Recycling Veteran Pal-King Continues to Evolve
Pal-King makes key acquisition, staff hiring and machinery upgrades to fuel expansion in the Southeast pallet market.
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 4/1/2011
JACKSONVILLE, Florida—Pal-King Inc. is a pallet recycling business that was launched when recycling was fairly novel, but the company continues to grow, evolve and prosper in the second generation of leadership.
Pal-King is owned by the Quasnick Family (5 sons & two daughters), whose parents started the company decades ago. It produces between 2-2.5 million pallets annually – new, recycled and combination or ‘combo’ pallets, and a small volume of crates. About 80% percent of the company’s volume is recycled pallets and the other 20% new or combo pallets.
The company has two facilities about 12 miles apart in the heart of Jacksonville, Fla. Each location has about four acres and two buildings. The location at the company’s Beaver Street site contains its main office and a production facility for pallet recycling, each building about 8,000 square feet. The location on Kings Road features a building of about 10,000 square feet that is used for both pallet recycling and new pallet manufacturing. About 25 employees work at each site.
Pal-King serves customers throughout the Southeast, going as far as North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama and supplying businesses in between. Its customers are mainly manufacturers and distributors as well as seasonal agriculture businesses in Florida and Georgia.
The company predominantly serves the GMA market although it recycles pallets of about eight other fairly standard sizes, such as 42x42 and 48x48, and it supplies a large quantity of combination or ‘combo’ pallets – pallets made with both new and recycled parts.
The business was started by their parents – Bob and Shirley, now deceased - in 1977. Bob had a long career in the retail industry, including a stint as a regional manager for JC Penney. The couple and their seven children relocated from Minnesota to Florida for his career in the 1970s. The retailer went out of business in the same decade, however, expediting a desire Bob had to start his own business. At the time, most of their children were adults. Their father had some familiarity with pallets, having worked with them while serving as an Ensign aboard merchant marine vessels in World War II, delivering war materials in the South Pacific.
Pallet recycling was in its infancy in the 1970s, noted Dan. When Bob began the business, we worked out in the open at an abandoned service station, repairing pallets on a daily basis. “We squatted,” recalled Dan, simply occupying the vacant area without any lease or rental agreement, but they were nonetheless good neighbors. “We cleaned up every night,” said Dan. They paid a service station across the street $5 a day in order to plug a circular saw into a power outlet to cut material to length.
The businesses functioned that way for a year until Bob could earn enough money to rent space. He rented the facilities on Beaver Street in 1978 and purchased the site the next year. The company grew and prospered, and in 1990 he acquired another company - at the Kings Road location – that was manufacturing new pallets with Southern Yellow Pine lumber.
Dan and Russell and their two older brothers, Larry and Rob, were all active in the business at the beginning, although Dan and Russ left to pursue other careers before returning to the family business later. Russ worked in the carpet industry in the Atlanta area for 25 years in sales and distribution. After his wife died, his father reached out to him, and he returned to Jacksonville to work in the business with him in 1998. Dan enjoyed a lengthy career in the truck leasing industry in Tampa, working with such well-known companies as Ryder and UPS Truck Leasing in marketing and as an account manager. Dan and his wife, Bonnie, returned to Jacksonville to work in the business in 2002, the year that Bob died.
Dan and Russell have built on the foundation of the parents and siblings and grown the business significantly under their leadership. When their father died Pal-King had about 25 employees between its two locations, and production was about 900,000 pallets annually.
Dan now oversees sales, and Russell handles dispatching and also has a hand in the company’s recycling operations.
In 2004 they made a key hire, offering Robert Collier a position with the company. Robert is the company’s “mobile” operations manager and assists in overseeing both pallet recycling and pallet manufacturing operations, along with some “dedicated operations” Pal-King has for specific customers. Robert had experience working for other pallet companies and also at one time had owned a small pallet business in Jacksonville.
The company has made a number of improvements in the past six or seven years that have enabled Pal-King to increase production, notably investments in machinery and equipment.
One of the most significant investments was a new Brewco two-head horizontal bandsaw system that was installed at the Kings Road plant in 2006. The system is mainly used for resawing 2x4 and 2x6 SYP material into deck boards. It is used to cut 15-20,000 board feet per day although it has a capacity to cut about 30,000 board feet, and was installed with two other pieces of Brewco equipment, an unscrambler to singulate bundles of lumber and an outfeed conveyor to move finished material directly to be pulled and stacked. It replaced a 25 year old less efficient Resaw system.
The company upgraded its compressed air system at the same time, increasing from a 10 hp to a 25 hp compressor to provide cooled, dried air in a close-loop system. The company also put in hydraulic conveyors and a scrap collection system.
The brothers acquired another pallet recycling company in Jacksonville in 2008 that benefited Pal-King in several ways. The addition of new customer accounts immediately increased the company’s sales volume. In addition, the acquisition included various equipment.
One particular piece of equipment, a 55-foot power conveyor, had a positive two-fold impact. The conveyor was installed at the company’s recycling operations at the Beaver Street location. It enabled them to double the number of production personnel in the same area. “So we could produce more pallets without adding space,” said Dan. “It was a huge improvement.”
The other change made possible by the conveyor was improving quality control. Two employees were stationed at the end of the conveyor system to inspect finished pallets and stack them. The change eliminated the need for workers building or repairing pallets to make grading decisions. “We only have two sets of eyes deciding if it’s an A, B or a C,” noted Dan.
The company made another investment in new machinery in 2009. It purchased a Smetco one-man bandsaw dismantler along with a conveyor system, a round table, and a double-end trim saw. The Smetco equipment is used for disassembling pallets and recovering and recycling used lumber at the Beaver Street plant. The same shop also is equipped with a Smart Products single-end trim saw as well as a Smart Products chop saw.
The Kings Road plant is equipped similarly for pallet recycling operations. It has a Pallet Repair Systems (PRS) bandsaw machine and PRS Optimax trim saw.
In addition, both pallet recycling plants are equipped with conveyors. The Beaver Street shop has eight repair tables arranged around its conveyor and the Kings Road plant, eight to 10.
“We wanted the two yards to mirror each other,” said Dan. “They can ramp up or ramp down, depending on the economy or seasonality.”
Another improvement in recent years was the addition of a heat-treating system from Temp-Air. “We utilized a 53-foot shipping container that we modified and installed the Temp-Air heaters and blowers,” explained Robert. The heat-treating system was added in 2005, and in 2008 the data logger was upgraded from a manual to a computerized system.
“This allows us to offer export-compliant pallets in both our recycled and combo/hybrid product lines,” said Robert. The company performs heat-treating of lumber, pallets and crates for customers and also for other pallet companies.
For new pallets the company mainly buys 2x4 and 2x6 SYP although it also buys some plywood and 4x4 material. At the Kings Road plant, the Brewco unscrambler feeds the singulated boards directly to an air-actuated pop-up saw. At this station, the operator grades each piece of material according to the wane and other factors and decides whether to cut out a suitable piece for a stringer or deck boards. If the piece will be used for a stringer, he cuts it, then pulls it out and stacks it. Material that will be resawn into deck boards is fed onto an in-line conveyor that takes it directly into the Brewco bandsaw system.
The company buys No. 4 lumber SYP. “We can do that because we fingerprint every board,” explained Robert, referring to the process above of having a worker grade each stick of lumber and cut it accordingly. “That allows us to recover the No. 2 grade or No. 3 grade off any 2x4.”
Generally, incoming pallets arriving from a southerly direction are delivered to the Beaver Street plant, and trucks arriving from the west deliver pallets to the Kings Road plant.
Incoming pallet cores are processed and handled the same way at each yard, explained Russ. The paperwork goes to the forklift driver with an off-load sheet. He verifies the contents of the trailer when he unloads it, which is then re-verified for accuracy by a member of the management team.
The pallets are taken into the shop and staged directly at the work stations of the builders, which are set up along the conveyor. There is no pre-sorting or prepping. “Whatever comes off the truck, it goes to the builder lines,” said Russ. The only exception is the odd-size and nonstandard pallets, which are immediately kicked out to the bottom of the yard to be dismantled later.
When a builder processes a pallet, he marks it with spray paint to indicate that it was done by him; each builder has a different color. They slide finished pallets onto the conveyor.
The two men at the end of the conveyor who inspect and stack the pallets work in an area with sections of gravity-feed rollers to stack and stage pallets according to grade, and stacks are removed by the forklift operator.
The company has an inventory of about 80 trailers, boxes and flatbeds, that it uses for hauling pallets. Like other pallet recycling companies, it offers to stage trailers at customer locations for ‘drop and hook’ service: customers fill the trailer with surplus or damaged pallets, Pal-King drops off another empty trailer to be filled and hauls back the one that already has been filled.
Pal-King has a Bronco Pallet Systems model 2006 semi-automated pallet assembly system it purchased used in 2008. It consists of an inclined jig with the nailer suspended overhead. A worker puts the material into the jig and nails the boards, then turns it over and inserts the top deck boards and nails them. The finished pallet is lifted and slid to the back into an automatic stacker. The system also has a power roll-out and accumulator so that three stacks of finished pallets can be staged. Pal-King uses the Bronco mainly for assembling large quantities of pallets of a certain size, such as 400-500.
The company uses pneumatic nailing tools supplied by Treasure Coast Fasteners, which has a manufacturing plant in the Dominican Republic, and buys collated nails from the same company.
It runs Morse bandsaw blades on the dismantling machines and also uses Profile Technology Nailbuster circular saw blades for cutting recycled material. The company also buys saw blades from Saw Service & Supply and Hub Industrial.
Scrap material is hauled away by a waste disposal service that is affiliated with another business that grinds the material into boiler fuel for the paper industry.
Pal-King turned to Innovative Data Systems for some technology that has helped the company’s operations. It has the Pallet Track Click-Draw system to produce drawings and designs of pallets. Pal-King also has a Innovative Data Systems inventory control system for its pallet recycling operations that enables it to keep track of production and forecasting. A touch-screen computer at the main office at the Beaver Street plant maintains the system for both locations.
Pal-King supplies a large volume of combo or hybrid pallets – pallets made with a mix of used and new material. For example, a customer may purchase pallets made of new SYP stringers and recycled deck boards. Although it works mainly with 15-20 standard sizes of combo pallets, the company supplies hundreds of different sizes and designs.
Pal-King will fill an order for 10 pallets of one size to an order for thousands. “There’s nothing too small or nothing too large we can build,” said Russ. In the arena of new and hybrid pallets, “Our market is specialty pallets.”
PalletOne has operations in Florida to manufacture new SYP pallets in traditional sizes and at high volume, he noted, and Pal-King does not try to compete with them.
“We find the custom size or the customer that doesn’t need the kind of volume that PalletOne can produce,” added Dan, “and our proximity makes it more convenient.”
Pal-King uses the services of a “professional employment organization” (PEO) for human resources functions. “We like that approach,” said Dan, because it enables them to provide their employees with greater access to a wide range of benefits and various types of discounts. The company’s benefit package includes group health insurance, paid holidays, and paid vacation time pegged to years of service. The company gives employees a turkey at Thanksgiving, a gift card for holiday groceries at Christmas. In addition, employees are eligible for various awards throughout the year based on meeting goals for production, safety and attendance.
Some employees have been working with the company since 1982, and in some cases their sons are now interested in working for Pal-King.
Pal-King, which has a website at www.palking.com, is active in the National Wooden Pallet and Container Assn. and the First Coast Manufacturers Assn., a regional business group. It has been recognized by the Florida association in recent years with an annual award recognizing the best manufacturing business in various sizes.
They have worked closely with the Jacksonville Fire Department, which has recognized Pal-King with annual awards in recent years because the company has supplied pallets for use in firefighter training.
They took several steps in recent years to weather the economic downturn, and they paid off.
“When the economy went south, the first thing we did was look at the expense side of the ledger,” said Russ, to find areas where they could reduce spending and save money. That process went on for about six months.
Another tactic they used was to ask for concessions from vendors. “When the downturn came…we were all in the same boat,” noted Russ. They asked vendors for concessions in order to get through the recessionary period.
They also expanded their market area in order to get new customers. Eventually, they also reduced hours in order to maintain employment of key personnel.
“We tried to find a way to make our business flourish…by taking what the market was giving us,” said Russ. “And we think we excelled at that.”
“We always stay…debt-free so we have the ability to weather recessionary trends,” added Russ.
Their two older brothers have since retired from the business. The fact that their parents started a business that today continues to provide for their family is something of which Dan is particularly proud. “It’s just an amazing thing,” he said. “We’re very, very thankful and blessed.”
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