The Pallet Business – Is It Changing?
Letter from Ed
By Dr. Edward C. Brindley,Jr., Ph.D. Publisher
Date Posted: 5/2/2005
If somebody asks me what I have enjoyed about being in business, the number one answer is not money, it is people. My life has been enriched by our thousands of readers; many I know personally. Interacting and networking with pallet friends have been fun. I look forward to coming to work every day. I feel sorry for people who seem to hate their jobs because working is fun when you can share ideas with others. Getting to really know people is one of the biggest blessings of working within an entrepreneurial industry. But is this aspect of the pallet business changing?
I have grown to realize there are distinct differences between big businesses and smaller ones. One of these is the nature of management. I have experienced a more sterile, kind of indifference from many large businesses. The bigger a company grows, the more formal policies tend to become. While this may seem to be good on the surface, it also reduces the spontaneity of people who really care. Small business owners often pour themselves into their businesses. If you live and breathe your products and services, customers benefit.
Throughout most of our history, the pallet industry has been a family run and operated, entrepreneurial kind of business. Are we losing some of this? Should we want to lose some of this? Both answers may be yes.
Pallet people increasingly consider networking to be the major benefit from attending association meetings. This has been most pronounced in recycling, where our industry interacts more directly with customers on an operational level. More recyclers have multiple locations, and more have worked directly with customers providing services such as pallet management and dock sweeps. PalEx emerged in the 90s, to be replaced by IFCO and Pallet One. CHEP has emerged in our marketplace since the early 90s to be a dominant worldwide pallet leasing and management company. All of these are examples of the emerging bigger business aspect of the pallet industry.
Bigger may not always mean better as companies lose some of the personal touch that individual business owners bring to the industry.
Chaille has written an excellent article on strategies for healthy families building successful companies (pg.40). Reading this piece brought to mind a number of the things that I love about this industry. My pallet friends bring valuable social capital to their businesses, are willing to sacrifice in hard times, and have a trust between them. One of the things I dislike about dealing with any larger organization is not knowing who you will interact with from day to day. Family businesses tend to have greater stability at senior management. In a city, company managers often change with every other full moon. Rural areas, where mobility is more limited, tend to be more stable in this sense.
The same outside influence that makes big business seem so changeable can also be a benefit. Bringing in new people and fresh ideas can be the life blood of change. Family run businesses sometimes have blinders on because they do not avail themselves of outside advisers; the family can fail to see the forest because of the trees (pardon the pun). I love the energy that flows from entrepreneurs but respect that we can often limit ourselves.
Communication is an area where we sometimes excel and sometimes fall short. At times I have been accused by my staff of expecting them to know how I think. They are right. I try to preface all instructions and discussions with an understanding of the logic and why I think what I think. Then I hope they pick up on the concepts. A bigger business will document more and make it more sterile. Each method of leadership has its benefit. Ideally, we should mix and match to take the best from both worlds.
Are we getting too big for our own benefit, or do we have to think bigger in order to provide the products and services that customers will demand tomorrow? You be the judge. But as we grow, I certainly hope that we hold on to the good aspects of closely held, family run, entrepreneurial businesses, while we strive to improve.
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