Trucking Background Helps Young Florida Recycler Get Up, Running
Tampa Bay Pallet: Trucking background helps young Florida recycler get up and running; despite its early success, the company is still defining itself.
By Carolee Boyles
Date Posted: 5/1/2001
TAMPA, Fla. ó Marc Black, owner and president of Tampa Bay Pallet Enterprises, didnít set out to be one of the youngest entrepreneurs in the central Florida pallet industry. Marc had planned to be a professional photographer. But about the same time he came to the realization that there was little money to be made in photography, his stepfather asked Marc to help him with the family trucking business. From that collaboration, Tampa Bay Pallet Enterprises was born.
Marcís stepfather, Chuck Silliman, owned and ran Silliman Trucking Company in Tampa for more than 20 years. As an older teenager, Marc worked at the business, holding positions from security guard to safety director. He went to college in nearby Daytona Beach and earned a degree in photography. Just as he was finishing college, Chuck called him and asked Marc to go to Jacksonville and run the trucking terminal there for a couple of years. He did.
"Then, in the middle of that, Chuck called me and said he wanted to start a pallet company," said Marc, now 26. "Iíve always liked working with wood, so I relocated back to Tampa so I could run it."
Marc admits that starting a new business straight out of college was a scary thing to do. "My payroll averages $10,000 a week," he said, "so itís been a real stressful thing for me to do. But I was already into the business aspect of it. Iíd had up to 35 employees in Jacksonville, but I wasnít completely responsible for it because I was still working for the trucking company. Now itís my butt on the line. Sometimes it wakes me up at night, but weíve always managed to pull through one way or another."
The company has been fortunate to have Bob Lee as vice president of sales, and he has been instrumental in its success, according to Marc. Bob handles selling responsibilities while Marc focuses on daily operations. "Without Bob out in the field, finding new customers and maintaining a face-to-face relationship with existing clients, we would not be where we are today," said Marc. "There is just not enough time to do it all by yourself. Bob has pallet knowledge and transportation industry experience. He has truly brought Tampa Bay Pallet Enterprises its success in sales and marketing."
The fledgling pallet company started out in the same building where Silliman Trucking Company was still located. In just a little more than three years, however, Tampa Bay Pallet outgrew its original location. Meanwhile, Chuck retired and sold the trucking company, and it was time for Tampa Bay Pallet to stand on its own.
Marc leased an acre of property from his father and moved the pallet company to the new property, located just southeast of Tampa. With the year-round good weather thatís characteristic of Tampa Bay, Marc didnít have to make a big investment in buildings. A double-wide trailer houses the office and the administrative functions of the company; the pallet recycling and manufacturing operations are almost entirely outdoors, with just a roof to keep off the sun and rain.
Along with the move, the company added new employees. "When we first opened, I only had two to three builders, and a third guy who was kind of a temporary employee when we had the work," Marc says. "Now we have five builders consistently, and Iíve had it peak at seven builders sometimes. Then we have the saw people and the yard people and the loaders to go with all that. We average about 20 people employed." Marcís mother Diane, who once worked for Silliman Trucking, now manages the books of Tampa Bay Pallet.
Besides the main location, Tampa Bay Pallet also has added limited pallet manufacturing operations for one customer on-site in Orlando. "I have one guy who works building pallets for a single customerís location," said Marc.
Other than the move and the addition of employees, Tampa Bay Pallet has not changed much since its inception four years ago. "One thing Iíve noticed, though, is that itís harder to find pallets," Marc said. "Weíre more of a pallet recycler than a manufacturer. Iíd rather buy them, fix them and sell them again and make a profit out of reselling them. And it seems like thatís getting harder to do." For the most part, Tampa Bay Pallet deals in hardwood pallets although it also supplies pallets made of Southern yellow pine. The company also supplies custom pallets.
The company is equipped with one bandsaw dismantling machine that Marc modified somewhat. The blade originally was lubricated with oil, but Marc didnít like the environmental implications of oil spills. He rigged up a bucket with a piece of tubing coming from a hole in the bottom, and it is filled with soapy water to lubricate the blade.
Tampa Bay Pallet uses a pair of DeWalt cut-off saws for cutting material to size. In addition to recovering and using recycled pallet parts, Tampa Bay Pallet buys 1x4 and 1x6 in 6-foot, 8-foot, 10-foot, and 12-foot lengths. The company also buys a small amount of 3/4-inch plywood that is cut for squares to separate and support unit loads of heavy goods, such as concrete blocks.
Marc has discovered a useful source of materials for repairing pallets: fence slats. He buys treated pine fence slats in 6-foot lengths for less than he can buy regular replacement deckboards. The fence slats, however, are used only on one-way pallets for customers with a limited unit load. "Most clients donít care what the pallets are made of," Marc noted, "as long as they hold what the client needs for them to hold. And they usually incorporate the price of the pallet into whatever theyíre selling to the customer, so they donít get the pallet back to use it again."
Tampa Bay Pallet is equipped with Stanley-Bostitch power nailing and stapling tools for assembling pallets and making pallet repairs.
The association with Silliman Trucking Company helped Tampa Bay Pallet get off the ground. When Silliman upgraded its older 48-foot trailers to 53-foot ones, Marc bought the old ones. Like other pallet recyclers, he leaves trailers at distribution centers and other customer locations so the empty pallets can be loaded straight onto the trailers. "Because of being able to put trailers in places and pull out pallets in quantity, we started this business at a large volume," Marc said.
Pallet recyclers may buy pallets off the street, noted Marc, "but we rarely do." Buying pallets off the street can encourage dishonest people who have stolen the pallets elsewhere. "At the old location, Iíd have a stack of 40 pallets inside a fence that was just 10 feet high. People would throw an anchor on a rope onto the top of the pile and pull them over the fence. Theyíd bring them back to me the next day and try to sell them." If someone comes in off the street with pallets from a source Marc knows, he will buy them; otherwise, he sticks to obtaining pallet cores from customers.
Despite Tampa Bay Palletís early success, the company is still defining itself. The company had sales of about $800,000 in 2000. "Weíre at the point where we need to either get bigger or get smaller," said Marc. "Weíre trying to refine what we have now. It takes a while to find out who you are, and you have to do some things at cost for a while to find out that itís not worth it to do them."
Marc has made an effort not to overly rely on any particular industry as he grows the company. Tampa Bay Pallet supplies both new and recycled pallets to a wide variety of customers, including computer companies, fertilizer manufacturers, soft drink bottlers, and fabric and shade companies. "If someone needs pallets, it doesnít matter what they do," he said. "Weíll accommodate them."
Marc tries to avoid obtaining low-grade used pallets. "We only work with As and Bs," he says. "I donít like to get into Cs. We donít repair them quite that far."
However, since he does get a certain number of C-grade pallets in every load, Marc has looked for other ways to use them. "For the first time, we recently mulched a lot of it," he says. "Weíre sending a lot of it to a company called Southern Softwoods in Auburndale. Theyíre a recycling company that grinds it a lot finer than we do and makes mulch out of it." About 15 55-yard containers of scrap pallets were reduced to about five containers of mulch. "Reducing it that way is good for us, but as far as where weíre sending it, they still have to grind it much finer, and then they color it as well. But itís recycled, which is the important thing. I could take it...and have it incinerated for $100 a container load, but I want someone to use it for something." Marc also uses small amounts of wood in his home wood shop, although he admits he has less time to work in his shop than he expected to when he helped start Tampa Bay Pallet.
Despite the time the company takes, Marc still finds time to have a family and personal life. He and his wife of four years donít have children, and she works in the banking business in Tampa. Besides working in his wood shop, Marc races radio-controlled cars, golfs, and fishes.
He and other family members do volunteer work for an Alzheimerís support group. Several family members have had Alzheimerís disease, so the family takes the volunteer commitment very seriously. "My mother is on the board of directors, and any time they need help we do whatever we can," Marc said.
His biggest challenge in the business is finding quality people who want to work hard and will come to work every day. Turnover can be daunting, he acknowledged. "Finding good quality employees who stay is hard, and finding good quality people who have the right credentials and can do the job ó and who have green cards ó is tough!"
Marc would like to see Tampa Bay Pallet Enterprises continue to grow and become more efficient so the company will be more profitable. Although heís not looking to become a huge pallet company, he would like the business to provide a comfortable living for himself and his employees. "Profit gets eaten up in a lot of different areas that are hard to track in the pallet business," he said. "Iíd like to make us more efficient so weíre increasing profit instead of just maintaining the same level."
Marc is clear on the fact that his trucking background has been a contributing factor in the success of the company. "Having the ability to move large numbers of pallets from place to place has really helped us," he said. "It would be hard to be working on the scale we are if we didnít have that."
He also is quick to get out in the pallet yard and do the same jobs his employees are doing. "I donít ask anyone to do anything that I wonít do," he said. "Being here every day, keeping my hand in whatís going on ó that lets me see things the other guys donít, and itís part of whatís helped us get where we are."
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