent) and heavy-duty brake pads and high-performance disc rotor range are a direct result of seeing how those parts are put through the wringer in trying conditions such as mine sites, as well as listening to the on-the-ground users of the vehicles.
“That’s the old story. I mean, it’s all about people,” Frank says. “You build a relationship with people and the same with our staff. You want the staff to be happy and you want them to enjoy what they’re doing; if people like you, they come back no matter whether you’re running a restaurant or you’re running a spare parts shop or running anything. It’s the same principles.”
This welcome attitude has also been responsible for the now 23-year-strong partnership with Terrain Tamer and probably its most famous employee, veteran off-road mechanic – now global social media star and brand ambassador – Allan Gray.
“I said to Allan one day, ‘What if I just buy you out and you work for us, and we can run the little workshop ’round the corner and you just take it easy?’,” Frank remembers. “I could see him getting older and it was a lot harder for him running a one-man workshop. He came back and said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do it.’ And you know, it was at least 15 years ago and my son Brent sort of made him famous now all over the world, so it’s amazing how that’s changed.”
Always thinking ahead
YOU DON’T stay successful for half a century by not keeping abreast of changes in the industry your business is involved in, and Frank and the Terrain Tamer team are the perfect example. This is reflected in the fact the company is still privately owned and both locally and internationally successful, thanks in no small part to its immense spare-part listing of more than 40,000 items and ensuring these parts are always available.
“That’s the situation with spare parts,” Frank says. “People ring us and we can supply everything for them. What they don’t want to do is ring around and make ten phone calls to get ten different parts.
“Number one, they want supply. Number two, they want service. Number three, they want quality. So we try and supply them and help them in all those three areas.”
And even though it’s been 50 years of adhering to these strong principles, Frank has no thoughts of retiring for an ‘easier life’.
“I’m enjoying it,” he says. “It’s like a never-ending cycle of improving things all the time, and so at this stage I haven’t put a date on when I’m definitely going to retire. So yeah, I’m happy working with my son (Brent). He’s trained in to sustain the same principles we’ve followed for the last 50 years, and he’s doing a great job.”
The success of Terrain Tamer – and the passion its owners and staff have for the brand – is a great reflection of its ethos of listening, problem solving and hard work, combined with the team’s innate understanding of what off-roaders want.