Pallet Express Prospers Through Responsive Approach to Customers and Business Conditions: Relies on Trusted Suppliers Such as Metropolitan Staple
Pallet Express: Pennsylvania pallet company adjusts to market and regulation changes assisted by customer-focused Metropolitan Staple.
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 8/1/2018
When the Enterprise last covered Pallet Express in 2015, the Pennsylvania-based recycler had recently navigated a surge of growth. The company has doubled in size since 2007 thanks largely to an expanding relationship with a major e-commerce retailer. To manage that uptick, Pallet Express had purchased an additional facility as well as making significant investments in new pallet repair and dismantling equipment.
Fast forward to 2018 and while business remains solid, that rapid growth has slowed. This shift is partially by design, and partially due to a softening local pallet market. Pallet Express has eliminated a few of the e-commerce locations due to extremely bad core quality and overall economics. Other challenges have emerged, such as being forced to find a new outlet for its fiber and an OSHA requirement to reduce the decibel level of its nailing operations. For Pallet Express, however, one enduring constant has been that company’s relationship with its nail gun and fastener supplier, Metropolitan Staple.
Having the right nails and pneumatic tools helps the company improve production and quality even while other stresses are making business more difficult by the day.
Metropolitan Staple has been serving Pallet Express with coil nailers and nails for more than seven years. While better nailing tools and better pricing led to the start of the relationship, recalled Bill Hildenbrand, president of Pallet Express, tremendous service in the years since has galvanized it. Today, Pallet Express continues to rely on nailing tools and fasteners from Metropolitan Staple for its pallet repair operations.
“Howard is very responsive,” stated Bob Hildenbrand, Bill’s son and vice president of operations. “He has a respect for our company and it shows. If you have a problem, you get service; if you have a question, you get an answer. He loves coming to our operation.”
Reducing Noise at the Pallet Repair Stations
One example of that responsiveness came to the forefront after an OSHA visit. Inspectors checked decibel levels at Pallet Express and flagged the pallet repair stations as an area for improvement. The company undertook several steps to reduce the noise associated with nailing on its steel repair tables. An underlying foam layer was installed along with a plywood sheet on the table top to dampen the sound at the Easton facility. Insulation was used at both facilities to reduce the noise.
While an improvement, the company needed to bring decibel levels even lower. They enlisted the help of the team at Metropolitan Staple to look at the nail guns. “They jumped right on it,” Bob said.
Howard Kastner, president of Metropolitan Staple, picked up the story from there. “Pallet Express approached us with questions about the sound levels of the tools. We went back to the company that manufactures the tools and did tests. We changed the cap on the gun and were able to reduce the decibel level by about three or four, which is quite significant.”
“That improvement not only helped us, it helped everyone in the entire industry purchasing guns from them,” Bob added.
Pallet Express was also appreciative of how they worked with the company to avoid a recent nail price increase. “They did the math to show us how we could hold our nail costs,” Bob said. By increasing its order quantity, the volume savings helped the company dodge a significant increase.
“That was very much appreciated when virtually every other cost in the business is going up,” Bob continued. “Diesel fuel, propane, insurances, workers comp and everything else. It never stops.”
One Company, Two Locations
The flagship location for Pallet Express is located in Easton, Pennsylvania. It focuses on material recovery, custom sizes and remanufactured pallets. In 2014, the company installed two tear-down lines from Industrial Resources that allowed it to almost triple its lumber output, enabling it to serve the needs of both branches. Unusable pallets and parts are mulched in its MC266 Rotochopper. We’ll come back to the mulch momentarily, because that’s part of the story that’s changed.
The newest Pallet Express operation, located in Nazareth Pennsylvania is eight miles away from the main location. It specializes in sorting and 48x40 repair operations. The Nazareth plant features automation from Industrial Resources, including barcoding, conveyor and Infinity pallet stackers. Production increased dramatically after installation, allowing the company to promptly process incoming cores rather than having them accumulate and clutter. It repairs and recycles about 60,000-70,000 pallets per week.
Finding a New Outlet for Fiber
For 30 years, Pallet Express wholesaled its mulch to a large customer, but then, about two and a half years ago, the company received a call that would set this part of the business in a new direction. The customer said that they were out of room. It couldn’t take five loads per day anymore. It could only take one. To make matters worse, decreasing core quality and a softer local market were resulting in more pallets being dispatched to the Rotochopper, and more mulch to move.
“We produce five loads of raw mulch daily, 500 to 600 yards,” Bob recalled of the fateful call to stop the mulch. “It was the middle of winter and we were like ‘What do we do?’ We had no choice but to get into the colored mulch business.” The company purchased the Green Machine from Greenville Colorants, and set about finding new outlets for its residuals.
“It works fantastic for the amount of coloring we do, which compared to others is not that much,” Bob said. “We are coloring a little less than 10,000 yards a year. The rest of our mulch is sold as raw mulch to other suppliers in the area.”
Today, Pallet Express grinds about 500 yards per day and slows to about two loads per day in the winter with a total production throughout the year of about 65,000 yards.
“Colored mulch is not a money maker by any means but we are moving it,” he continued. “We have to do something with it, because when it is not moving, you are paying to get rid of it.”
With significant effort, including promotion and advertising, Pallet Express has been successful in moving its colored product, targeting landscaping contractors and households.
Responsive Approach Has Proven Successful
The success of Pallet Express has long been built around being responsive to customer needs. “I’ve been in this business for 33 years,” Bill stated. “We’ve always been a very responsive company. We’ve never had to do a lot of cold calling.”
“It is easy to sit on customer concerns or complaints,” Bob elaborated, “but if you don’t respond to someone’s problem, they do not want to continue doing business with you. That’s how we get a lot of our customers.”
Constant improvement and responding to customer needs is a hallmark of both Pallet Express and Metropolitan Staple.
Kastner’s team, even after making the initial improvement to reduce the decibel level of the coil nailers, continued to upgrade various components in the guns to make them more durable, while reducing vibration and jarring.
“We have been able to achieve a much smoother operation of the nailer, a much more graceful distribution of energy through the tool,” Kastner said of the upgrade. “And at the same time, it has also made the gun significantly quieter.” The redesign has resulted in an additional three to four decibel decrease.
“It is still fairly recent, but we’ve had workers at a number of different places report to us that they really like the difference,” Kastner said. “The gun is smoother, and less jarring on the wrist and arm.”
As a company, Kastner stated the goal of his company is to optimize every part of the nailing system and service. At the Annual Leadership Conference meeting in March, he stated that Metropolitan’s banner read, “Better tools, better nails and service second to none.” “And that’s what we aspire to,” he said, “a better nail gun, better nails and backed by the best service in the business.”
Likewise, Pallet Express focuses on delivering top-notch service. “Our big thing is customer service, picking the phone up, and having somebody live to talk to right then and there, that’s our approach,” Bob stated. “Pallet users call someone else for a load of pallets, no one picks up, and no one returns the call. Some days the pallets show up, and some days they don’t.”
Through a focus on service, and with the aid of responsive suppliers such as Metropolitan Staple, Pallet Express has continued to prosper even as it faces ongoing changes in the marketplace.
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