Small German Pallet Company Offers Retrieval Services in Much of Europe
A modest German pallet company, Alles Paletti-Paletten (AP Paletten), has chosen to stay out of the extremely large and competitive Europallet market.
Date Posted: 12/1/2005
In North America, we often think of Germany, the world’s largest manufacturer of the EPAL or Europallet, as a country dominated by that competitively priced pallet. Indeed, Germany is known for high volume pallet manufacturing plants that produce as many as
One modest German pallet company, Alles Paletti-Paletten (AP Paletten), has chosen to stay out of the extremely large and competitive Europallet market.
"If you have your own specialties, it is more difficult for the competition to copy," explained Karin Jake, joint owner of AP Paletten.
Norbert Jake, who would later become both her business partner and husband, was the director of another pallet
The business proved to be a challenge, however. Less than a year later, the owner moved with his family back to Italy, and the business began to struggle. It was during this difficult period that Norbert and Karin became convinced that they would be better off launching their own business.
The couple started their company in 1990 near Frankfurt. The first location was situated at the plant of a customer –
In the mid-90s, Norbert’s eldest son began his own pallet company in Ebschied, East Germany. The two independent businesses cooperated in some operations and customer service.
AP Paletten now is located south of Frankfurt in a small village of only 20 houses. It is situated on the site of a former World War II German military base.
The company ships about 1,500 pallets daily, a volume similar to the East German plant. Operations are contained in a building about 320 feet long.
AP Paletten specializes in heavy duty chemical and petroleum pallets as well as international pallet retrieval programs. Karin characterized the company’s sales as about 50% recycling (buying and reselling pallets), 40% repair and retrieval services, and about 10% manufacturing custom new pallets.
AP Paletten has customers in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, and Austria, and also retrieves some pallets from Czechoslovakia. A typical request for service involves retrieving pallets from locations in Germany, performing repairs, and then returning the refurbished pallets to a plant in another country, such as Belgium.
Each plant employs about 20 workers. Inbound pallets typically are sorted first prior to repair. Pallets that are not feasible to repair are disassembled on a Smart Products bandsaw dismantling machine. The company has been very pleased with the performance of the machine, which it purchased several years ago from CODIX, a French equipment supplier, and rewired for European electrical systems. It uses one blade per week, which is sourced locally.
Recycled boards are trimmed as needed on an end-trim saw. Scrap wood is supplied to a nearby chipboard plant.
The company is equipped with a French built Stanley-Bostitch nailing machine for assembling heavy chemical and petroleum pallets.
AP Palleten deals mainly in softwood pallets. It buys softwood lumber cut to length and composite wood blocks. The company also builds pallets from recycled lumber and even plastic material.
AP Palleten invested in a Vanicek dry kiln from Austria for heat-treating pallet components and lumber to meet ISPM requirements. "It is a very good working - the Rolls Royce of kilns," said Karin. The kiln has a capacity of about one truckload of pallets per charge.
With its focus on pallet retrieval, AP Paletten’s in-house truck fleet plays
Karin created a unique lavender color scheme for the company’s trucks. "When one of our trucks goes by, people notice," she remarked. The vivid color pays additional dividends besides marketing.
Customers often have controlled
She is confident that the colorful paint scheme and company markings generate sales, which fall under Norbert’s jurisdiction. Norbert also buys wood and nails. Both plants cooperate on sales as well as aspects of operations.
Karin performs administrative duties in addition to "whatever else needs to be done," which can include helping in production and training. If a new production employee is slow, for example, Karin will show the worker how to do the task more efficiently. When she explains something to a new worker, they know she is speaking from experience. Some men resent taking direction from a woman, however.
Training is very important at AP Palleten. Aside from production training, which is handled internally, an outside firm is brought in to train forklift operators.
The company prides itself on responding quickly to customer needs. One special customer wanted pallets very quickly to ship to Australia, Karin explained by way of example. "We couldn’t do it that quickly with our own heat-treatment capability," she said, "so we had to take it to another company" to fumigate the pallets with methyl bromide, which is an accepted alternative.
As part of its commitment to customers, AP Palleten keeps a large inventory of pallets on hand, generally in the range of 70,000-100,000 units, including pool pallets held for its various customers.
"In the Netherlands, a lot of people recycle, a lot like our company – but not in Germany," Karin remarked. "Customers in the Netherlands will ask you if you have ‘used.’ In Germany people always ask for ‘new.’ Only when the price is very expensive are people interested." In Germany, she indicated, recycled pallets are more commonly used for lower priced products.
AP Paletten retrieves unwanted pallets from users, but the nature of the arrangement depends on the marketability of the pallets. Sometimes the company pays for excess pallets, sometimes it removes them at no charge, and in some cases it charges a fee for the service.
AP Paletten belongs to three trade associations that reflect its professional approach to business, emphasize pallet logistics, and keep it involved in a key market. First, it belongs to the Federal Association of Wood Packaging, which essentially is made up of pallet suppliers. Second, it is a member of a chemical industry association because chemical manufacturers account for an important segment of customers, and it is also a member of an association representing about 2,000 businesses involved in transport, logistics and communication.
AP Paletten is an example of a company that has positioned itself against the grain, providing value-added recycling and retrieval services in a country better known for its high volume manufacturing excellence.
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