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Custom Crating Machinery Is Florida Company's Specialty
All American: Florida-based All American Crating specializes in custom-built crates and skids for machinery, overseas and domestic shipping.

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 3/1/2001

ORLANDO, Fla. — Precious cargo is in the eye of its sender. And cargo of all sorts — from huge machines to great-great-grandmother’s sofa or a new motorcycle — gets exacting treatment by All American Crating Inc.

Randy Pflanz, who co-owns All American Crating with his wife, Dawn, sees things from the same perspective as his clients: no matter what is being sent or where it is going, it deserves to be packed in order to withstand the inevitable bumps it will encounter along the way.

All American Crating opened its doors in 1995. "We specialize in custom-built crates for machinery, overseas and domestic shipping," explained Randy, who brought 16 years of experience with freight with him when he started the business.

The Chicago native saw a lot of poorly packed shipments during his years as a freight manager, which began in the Windy City in 1979. Randy moved to Florida in 1989 to take a job as the international manager for an airfreight company. He soon learned that the results of packing efforts often came up short in the Sunshine State, too. He recalls seeing crates at the airport that literally were falling apart.

One thing was clear: shippers needed help. Randy worked at building crates "off and on" for many years as a part-time business while he worked as a freight manager. He was experienced at designing and building containers that could maintain their structural integrity.

Better still, Randy was certain he could design and build crates, skids and other shipping platforms and containers to protect their contents with an error-free rate. After all, he had grown up with wood. "It was natural to me," he said, "seeing how wood is handled. My father built houses, and (I) always helped him."

Taking what he knew about management from freight companies, what he learned about construction from his father, plus his own experience in crate design and construction, Randy launched the business. He holds the title of corporate president at All American Crating. He handles operations, design and sales. Dawn, vice president, is responsible for "everything from financial to management," Randy explained.

The company’s staff is made up of Randy, Dawn, and eight employees. In December 1999, Randy, Dawn, and a silent partner formed an affiliated business, All American Rigging, which is under the same roof.

All American Crating is just eight miles from Orlando International Airport and about an hour’s drive from Tampa International Airport. The company serves customers throughout the state from its central Florida location.

All American Crating leases a 32,700-square-foot building that is well suited to its operations. The production section has 10,000 square feet, including 1,000 square feet of air conditioned space. The staging and storage area has 23-foot ceiling — "lots of space for stacking," said Randy. And there is a 4,400-square-foot office. Four standard dock doors are complimented by a special fifth door, a 14-foot by 14-foot door at ground level that makes it possible to move a truck inside. The building is protected by a nine-camera security system to ensure customers that shipments packaged at All American Crating will be well guarded.

All American Rigging took the "best of the best," said Randy. The best was the parent company’s expertise in crating large objects for safe shipment. The rigging business was launched with five experienced employees.

Randy has designed so many unusual crates that he cannot cite one job as the most unique. A challenge he faced in 1992, however, while he was still employed as a freight manager, really got him hooked on designing and building shipping containers. He designed containers for two Bach 111 aircraft that were shipped to Europe as ocean-going freight.

His success with Bach 111 aircraft was of the sort that demonstrates and validates expertise, and a trend of bigger and bigger successes continued. For example, Randy has done consulting stints at some major corporations. The companies have retained his services to set up their own crating operations.

A great deal of the business that comes to All American Crating is by word-of-mouth referrals — a happy customer speaking to a prospective customer. Today, 80% of customers are manufacturers and 10% are referred by freight forwarders. Most of the remaining 10% are individuals — such as someone who needs a tender-loving-care container for a valuable piece of furniture or equipment. Most of the freight forwarder jobs come from haulers with shipments that require repacking.

The custom jobs present some real challenges. One job, for example, was for shipping platforms for two 90-ton steel presses — that’s 180,000 pounds each. They were being shipped abroad. Each press was only 26 feet long, so they exerted tremendous weight per unit area on the skid. The building process began with oak timbers. Ultimately, the skids were used successfully to transport the presses from their point of origin in Indiana, down the Mississippi River by barge, and eventually to China.

All American Crating gets jobs of all kinds and sizes. There are 40-foot and 50-foot skids at one end of the spectrum. At the other end are orders for 3-foot pallets to transport computer consoles protected by bubble wrap and cardboard.

The company also has developed another niche — crating motorcycles for shipment. All American Crating has fitted more than 5,000 motorcycles with skids and crates and secured them for transport.

Randy got started with motorcycle crating when he was still in Chicago. He explained, "Back in the early 1980s, Harley-Davidsons were valued overseas (so highly) that Germans bought 10 or 30 (used bikes) at a time." The buyers shipped the motorcycles to Europe to be repaired and sold.

In Florida, Randy built on his experience with packaging motorcycles. For example, Daytona, which is just 60 minutes northeast of Orlando, attracts enthusiasts for Bike Week in early March and Biketoberfest in October. Many of the motorcycle enthusiasts who attend the events will have their bikes shipped to Florida. All American Crating can expertly uncrate them, store the crating material, and repack a bike for a return trip home.

Moreover, visitors will buy a motorcycle and turn to All American Crating for help with packing and shipping their purchase home. "All the crating (for bikes) is custom," said Randy. "We build to fit the bike as tight as possible." The snug containment reduces airfreight charges, which are governed by weight and size.

The range of sizes and shapes the company deals with requires flexibility, and All American Crating buys a variety of raw material that it remanufactures. It buys timbers of oak, spruce and pine as well as dimension lumber and plywood. "We buy everything from oak timbers to 2x12, 2x6, 2x4, 2x3, 1x4 (and so on) straight from the mill," said Randy. The company also buys 3/4-inch, 1/2-inch and 3/8-inch plywood. Because of the large size of many of the jobs at All American Crating, Randy starts with timbers whenever possible.

The company uses chain saws for cutting large timbers to size. The shop also is equipped with two 12-inch chop saws, two DeWalt radial arm saws (a 16-inch and a 12-inch), and several Milwaukee panel saws.

The Milwaukee and DeWalt equipment gets very high marks from Randy. "Guaranteed, no one better," he said about the two manufacturers. Getting "the best tools" is a high priority explained Randy, and both brands fall into that category in his ranking. In fact, Randy began using Milwaukee and DeWalt in 1982 in his first part-time crating business.

The chain saws, chop saws and power nailing tools are "mixed" in terms of their manufacturers, said Randy. Some of the equipment is also used and refurbished.

A full-time mechanic keeps all the equipment humming. The mechanic works in a well-appointed machine shop that includes vertical lathes for metal work. The maintenance and repair capability gives the company more options when it comes to repairing equipment or buying used equipment and refurbishing it — which Randy prefers when it is more economical.

The company’s operations generate little waste. "We use 90 percent" of the raw material the company buys for skid and crate components, said Randy. Another 5% becomes material for pallet boards, blocks and chocks. The leftover scrap is used by employees for firewood.

Some custom jobs not only are for unusually large objects but also are for relatively high-volume orders. Once the shipping platform is designed and the customer makes a commitment, All American Crating may have to build a large number of custom skids or crates at the same time. "We have a customer that ships out toll booths with optical scanners," said Randy. On jobs similar to that one, All American Crating may have to produce as many as 200 crates a day.

When designing a crate or skid, Randy decides "95 percent of the time" what type of wood to use. In some contracts, however, such as packaging for shipments going to China, the type of wood is specified.

Given the size of some of the objects the company crates, the work sometimes must be done on-site at a customer location. All American Crating has three full mobile crews it can dispatch.

"I get a phone call from a customer in Georgia," said Randy, explaining his approach. "I fly up there, set up (the job and do the design work and) have a crew build the crates. For jobs that are big enough, (we will go) anywhere in the country."

The company’s rigging unit owns an impressive array of rigging, including about $450,000 in jacks and skates. "We are trying to recession-proof the business by buying as much as we can," said Randy. That means getting "set up so overhead is low." The company also rents some equipment for mobile assignments; renting equipment on-site often is cost effective.

In making investments in rigging equipment, Randy focuses on performance. In buying forklifts, for example, he pays little attention to brands. In addition to a pair of forklifts, the company is equipped with 200-ton and 400-ton gantries for heavy lifting, a single-drop hydraulic trailer and a 50-ton hydraulic detachable lowboy. For trucking the company has tractor-trailers and two 24-foot box trucks and a van; contract haulers do out-of-state transport.

A customer-first philosophy extends to providing services on a flexible schedule. The normal schedule for employees is 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. However, the effective hours of operation at All American Crating are 24-hours per day, seven days per week. "We do what customers need," said Randy, who enjoys deep sea fishing, snook fishing and spending time with his family when he is not working.

The can-do approach means there are many special services the company provides. For example, All American Crating applies shrink wrap to a lot of machines that it puts on skids. "We mount a machine to a skid and then heat shrink" the wrap, said Randy.

Many customers prefer shrink wrap to tarps, which can come loose and flap open, leaving the equipment vulnerable to inclement weather, dust, and other transport hazards. Bolting, banding, and all skid attachments also are part of the service the company offers.

All American Crating uses and recommends Cortec products — films, foams and bubbles — for protecting shipments from corrosion. Certain Cortec products offer additional protection for cargo because they use vapor corrosion inhibitors.

Two things guide Randy’s approach to business. The first is customer satisfaction. "Every time a customer has a problem, they tell us what they want (and) before we’re even done, they’re shaking our hand, thanking us," he said.

The second is the company’s employees. "Guys like working for us," said Randy. "They love to come to work. We have an open door policy." Lee Lawrence, a supervisor, has been a particularly important player on the All American Crating team, said Randy.

The essence of his approach to business is to "treat customers and employees well," he added.

As for the future, Randy is thinking of incorporating bar coding at All American Crating, possibly within a year. He also plans within three years to construct a new 60,000-square-foot facility in the Orlando area.

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