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Sales Efforts, Customers Fuel Scott Wood Products Success
Scott Wood Products: Pallet manufacturing and recycling business in lower Wisconsin has expanded three times in the past 10 years, more than tripling the space for its operations.

By Staff Writer
Date Posted: 6/1/1999

DARIEN, Wis. — Scott Wood Products Inc., a pallet manufacturing and recycling business in lower Wisconsin, has expanded three times in the past 10 years, more than tripling the space for its pallet assembly and recycling operations.

There are two main reasons why the company has enjoyed a boom, according to president Jerry Scott Jr. One is the long-term relationships the company has forged with customers for over 20 years. "We’ve grown as they’ve grown," Jerry explained.

In addition, Scott Wood Products has made a concerted effort at sales. Jerry created a sales position in 1987 to add to his selling. The resulting growth forced the business to move out of downtown Darien and into its current location in an industrial park. "From 1989 on, we did more in sales," said Jerry, "using the phone, literature and new sales techniques to get our name out to people. We did what sales people do, like cold calls and follow-ups, adding sales staff as we grew."

Today, Jerry still does some selling. The company also has a sales manager, Clem Smith, who supervises two outside salesmen. Clem also helps Jerry and Jerry’s brother, David Scott, vice president for production. "Around here, we wear a lot of different hats," said Jerry. "Each day is different."

Scott Wood Products was started in 1969 in Darien, a farming village of 1,200 in southeast Wisconsin, by the Scotts’ father, Jerry Sr., and their brother, Tom. The elder Scott began working in his garage. He got his start building small wood bases to ship motors. Although he expanded into pallet manufacturing two years later, Scott Wood Products continues to make shipping platforms for motors for the same customer.

Both Jerry and David grew up in the business. Both remember helping out in the garage when they were boys. Another brother works in the tree cutting business. "So we’re all into wood," said Jerry.

By 1971 their father was able to buy a 5,000-square-foot building, quit his factory job, and go into business full-time. He started with five employees, gradually building to 10. Jerry and David began managing the business when they were both young men; their father died in 1981 when Jerry was 20 and David was 19.

Besides overseeing sales, Jerry, 38, also is responsible for most lumber buying, purchasing new equipment, and strategic planning. David, 36, supervises production. He spends most of his time on the plant floor. If he’s not in the plant, he usually is in his office, scheduling more jobs.

"We’re pretty fortunate Darien is our hometown because it’s a good geographical area for us, too," said Jerry. "We distribute probably in about a 100-mile radius-on the northern side of Chicago to Milwaukee and Madison. But a majority of our business is within 50 to 60 miles, a lot of industrial area." The business also benefits from the fact that Darien is situated near several major highways.

About 75% of the company’s business is pallets and the remainder is specialty items, including pallets, crates and boxes. Sixty employees work in three shifts, Monday through Friday; 25 work on the first and second shift, and 10 on the third, which involves clean-up and maintenance. When necessary, a half-day shift is added on Saturday. Production workers who assemble pallets are paid a piece rate while those operating saws earn an hourly wage.

Scott Wood Products started with 24,000 square feet in the Darien Industrial Park in 1989. Now it encompasses 75,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space situated on 20 acres.

The plant has four docks inside and three outside. "Everything gets loaded so the semis can head out in the morning," said Jerry. "The shorter loads are happening during the day."

A nearby off-site area of 40 acres is used to maintain a fleet of trucks for an affiliated business, Scott Trucking. The five tractor-trailer rigs, four tandem axle trucks, eight flatbeds and 20 van trailers make deliveries for Scott Wood Products.

The company manufactures about 4,500 to 5,000 pallets per day, or 20,000 to 25,000 per week. "Every company seems to require a different pallet," said Jerry. "We don’t take high volume. We’re after the smaller, more intricate type requests."

Scott Wood Products makes pallets for all types of products, "from plastic spoons to vinyl siding, water pumps, ceiling tiles, plastic sheeting, and tanks, like gasoline tanks," Jerry said. Production is fairly steady over the course of the year, although business increases in the summer when the company supplies produce growers and packers.

"There’s no average or typical truckload," Jerry said. "A truck is filled with 500 of this or that, or mixed, depending on who wants and needs what in a given geographical area. I try to keep the trucks filled with 400-500 pallets per truck, which might be in 2 or 3 different sizes."

The company works with over 200 blueprints, he estimated. "They are made to order as every company has its own special needs. There are companies that make one size and never change, but we change sizes two or three times a day."

"The customer provides the blueprint," he added. "We build the pallet to their specifications. If they are having shipping problems, we’ll work with them to help in redesign. We may have seen what happened to someone else with a similar problem."

On the average, it takes one to two days to get an order out, but if a customer calls with a problem, "we’ll try to help them out that day," says Jerry.

The company buys most of its raw material out of northern Wisconsin. "Sometimes if we’re making a delivery close by, we’ll back haul, but not too often," said Jerry. About 80% percent of its raw material is in hardwood cant form in sizes ranging from 4x6, 6x6, 6x8, 7x8 and 8x8. Most of the remaining raw material comes in the form of random length softwood lumber although the company also buys a little cut stock.

Cants are cut to length on a Cornell cut-off saw. Sized cants are sawn into deck boards or stringers on either a McDonough band mill or a Baker Products six-head horizontal band saw system. "We try to size the cants down some," said Jerry. "They may come in as 4x7. We use the McDonough to handle the bigger cants."

The Baker six-head system is used mainly to saw deck boards and to cut stock ahead. Installed in December 1998, it replaced a Baker three-head horizontal band saw the company had purchased a couple of years earlier. The new machine, with additional heads, doubled production.

The Scotts have been satisfied with its Baker machines and Baker’s commitment to service. and its excellent service commitment. Any problems have been solved quickly and parts have been supplied promptly. They were impressed with the performance of their first machine. "It was such a great machine and it worked well for what we were doing," said Jerry. "When we were looking to increase productivity, it was a pretty easy decision to stick with the Baker. We knew the Baker six-head would definitely help us. They are great people to work with."

The company also is equipped with a Baker de-duster for cleaning newly-sawn pallet parts and a Bob Hanna double-head notching machine for notching stringers.

For automated pallet assembly, Scott Wood Products has relied on Viking nailing machines. The company added a new Viking Turbo 505 nailing machine this spring, replacing two Viking Champions that were acquired in the 1990s. Two Viking service technicians were at the plant for several days to train employees and make sure the machine ran properly. The Scotts originally envisioned using the Turbo 505 as a third pallet assembly machine. However, after only one week the new Turbo 505 has been running so well that the company has virtually stopped using the Champions. The Turbo 505 operates faster than the Champions with a capacity of building four to six pallets per minute, according to Jerry. In addition, it can be set up much easier and much faster.

Previously, about 60% of the pallets assembled at Scott Wood Products were built on the Viking Champions and the rest were built manually with Max nailing tools. With the Turbo 505, the company hopes to assemble 75% to 85% of its pallets by machine.

Recycling accounts for about 5% to 10% of the business at Scott Wood Products, but the Scotts are looking to grow that side of the business.

A Weima grinding machine processes scrap wood into fiber, which is sold along with sawdust to area dairy farmers for livestock bedding. Sawdust also is used to fuel a heater in winter. Sawing with just one 54-inch blade can produce enough sawdust in an 8-hour shift to heat the building for 24 hours, according to Jerry — and that’s just about 1/8th of the sawdust produced in a day. The plant also has a back-up heating system but it rarely kicks in. "For the most part, the gas company doesn’t like us," Jerry added.

Moving to the industrial park location was a big help. "Space made things run more easily," Jerry explained. If they need to expand again in the future, they have 200 acres within two miles. "We have ourselves covered on the land issue," he said.

Jerry’s wife, Pam, is the office manager for Scott Wood Products, supervising record keeping and other activities with the help of a small staff. The couple has three children: Kaela, 13, Katie, 11, and Jerry III, 8. Jerry has served in the community’s volunteer fire department for 16 years and has been the chief for the past three years.

David’s wife, Tammy, is an insurance agent. They have two children: Jenelle, 8, and Lucas, 2.

The brothers also do some farming. "We farm crop about 800 acres in corn and soybeans, and we have a small beef herd of about 40 head," said Jerry.

The Scotts have prospered by making pallets fast and efficiently. But keeping up with the needs of their customers also is critical. "You never know what the next request will be," said Jerry.

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