A Pallet Co. Succeeds in 48 x 40 Market Despite Tight Core Supply: Noble Machinery Provides Key Equipment to Match Growing Production Needs
Pallet Hawg, Noble Machinery, pallet dismantler, trim saw, Scott Mercer, A Pallet, core shortage, 48x40 market, Brad Kirkaldy, pallet disassembly, lumber processing, pallet prep, pallet recycling, core supply, JIT delivery, quick pay, Pallet Chief, Kiln-direct, imports, palletization, palletizing imports, retail supply chain.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 2/1/2014
Indianapolis, Ind. – Growth has seemed to come easy to Scott Mencer, president and owner of A Pallet Co., but that may have as much to do with the company’s location as anything else. A Pallet is situated near Plainfield, Ind., which is a major shipping hub for the Midwest. Also, Mencer has selected the right equipment to match his company’s growth patterns thanks to the helpful insight of Brad Kirkaldy from Noble Machinery Co. of Fort Wayne, Ind.
“We started out small in recycling and then grew as we picked up customers,” said Mencer. “The business kind of grew on its own. We didn’t anticipate getting this big this quick. But that’s what happened.”
A Pallet moves about 25,000 pallets per week and has 47 employees. It serves customers in mainly the warehouse and distribution sector. The Plainfield area is a major distribution hub for retailers in the Midwest. Mencer explained, “Everything is coming in loaded on containers from overseas. And those products need to be palletized before they can be shipped to other places.”
That also explains why A Pallet does such a high percentage of 48 x 40 business with most of that being used pallets, although it also manufactures some new pallets too.
About 80% of the company’s pallets are 48 x 40s and 20% are specialty sizes. While A Pallet mostly supplies used pallets, it has started producing new pallets to keep customers happy due to the core shortage.
Mencer commented, “The market has been extremely tight. We are having a hard time getting cores. And what we have done is to start building 48 x 40, as to supply customers.”
Finding the Right Equipment Requires Calling the Right Guy
A Pallet has avoided the machinery nightmares that some companies have by relying on one contact to help it make the right purchase. Mencer buys all his machinery through Brad Kirkaldy of Noble Machinery, including items that Noble doesn’t directly represent.
Kirkaldy’s relationship with the Mencer family goes all the way back to the company’s founder, Steve Mencer, Scott’s father. He said, “Brad and my dad had a very close relationship. He has been our go-to guy in terms of machinery ever since that time. If I ever have an issue with a machine, I call Brad and he helps us get it back up and running pretty quick.”
Mencer likes having the support and quality guarantee that Noble Machine provides. Although Noble directly offers a number of pieces of equipment, it also serves as a sales representative for others, including a large selection of used equipment. Mencer likes to work with Kirkaldy because he trusts his expertise in selecting the right piece of equipment.
Recently, A Pallet bought two like-new Pallet Chief II machines from Noble, which it had acquired from another pallet company. These nailing machines require only one operator and can produce between 400-600 pallets each per day. Mencer said, “The Pallet Chiefs have done a great job. We are real pleased with them and are just waiting for the right price and would like to buy another one.”
Mencer stated, “Our go-to guy for machinery is Brad. I don’t buy from anybody else. I always go through Brad. He is so knowledgeable about all of this equipment, and he backs it.”
A Pallet has bought both new and used equipment from Noble Machinery and has not had a real serious problem with any of it. Noble has also become a good outlet for A Pallet to sell some of its surplus equipment. A Pallet recently traded in a trim saw and sold a surplus notcher via Noble Machinery.
Almost every piece of equipment in the plant was bought from Kirkaldy. Mencer particularly likes the Pallet Hawg dismantler that is sold by Noble Machinery and manufactured by Built With Skill LLC. Read the sidebar article on this page to find out more about the Pallet Hawg.
Mencer explained, “The blade life is a lot better on the Hawg than other dismantlers we have tried. You don’t have to work as hard to tear down a pallet because the blade is not moving as fast. With other dismantlers, you are into the wood before you know it so you have to work hard to get everything lined up just right at first.”
He added, “The Hawg is easier to maneuver odd-sized pallet in than other models because the lift goes up and down. This is especially true for block pallets and larger sizes.”
The Hawg is also durable and fairly easy to maintain. He said it was even easy to get tires because the unit uses standard tires that are readily available.
A Pallet Company Has Moved with Growth
The company started in 1995 by Steve Mencer who had just a trailer and a pickup truck. Scott said that it all kind of happened by accident because Steve owned a warehouse building where a guy was doing small pallet work. One day the guy disappeared and left a bunch of stuff behind, and Mencer’s family was all of a sudden in the pallet business.
A Pallet had a fire in 1999 that forced the company to move to the second location. It was a 20-door terminal with room to grow. As the company took on new clients, it had to purchase more trailers. Then, it moved to its current location that has a 40-door terminal building. Today, the company operates from two buildings that are 100 yards apart.
Pallet cores come into the one building and are sorted into piles of 48 x 40s, 42 squares, odd sizes. This odd-sized material gets torn down and run through five dismantling machines. A Pallet company uses both the Pallet Hawg and Smart dismantlers. Dismantled lumber travels down a conveyor and is cut to 40 inches by one of two Smart trim saws. Anything shorter than 40 inches is cut to whatever size is needed at the time. The lumber is loaded into trailers. Pallets to be repaired are loaded into separate trailers. All of these are then moved 100 yards down the road to the other facility to be repaired and finalized.
Mencer said, “With the Smart trim saws and the Hawg dismantlers, we cut down on average 25,000 boards per day. We used to do it with a chop saw about 5-6 years ago, I don’t know how we managed that. The trim saw has been a big productivity booster for us.”
A Pallet uses a mixture of hardwood and softwood, it really all depends on the incoming pallet cores. When the company buys new wood, it usually tries to purchase hardwood. Mencer said, “Hardwood has been more difficult to get recently and prices have gone up over the past 6-12 months.” He added, “Anytime we can avoid buying lumber, we try to do that and just work with used pallets that come in the door.”
Turning everything fast is a key to A Pallet’s strategy. Mencer said, “When we do get the Bs in, we repair them and ship out as soon as possible. We try to keep as little inventory as possible.” He added, “The biggest challenge of late has been to get cores. We always try to turn pallets very quickly and fill orders within 24 hours. As we have grown, it is tougher to do that because cores are not as plentiful as they once were. That has been our biggest challenge although it is starting to get better.”
A Pallet used to rely on other suppliers to heat treat pallets. But the company has installed a heat treatment chamber by Kiln-direct. Mencer said, “The Kiln-direct heat treatment system has increased our business and been a real plus for our operation.”
Although the heat treatment process has been a big benefit for his company, he is not a big fan on the new mark removal processes that recyclers have had to do over recent years. He tried a roller to do the job and now relies on spray paint. Mencer commented, “Removing marks has become a very big cost for us. I think if a pallet is only being used domestically, I don’t see why we have to remove marks just because we have a licensed heat treatment chamber. It’s not a level playing field. It slows us down and causes problems in the winter with spray paint.”
Service Keeps Customers Coming Back
When it comes to keeping customers happy, A Pallet goes the extra mile. It will take on almost any size pallet design. The smallest pallet it makes is a 12" x 12" pallet used by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for programs. And Mencer has built pallets up to 169" long by 120" wide. A Pallet supplies a lot of 24" x 20" (half size) pallets for end cap displays for food manufacturers.
A Pallet offers just-in-time service to its customers. Mencer explained, “Our main goal is to service customers within 24 hours.” One way it achieves this is by letting pallet repairers know what is needed for each order and when it must be completed to make the customer’s on-time request. Two dispatchers manage the whole process.
Speedy pay is another customer benefit that A Pallet offers. Mencer said, “We like to pay within 7-10 days not 30 or 90 days like many other companies do. This ensures that core suppliers get paid promptly for their pallets.” This strategy has also helped it get cores even though the market is tight.
Stable Workforce Has Helped Fuel Growth
When people have done their jobs for a long time, they tend to know what to do and are familiar with customers. Longevity is certainly a key for the success of Mencer and his team. He said that many of his top people have been with the company for years.
Mencer highlighted Dennis Klinefelter, the supervisor of both production facilities who has been with the company for 18 years and does a good job. He also mentioned the operations manager, Steve Hair, who has been with the company for 15 years and supervisor Jose Arsenio, who helps communicate with Hispanic workers. The women in the office ensure that the orders and customers are taken care of no matter their needs. Shirley Callahan has been with the company since it first started. And Scott’s sister, Shelly Caudwell, runs the office two days per week.
One reason the company has been able to attract quality people is its pay structure. Scott said, “We don’t pay based on a piece rate. We pay an hourly, decent wage to keep our workers. We have tried the piece rate approach. But it seemed like more of a headache for everybody.” He further explained, “The workers that produce better get paid at a higher rate so there is still an incentive to keep up production levels.”
Supervisors track production by randomly going through pallet stacks to do quality checks as well as count numbers of pallets completed. If a worker is not living up to the requirements, the supervisors can tell which operators are having problems and work with them to fix it.
All of the company’s truck drivers have been part of the staff for quite a while. Mencer said, “We pay drivers a better wage than they can get elsewhere, and I am retired from FedEx so I know what drivers make out there.”
As the company has grown, so has the size of its transportation fleet. It has seven Freightliner tractors and over 150 trailers.
When it comes to waste material, A Pallet collects the leftovers and sends them to other companies to turn into pellets, animal bedding and mulch. Mencer admitted, “We have looked at making these products ourselves, but we don’t know if we are ready to do that ourselves and take on that headache.”
What does the future hold for A Pallet Co.? Mencer forecasted, “I don’t see the pace of demand slowing down at all. And the price of pallets is going to go up as cores continue to be difficult to obtain.”
Hawg Dismantler and Cut-Off Saw
The Pallet Hawg is a very versatile one, two man or pallet prep dismantler. It comes with a 5-1/4" drop pneumatic table that allows for easy stringer, block or deck board removal. The Pallet Hawg is ideal for block or large-sized pallets. It has a 60" capacity.
Sold by Noble Machinery and designed and manufactured by Built With Skill LLC, the Pallet Hawg boasts longest blade life due to its 10HP high torque gear reduction drive according to Brad Kirkaldy of Noble Machinery. This design also includes large 27" diameter band saw wheels and no-fail mechanical blade tension system. Customers routinely comment that the Pallet Hawg requires minimal maintenance.
Noble Machinery sells the Pallet Hawg cut-off saw designed to end trim new or recycled lumber. With pallet companies increasingly using reclaimed lumber to make combo pallets, this saw is a good addition to most pallet shops. It comes with a 10HP 3PH motor, double palm button actuation to improve safety, built-in fork pockets and three full height board stops. This saw has a 5" x 6" capacity with an 18" blade and a 6" x 6" capacity with a 20" blade.
Noble Machinery has been serving the forest products industry since 1895. It has a solid reputation for providing the right machinery at the right price. Noble offers the Pallet Hawg line of equipment that is constructed by Built With Skill LLC in addition to being a product representative for other new equipment and is probably best known as a great source for used pallet and sawing equipment. If you are looking for a good deal, call Kent Noble or Brad Kirkaldy at 800-348-0703 or see its current inventory online at www.noblemachine.com.
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