New Business Overtakes Recycled at Hayes Pallet
Hayes Pallet: New pallets are fueling a growth spurt for a patient Vermont pallet recycler whose business serves customers in the Granite State.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 8/1/1999
BRANDON, Vermont — In the early 1980s, way before the boom in the pallet recycling industry, Ronnie Hayes figured there was a market for recycled pallets. Working in the shipping section of a manufacturing company, he made it a policy to order material on pallets that could be used again.
He started a business in 1983, working nights and weekends in his garage, repairing pallets. Before he bought his first power nailing tool, Ronnie pre-drilled nail holes. Some nights, his wife, Carolyn, worked at his side. To dismantle a pallet, Carolyn would hold it down, and Ronnie would cut it up with a reciprocating saw, also known in the construction industry as a "zaw-saw."
"I guess I came from the old school," Ronnie said. "I didn’t want to finance a whole lot."
Ronnie worked quietly and largely alone for more than 10 years. His persistence and work ethic paid off, however. His employer recently decided to close the plant, and Ronnie was offered a transfer to another nearby facility. However, he had grown the pallet recycling business sufficiently to the point where, not only could it employ his two sons, it now could support him. He turned down the transfer and entered the pallet business full-time.
"I always knew there was a market for recyled pallets," said Ronnie, 57.
Hayes Pallet is located in central Vermont, where about 90 percent of its business also is situated. The town of Brandon is mid-way between the Granite State’s two major cities, Burlington and Rutland. "Right smack dab in the middle of both," said Ronnie’s youngest son, Rick.
Hayes Pallet now has nine full-time employees and posts annual sales of about $1 million. Weekly production is between 4,000 and 5,000 pallets. The growth also has put the company more into the new pallet market. It’s volume now ranges 60% to 70% new pallets and the remainder recycled. "The new kind of overtook the recycled here in the last year," said Ronnie.
The company has two large accounts that comprise more than half its volume; the remaining customers are relatively small. "We cater to the small," said Ronnie. Hayes Pallet has customers in plastics and wood manufacturing businesses. In all, the company manufactures about two dozen different pallet sizes; the most common is the 48x40.
Randy, 35, his eldest son, joined the business in 1995 and Rick, 33, came the following year. Ronnie began working full-time in January of this year.
"I’ll never forget," Ronnie recalled. He sent his son to call on a company to solicit their pallet business. He reported to his father that the company wanted a trailer-load each week. "That’s when we hired our first man, in 1995," said Ronnie.
They rented some land in 1995 and the following year bought 21 acres. They started out in a 28-foot-by-40-foot building but moved up to another facility that is 70 feet by 54 feet.
The company’s building has only single-phase electricity, so many of the machines have other sources of power. A Go-Fast band saw, for example, is powered by a 20 hp Honda gasoline motor.
The company buys all hardwood raw material — cants and No. 3 Common lumber in random widths and lengths. All raw material is bought from among six different sawmills in a 100-mile radius, most of them in Vermont.
The company buys mainly 14-quarter and 16-quarter cants. "The 14-quarter is runner stock," said Rick, although the company also uses some for manufacturing deck boards. "We got some pretty decent sizes, so we pretty much cut to yield. Our waste factor is not real high."
Cants are sized on pop-up saws or chop saws. After being cut to the appropriate size, they are stacked, moved, and resawn on the Go-Fast single-head band saw. The Go-Fast also is used for splitting 4-quarter lumber.
Material that needs to be cleaned is processed on a Dyna de-duster recently acquired by Hayes Pallet. "Our biggest account requires clean lumber," said Ronnie. The company relies on a Wagner single-head notching machine for notching stringers.
On the recycled side, Hayes Pallet is equipped with a Smart bandsaw dismantling machine for recovering lumber and a Smart chop saw for sizing the reclaimed material.
For pallet assembly, in addition to Stanley power nailing tools, the company relies on two Bronco Pallet Systems semi-automatic work stations and a Rayco nailing machine.
The company has a 24-foot delivery truck and one box trailer. It contracts with a local hauler for a lot of shipping.
Pallets made of recycled lumber are built with either of the two Bronco systems or with jigs on a steel table.
The company invested in the two Bronco systems in 1998. They bought one in January of that year. A few months later, they bought a second, larger Bronco as the result of Rick and his brother visiting the East Coast Sawmill and Logging Equipment Exposition in Richmond, Va. Bronco exhibited a system for sale that was designed to assemble skids. The Vermont company’s biggest single customer, in terms of sales, required an 82-inch pallet. The brothers discussed their needs with Bronco representatives, and conferred with their father by phone. Ronnie told his sons to use their own judgment. They bought it on the spot, and Bronco modified it slightly for their needs. The second, large Bronco reduced the labor required to assemble the large pallet from four men to two.
"It’s been worth its weight in gold," said Rick. "That took the ‘ache’ out of the word ‘back.’ "
"They kept their word," Ronnie agreed.
The Broncos are essentially a work table set up on an angle to make hand-made pallet assembly easy, convenient and fast. The unit has an adjustable jig to accommodate different pallet footprints, and there is an automatic stacker on the back end. Counter-balancers are used to hang the nailing tools. Perhaps a measure of their success with the Bronco equipment is the fact that the Hayeses have been approached by two other pallet companies recently that wanted to buy one of their Broncos. "You can’t justify not having one," said Rick. "You take a used runner and a used board and set it up like a new pallet, and away you go."
Texas-based Bronco has perhaps been best known in the pallet industry for its semi-automatic work stations. The company has expanded its product line, however, and now also offers systems that feature automatic nailing. Bronco Pallet Systems offers pallet nailing systems, pallet recycling systems, pallet sorting and repair stations, stackers and de-stackers, lead board removers, trim saws, dismantlers, platers, and coil nail guns and coil nails.
When they decided to add an automated pallet assembly system in late 1998, they considered the machines available from several suppliers to the pallet industry. Eventually, Ronnie, Rick and one employee visited a Rayco customer in North Carolina that operated three of Rayco’s Edge nailing systems. From there they flew directly to Richmond, Va. to Rayco’s facilities. With its Edge nailer, Hayes Pallet is averaging 350 to 400 pallets per day with one man operating the machine.
The Hayeses have noticed a distinct change in the pallet recycling industry: the deteriorating quality of pallet cores. "We’re putting a lot more work into them now to make them re-usable," noted Ronnie. For example, incoming used pallets more frequently have already been repaired with plugs, he noted.
"And not getting any more money for them," Rick quickly added.
"Some day that’s got to be addressed," continued Ronnie, who is considering adding a lead-board removing machine.
The company was sort of driven into the new pallet business by customer demand. A customer for recycled pallets asked the Hayeses to bid on the new pallets they also required. They declined. "They said whoever does the recycled will do the new," recalled Ronnie. The account for new pallets prompted them to buy the Go-Fast; to begin servicing the account quickly they purchased pre-cut pallet stock. "In all honesty, we’ve outgrown it now," Rick said of the Go-Fast.
The company sells some waste wood for firewood. During the winter, it also heats about 60% of its building by burning waste wood in an outside wood furnace. Sawdust is blown directly into the truck of a local farmer.
Randy previously worked for a furniture manufacturing company, New England Woodcraft, for about 15 years, starting in the mill and rising to be a foreman. Rick worked for a local construction company for nine years before going to work in sales for New England Woodcraft. Today, Hayes Pallet still has ties to New England Woodcraft; the company also makes a few specialty wood products for the furniture maker, such as bed slats and corner blocks.
Rick said he had no desire to be involved in the pallet business but began reconsidering after Randy left New England Woodcraft to be part of Hayes Pallet.
"We had a few weeks when things were slow...we’d just get on the phone" and pick up small orders here and there," Rick recalled.
"It’s kind of scary for dad when the boys come on," Ronnie said. "Both of them have worked hard."
"We all work together," Rick said, describing how the family parcels out various tasks. Carolyn is in charge of payroll and pretty much runs the office. Randy takes care of ordering lumber and schedules most of the work. Rick generally oversees production and maintains some of the machinery. Ronnie does most of the "yard work," operating a forklift and moving material and pallets.
"You’ve got to be hands-on in this business," Ronnie noted. "If you’re not hands-on, it just doesn’t work."
"This morning we needed 50 pallets for a customer," Ronnie added. "Randy took another guy, set up the jig," and the two of them assembled the pallets.
The company is active in several ways in the local community. It sponsors t-ball little league teams and also provides training for high school students who participate in work-study co-op programs. The company also supports an association of Vermont state troopers.
Rick enjoys playing golf and hunting, mainly for deer. Randy likes to spend his weekends with his wife and children at a campground.
"I guess this was my hobby," said Ronnie, who hopes to retire in a few years. He enjoys gardening.
"We’ve got the business now...we’re looking to streamline what we’ve got," said Ronnie. "We’ve got all the work we can handle right now," said Ronnie. "Now is when we start looking at automation, wherever we can save a man."
"In this business, if you want to work hard, it’s there," added Ronnie. "We give good service, good quality."
"Everything goes in cycles. Right now, if you’re not busy...something’s wrong. Everyone’s busy now. You don’t have any trouble getting rid of a pallet."
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