Ex-Trucker Takes Circular Route into Pallet Recycling
Warren Pallet: Minick Enterprises becomes a key supplier for ex-trucker who took a circular route into pallet recycling in Georgia.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 10/1/2000
REIDSVILLE, Ga. — After more than 30 years in the trucking business, Bill Warren Sr. decided it was time for a change. He had started out as a truck driver and during the course of his career had worked his way up through various positions into management.
Five years ago, when he was in his early 50s, Bill decided to start a pallet recycling business. He started by himself, repairing pallets in his yard. He worked under the shade of a tree to keep out of the hot Georgia sun and used a 1-ton van truck to make deliveries.
Warren Pallet’s growth since then is evidence that there are still business opportunities with lots of potential in pallet recycling. The company’s rapid rise is evidence of the business acumen that Bill acquired during his career in the trucking industry.
Warren Pallet has been so successful it is getting ready to spin off a new business: a trucking business. Ironically, the business that Bill started to get out of trucking has given rise to a successful trucking enterprise.
The company is located in southern Georgia in the town of Reidsville, about 65 miles west of the port city of Savannah. The state’s economy is strong, and several large warehouses have been built in Savannah in recent years. "The economy’s continuing to stay strong," said Bill. "It’s wide open."
Warren Pallet’s customer base is primarily south Georgia — within a radius of about 165 miles. "We’ve touched the northern Florida market once or twice," said Bill. The company’s customers represent such industries as concrete building products, paper, clay processing, electrical manufacturing, and lawnmower manufacturing.
Warren Pallet remains predominantly a pallet recycling business — repairing pallets and building pallets from recycled lumber — although it builds a small volume of new pallets.
The company previously supplied a customer with GMA pallets but Bill decided that the GMA business basically was not worth pursuing. "That market is so competitive," said Bill. "There’s nothing (no profit) in it."
Hardwood sawmills put in automated pallet assembly system and use their No. 2 lumber to mass produce new hardwood GMA pallets, he noted. "There’s no way in the world we can compete with them."
"We try to go more with the specialty market," he added. "We have a lot of small customers. They may order a load once a month or once every six weeks. We’ve found that’s a niche that we can work in." A typical order may be for about 300 pallets.
"Our main sizes are 40-by-48, we do some 42-by-48, 44-by-44. That’s about our market." Pallets of other sizes are custom-made.
Custom-made pallets typically are made of recycled pallet parts. "We’ll take anything odd-sized, like a 43-inch pallet, disassemble it and cut the lumber down to make other pallets," explained Bill. "We’re building some 47-inch pallets," he said, offering another example. "We’ll get the recycled 48-inch parts and cut off an inch."
The company buys about four or five truckloads per week of hardwood precut material for its new pallets. It buys deck boards and stringers already cut-to-size. Warren Pallet buys most of its lumber from a sawmill 35 miles away, with another sawmill about twice that distance.
Warren Pallet is owned by Bill and his wife, Barbara, who handles accounts payable. Barbara has the title of corporate president and Bill is vice president.
They have three sons involved in the business. Their oldest son, Bill Jr., 37, who has a sales background, has been with the company since 1998 and handles sales. Another son, Ben, 35, joined the company in late 1999 after working for two trucking companies for a combined 16 years and oversees the transportation operations at Warren Pallet. Bob, 33, who also had a background of about 12 years in sales, entered the family business early this year and is heavily involved in sales and marketing of the company’s growing trucking business; he lives and works in Nashville, Tenn.
When Bill started the business, he had some familiarity with pallets because of his experience in the trucking industry. "We were always dealing with pallets," he recalled, "because we did business with food warehouses and other warehouses and did pallet exchanges. I knew there was a market out there."
The fledgling company generated sales of about $50,000 the first year. "The Lord blessed us the rest of the way," said Bill, 58, who serves as pastor of a church in his spare time. Warren Pallet has grown dramatically. Sales were $450,000 in 1998. Last year, combined revenues from pallet sales and trucking reached $1.6 million and this year probably will reach about $2.5 million. The company now employs about 55 workers, including 30 in the pallet shop.
Although Warren Pallet has regular customers, the company sells a significant volume of pallets on the spot market, according to Bill. There are a number of large warehouses and distribution centers in Savannah that occasionally go on the spot market, looking to purchase anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 pallets at a time.
"We started looking for those big users; that’s what brought us to Minick Industries," said Bill.
"The hardest board to get off a recycled pallet...is the lead board," noted Bill. At the same time, lead boards are the ones that most frequently need to be replaced — largely because of damage caused by forklift tines. "They’re hard to get off," Bill added. "They just wear you out, trying to pry them off."
When looking through a copy of Pallet Enterprise, Bill noticed a Minick Enterprises advertisement for a lead board remover. He called the company to inquire about the machine and talked to owner Juston Minick, then went to the company’s headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., where Bill went on a mild shopping spree. Juston showed Bill the company’s dismantling machine and stringer splicer. Bill purchased three lead removers, a dismantler, and a stringer splicer. The investment was one of the biggest milestone’s in the company’s brief history.
The air-powered Minick Enterprises lead-board-remover has a cycle time of two seconds. It doubles as a repair table.
The Minick pallet dismantler also is air-powered and can disassemble two pallets per minute. The machine can handle pallets up to 50 inches wide. It offers low maintenance compared to other machines that require regular replacement of bandsaw blades, and the lack of blades makes it safer to operate, according to Minick.
The stringer splicer has helped the company to reduce costs significantly, Bill noted. With the splicer supplied by Minick, Warren Pallet is turning out about 1,500 to 2,000 spliced stringers per month. The company’s cost for a spliced stringer is about 25 cents versus about 70 cents for a new, precut stringer. Spliced stringers are approved for GMA pallets, noted Bill.
The company subsequently added two large accounts — each buys about a load per week — that requires four-way entry pallets with notched stringers. Instead of buying notched precut stringers the company added a Wagner notching machine. "That really helped us," said Bill, because doing notching in-house enabled Warren Pallet to stay competitive in the new pallet market.
Most pallets are assembled by hand. Work stations are all-wood tables and jigs. Employees assembling pallets use power nailing tools and nails supplied by a regional company, Kentec, which is based in Atlanta. Warren Pallet also has a Bronco Pallet Systems’ semi-automatic pallet assembly machine.
Bill has found it is more efficient for incoming pallets generally to be taken directly to work stations and then sorted by the employees who make repairs. "It’s not cost-effective to sort them coming right off the truck," he said.
Pallets that must be washed are routed to the washing station. After cleaning, they are sorted by grade — #1 and #2 — and then retrieved by the forklifts.
Otherwise, pallets are sorted by the pallet repair staff, who segregate two-way and four-way pallets and also grade them.
Sorting is made easier by the fact that most incoming pallets are 40x48. "Most loads have the same sizes," said Bill, who estimated that an incoming load may only contain five odd-size pallets.
Although Warren Pallet started strictly as a pallet recycling company, it was building some new pallets by mid-1996. "We had a customer...we just couldn’t get enough recycled pallets for them, and they said, ‘Just build us some new ones.’ That’s how we got into the new pallet business."
In early 1999 the company added three large customer accounts that significantly increased the volume of incoming pallet cores. Like other pallet recyclers, Warren Pallet leaves trailers at some customer locations. Customers fill them with excess pallets, and Warren Pallet retrieves them. Until that point, the company was picking up about 10 loads per week. The new accounts "enabled us to step out into the marketplace in a much higher gear," said Bill.
After working under the tree for a while, Bill built a lean-too shed with 5,000 square feet under roof. In early 1999 the company moved to Reidsville, where Bill leased an old sewing factory containing 42,000 square feet. "We’re using all of the space now," said Bill. "It helped us tremendously." Nevertheless, Warren Pallet has outgrown the space, and Bill is planning to construct a new facility early next year. The company is eyeing 25 acres at another site in Reidsville.
"We’re going to build something more ‘pallet-friendly,’ " a building with more room, higher ceilings, and with other features that will increase the efficiency of Warren’s operations. Bill also is considering investing in stackers for the new plant. Stacking is currently done by forklifts.
He also is thinking of purchasing a new trim saw for the new facility to replace a make-shift trim saw the company uses for cutting used lumber to size.
Bill is considering additional investments in the business. "We’re looking for something to dispose of waste, some sort of grinder," he said, as well as a blower system to capture chips coming off the notcher and a materials handling-loading system to fill a trailer. Waste wood currently is being sent to a landfill, where tipping fees are "terribly expensive," Bill conceded. He researched getting an incinerator to burn waste wood material but was put off by permitting requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency. Bill has in mind converting his waste wood to fiber that would be suitable as fuel for the boiler market. Although mulch and colored mulch products might generate more revenues, such an operation would require a higher capital investment, he noted.
Warren Pallet is a member of the local chamber of commerce. Besides his involvement in the business, Bill serves as pastor of Bear Creek Baptist Church in nearby Mount Vernon, but has little time for anything else. He used to enjoy hunting and fishing, but about 11 months ago was diagnosed with diabetes and has curtailed those activities.
Despite the shortage of labor and an intense competition for workers in some regions, the labor market in the Reidsville area has been good. "We’re blessed to have people coming in for (job) applications," said Bill, and turnover is very low. When asked what he attributed the low turnover to, he answered, "We treat people fairly, we pay them a good wage, and the working conditions are good. "And," he added with a laugh," there are not many other jobs around Reidsville."
Ironically, Bill has found himself back in the trucking business. Warren Pallet got involved in trucking in late 1999. A paper company customer was experiencing problems making deliveries to Florida and asked Warren Pallet to make them. The company bought a truck and three trailers and began making the shipments, and since then Warren Pallet has picked up additional trucking business.
Warren’s trucking operations, including hauling and deliveries for its pallets, now involve about 20 tractors and 38 trailers. The company employs its own drivers and also contracts with owner-operators. Bill plans to spin off the trucking operation into a separate, affiliated business by year’s end. It will function under the name WPC Logistics.
"When I think back to 1995 when I got started in that driveway, right by myself, and I see where we’ve gotten today, I can just see the blessing of the Lord in my life every day," said Bill. "That’s where all my credit and thanks goes...It was the Lord who opened the doors for me, and every day of my life I see miracles of the Lord at work.
"When I started this business I had $120 in the bank. When I look back and see where I was and where we’ve come from in such a short period of time, it’s nothing short of a miracle."
Family-Owned Minick Got Start in Recycling
Machinery Supplier’s New End Plater Is Being Field Tested
Minick Enterprises, based in Little Rock, Ark., is a manufacturer and distributor of pallet repair equipment, including pallet dismantlers, lead board removers, plating machines, and nail cutters. The company carries all machines in stock, ready for shipment.
Minick Enterprises was formed by Juston Minick in 1996 although his experience in the pallet recycling industry extends to the late 1980s when he co-owned a pallet recycling company with his brother. Juston developed equipment that was used in his own pallet recycling business and began making additional machines upon request from other pallet recycling companies. Later he decided to devote his efforts full-time to supplying machinery to the pallet recycling industry and sold his interest in the pallet company.
Minick Enterprises is a family-owned and operated business. In addition to his wife, Maebelle, Minick Enterprises also employs their daughters, Holly Benham and Sheri Handley.
Juston conceives the ideas behind the company’s line of equipment and oversees the development of prototype machines. "We offer good, quality machines for a very reasonable price," he said.
The company recently developed a new device to attach plates to the end of a stringer. The machine was introduced at the recent annual meeting of the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association. The Canadian Pallet Council is moving to implement a new requirement for end plates on stringers of new CPC pallets, which has prompted an interest among Canadian pallet manufacturers for end plating equipment. The new end plater from Minick Enterprises was developed in cooperation with Eagle Metal Products, which supplies metal repair plates and a portable, hand-held press, and Stanley-Bostitch. The Minick Enterprises end plater is being field tested by a Canadian pallet manufacturer.
Minick Enterprises also is in the process of developing a machine to remove any single damaged board on a pallet or all boards at once. A prototype machine has been built and is now being tested.
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