Brothers Adding to Success Of McNeilly Wood Products
McNeilly Wood Products:
By Tim Cox
Date Posted: 2/1/1999
CAMPBELL HALL, N.Y. — Tim and Dan McNeilly are building a pallet business on the firm foundation laid by their Irish immigrant ancestors.
McNeilly Wood Products has been in business for 51 years and originally started as a company that made boxes. Formerly located in northern New Jersey, the company has been situated the past five years in New York’s lower Hudson Valley. McNeilly Wood Products operates from a new, 15,000-square-foot building located on 10 acres. The business employs 23 people in pallet manufacturing, pallet recycling, specialty wood products for shipping and packaging, and colored hardwood mulch production. The company has annual sales of about $4 million.
"We believe our father and grandfather knew what they were doing when they required that we first graduate from college and make our own way in the world before joining the family business," said Tim. He serves as company president and oversees production.
"It made us appreciate what it means to be your own boss and left us prepared to take our business to the next level," added Dan, vice president and leader of the company’s sales and marketing efforts.
The company has about 100 customers and manufactures about 350 various pallet footprints. About 70% of its pallet production is new and 30% is reconditioned.
The company buys hardwood cants, mainly from suppliers in New York but a few from the New England states; about 70% of its raw material is in cant form. It also buys some 4/4 boards and cut stock from Canadian suppliers.
In-feed decks are located outside the mill. Cants move through an unscrambler and dealer deck to a Brewer cut-up line. The Brewer cut-up system has four automatic stops to cut the cants to 10 to 15 different lengths. "Cutting anywhere from 30 inches to 96 inches is not uncommon," Tim said. Typical lengths are 36, 40, 48, 52, and 58 inches.
The sized cants then are fed to a Brewer gang rip saw that both rips and planes material for deck boards and stringers. "We consider ourselves a specialty company with volume capabilities," said Tim. "We cut a lot of different dimensions," such as 1/2, 5/8, 3/4, 5/4, 6/4
-inch and 3x4. We typically consolidate orders and run the gang saw to rip the material we need to fill them. "We cut
The plant also is equipped with a two-head Brewer horizontal bandsaw for short runs, quick change-overs, and specialty cuts.
"We have a nice mix between the two saws," explained Tim. "No one machine can do everything. We have the gang saw but also the flexibility of the bandsaw."
The bandsaws are equipped with a device, purchased through Brewer, that blows compressed air through the saw blade while it is cutting so the boards are cleaned as they go.
Small bundles of boards are cut to size on Hazledine and Whirlwind cut-off and pop-up saws.
The shop also has a Hermanze power-fed rip saw. "It’s set up right now for taking a 1x4x96 board and putting a notch down the middle, like a strapping notch," said Tim. A dado blade cuts the notch the length of the board.
Plant equipment includes a few radial arm saws and a Newman chamfering machine.
Stringer and deck board cut stock comes in standard sizes, such as 40, 42, or 48-inch stringers. "We tend to do the odd sizes ourselves — the 52, 58, 46 and 44," said Tim. It buys some stringers already notched but also has a Hazledine notcher with Econotool heads to cut its own.
For assembly work, the plant is equipped with one automated nailing machine, a Viking Turbo-Max purchased new nearly five years ago. "We do a lot of specialty nailing," said Tim. An ordinary day for the Viking is assembling three or four different sizes. "We probably make 1,500 pallets a day on the Viking," he said. A typical run on the Viking ranges from 100 pallets to two truckloads. In addition, about six employees are devoted to assembling specialty pallets or other products using Bostich nailing tools; hand-built orders range from five pallets to a couple of thousand.
The recycling operation at McNeilly Wood Products was launched about 10 years ago. It was a gradual move. The company repeatedly received calls from customers who wanted to buy reconditioned pallets or have pallets removed. "Our response in the past was always, ‘No, we only do new pallets,’ " recalled Tim. "About 10 years ago we slowly began taking in pallets, reconditioning them, and reselling them." Although they started small, Tim and Dan intend to continue expanding the recycling side of the business. "It seems to be a trend in the market now," Tim added.
Used pallets are sorted by size before being brought into the building. Repair workers at three stations handle one size at a time. "We find this approach to be more efficient," said Tim.
The company, which does not plate stringers, has two sources of repair stock. One is rejects from the gang saw. The other is random width lumber. Since the gang is used to cut such a wide range of dimensions, it generates a sizeable volume of random width lumber. Material that does not make a full board is cut to size and used as repair stock. "It’s a nice mix and a good use of material," Tim noted. "What is not acceptable in one phase of the business (new pallet production) is a nice board for the repair side of the business."
"And the beauty of it is that the customer can see the repair on the reconditioned pallet," added Dan. The new replacement parts stand out in stark contrast to the old boards of the pallet.
Like other recyclers, they are finding it harder and harder to obtain 48x40 cores. "They’re harder to find now than they were 10 years ago or even three years ago," said Tim. "We don’t expect this situation to improve in the future."
To maintain a constant supply of repairable pallets, McNeilly Wood Products keeps approximately 25 trailers stationed at customer locations to pick up unwanted pallets — a service for which the company typically charges a fee. "We sell service," added Dan. "Customers call when the van is full and we send a tractor to pull it out the next day. A timely response is very important to our customers."
McNeilly Wood products recently invested in a grinding system from Rotochopper that is used to produce colored mulch. Tim and Dan expect that sales of colored mulch will comprise about 5% of the company’s revenues when the operation is in full swing this spring.
Although the Rotochopper system is nearly brand new, grinding scrap wood is not new to McNeilly Wood Products. In fact, the Rotochopper is the third grinding machine the company has owned.
"Out first machine was a high rpm hog," explained Dan. "Our second was a low-rpm, high-torque grinder. Now we’ve got the Rotochopper. This machine out-paces the other two." The company’s other grinders "did what they were designed to do," he added. "We just out-grew them."
"When we purchased the Rotochopper," said Dan, "we wanted to make sure that whatever we bought would grow with us, was reliable, and could produce a finished product."
The start-up time was fast. The machine was delivered on a Wednesday in September and began producing colored mulch on Friday. They made some preparations before the machine was delivered, such as pouring a concrete pad.
The company constructed a three-bay dock near the Rotochopper. Incoming loads of wood waste are taken directly to one of the three docks for immediate mulch production.
McNeilly Wood Products is producing colored mulch through the winter and stockpiling it for spring sales. The colored mulch is sold to wholesalers in the greater New York metropolitan area and to local landscaping businesses. Although the Rotochopper can produce different colors, red mulch is the best-selling color in their market right now.
In addition to the recent investment in the Rotochopper system, McNeilly Wood Products also upgraded its dust collection system. The new system features a 100-cubic yard Peerless overhead bin for loading trucks. A conveying system carries saw dust to the overhead bin. "That was a big investment," said Tim. "It works great and saves us a lot of time."
"One of our strengths," said Tim, "is that we deal in a large cross-section of industries — warehousing, printing, chemicals, plastics, manufacturing." McNeilly Wood Products has customers in the greater metropolitan New York City region. "We have customers of all sizes. We don’t have one customer that we do 50% of our business with."
One of the company’s chief marketing tools is direct mail. Dan developed four professionally printed pieces that are sent to prospective customers in a specific sequence. The pieces include a tri-fold brochure, post card, cover letter, and a tear-off flier.
"If you’ve read anything about direct mail literature," Dan noted, "one mailing isn’t enough. The purchase agents need to see it come across their desk two or three times before they pick it up and make a phone call."
"It’s one of those things that you need to do constantly," added Dan. "It seems like you’re always putting something in the mail to someone." However, the marketing method has proved effective, he said.
"The direct mail puts us in contact with people who want to talk about pallets," added Tim. "We have found it more productive than sending a salesman to call on a business only to find that nobody wants to talk about pallets. With direct mail, the purchasing agents who call us are serious and knowledgeable about purchasing pallets."
Both men are members of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association.
Tim, 46, earned a degree in economics from Jersey City University and worked in sales and marketing for a national paint company before joining the family business. He lives with his wife, Jeryl, and their two daughters, 18-year-old Erin and 16-year-old Megan. Jeryl handles the company’s personnel, payroll and accounts payable duties. The family enjoys sailing at the New Jersey shore, and Tim is a member of the local Rotary Club.
Dan, 39, earned a degree in accounting from Montclair State University in New Jersey and previously sold mutual funds on a wholesale basis in the Southeast. He lives with his wife, Ann, and their two sons, 7-year-old Jack and 5-year-old Mark. Ann keeps the company’s computers up-to-date and handles accounts receivable duties. Both Dan and Ann enjoy running and reading.
Their grandfather, Patrick J. McNeilly, and an uncle, Patrick F. McNeilly, started the business in 1947. They were later joined by Tim and Dan’s father, John. "They were immigrants looking to better their lives, and I think they succeeded and even exceeded their original dreams," said Tim. "They ended up as a successful company."
The men passed on stories to Tim and Dan about how they worked to build the company. They worked weekends and even went back to work many evenings after dinner to finish an order. "They built up the company to a certain level and gave us the tools, through an education, experience and a shared history, to take it further," said Dan.
McNeilly Wood Products originally started business as Patrick J. McNeilly & Sons in Jersey City, N.J. Five years ago, Tim and Dan decided to expand. In 1992 they bought land and started construction of their current plant. After running both sites for four years, the brothers consolidated the operations and recently sold the Jersey City plant.
The immigrant tradition continues at McNeilly Wood Products. The company employs workers of Polish decent, Haitians, and a number of Hispanic workers representing countries from Central and South America.
Tim and Dan hung a big American flag from the ceiling of the plant. On either side are the flag of Ireland and flags representing the native countries of the employees.
"The idea behind the flags," Tim explained, "is that you’re in America now, but we’re all proud of where we and our ancestors came from. We’re a melting pot, and everybody tries to work together."
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