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The Pallet Business Is a People Business
It''s still pallets, but pallet recycling is a poeple business.

By Clarence Leising
Date Posted: 2/3/2004

I once worked for a medium sized pallet shop that was purchased by a large corporation. The new owners came in and told us they liked our place, they liked how things were run and how things were done. They were not going to change a thing. Not long after that, I moved to another state.

            About a year and a half later I received a call from the new management. They asked if I would come by and talk to them. What I found when I arrived was that there had been an almost complete turnover of employees since I left. The managers wanted to know why they were not getting the same level of production as they were before the takeover.

            I started looking around. I asked them where were some of the employees I had worked with before – some of the most productive workers the company had at the time. I was told that those employees did not fit the company’s new image and were no longer employed.

            Didn’t fit their image? What does that mean, I asked? Well, they had long hair. They consistently came in late, were dirty most of the time, and had some other bad habits.

            But what the managers did not seem to understand was how many pallets these ‘bad’ employees produced on a daily basis. Most of them consistently built 300 pallets a day. One made 400 a day. Another could build 400 mats per day.

            They were a phenomenal work force. They clearly knew how to do their jobs, and they did them well.

            But the corporate image was apparently more important to the new managers than production. So what happened within two years of the takeover? They went out of business. As smart as they were, or thought they were, they missed the most important aspect of running a successful business – people.

            One undeniable fact is that the pallet business is a people business. The tasks of handling pallets, dismantling them, repairing pallets and building pallets are physically demanding and labor intensive. It takes a very special type of person to do it, day in and day out. They are very hard jobs to fill. But when you find the right person and put them in the right work environment, the combination can be very rewarding for both the worker and the employer.

            A pallet business must be run very differently than many other businesses. If you only look at the numbers, you are in trouble. If you decide that image is the most important thing, it is only a matter of time before you lose it all. The point is that when big corporations take over, they no longer value people.

            I know of a pallet shop in Jackson, Miss. where the owner truly understands the value of his people, and he works hard to earn and maintain their loyalty. All of the employees come from homeless shelters. At the morning and afternoon breaks, he provides them with a snack and a drink. He gives them a free lunch. At the end of the day he gives each one $6 for ‘pocket money’ to do something after work. He helps them find housing and other support and service they may need.

            In return, they are completely loyal to him. They show up and work hard every day.

            This is what this country was built on: small businesses that do the right thing, prompting their employees to do the right thing.

            Large corporations will never understand this. So don’t worry: they tend to take care of themselves and go away as fast as they came on the scene.

(Editor’s Note: Clarence Leising is a representative of Eagle Metal Products and previously held management positions in pallet recycling companies in the Northeast for 25 years.  He also is the author of Pallet Head, a book about how to run a pallet recycling business. He may be contacted at (800) 521-3245.)

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