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McIntosh Box and Pallet – Focus on Customers and Specialty Needs: Bronco Stackers Serve as Focus of Recycling Lines
McIntosh Box and Pallet uses a wide variety of products and services to satisfy its customer base. A major Northeast pallet company, it was early into pallet recycling and uses Bronco pallet stackers for increased efficiency.
Date Posted: 3/1/2010
East Syracuse, New York —
Growth and History
Few large pallet companies have functioned on the specialty side of our industry as successfully as McIntosh Box and Pallet has. In 1961, Kenneth McIntosh purchased Thompson Box Company in East Syracuse and renamed the business McIntosh Box & Lumber Co. In 1968 the company moved to its current headquarters with the construction of its hardwood department, and in 1970 added its softwood department and changed its name to what it is today.
McIntosh has grown steadily through the years. In 1971, it opened its Bernhards Bay plant, the largest of its current seven locations, to build commodity pallets. It purchased Dahn Crating Company in Rome, NY in 1987 to support business opportunities in Mohawk Valley. In 1992 it expanded again by purchasing land and buildings in Bernhards Bay from Rutland Plywood Corp. where it started a fully functional pallet recycling operation. In 1995 operations began in a newly constructed recycling building in Bernards Bay.
In 1999, McIntosh erected its Geneva plant to produce softwood products.
In 2001, Tom Ryan, owner of McIntosh at the time, became semi-retired when Rich Huftalen purchased McIntosh Box and Pallet. In 2005, the company moved its Rome location and acquired a 80,000 sq.ft. facility in Buffalo to support the company’s growth in western New York.
McIntosh has expanded over the years to seven locations in two states, six in New York (East Syracuse, Geneva, Liverpool, Rome, Buffalo, and Bernhards Bay) and one in Maine.
While the company was growing, its focus remained the same. Each of the seven facilities is different, but each operates on the same core values: integrity, commitment, discipline, teamwork, respect, constant improvement, and excellence.
Products – Boxes, Pallets, and Recycling
About 210 employees and fifteen to sixteen million dollars of products a year make McIntosh one of the largest pallet companies in the Northeast. But few pallet companies of this size accomplish it with as much focus on special products, including non-standard pallets, wooden boxes, and small order quantities. They accomplish this kind of pallet volume with only one automated nailing machine, a Viking Explorer in Syracuse on which they can manufacture both stringer and block pallets. Most products are fastened using Bostitch nails and pneumatic tools.
In new pallets, McIntosh focuses on smaller runs; it is more of a niche manufacturer. It brokers out many pallets, including long runs, 48x40 pallets, and other standard products and sizes. McIntosh works closely with B&B’s Albany Pallet Company. There is an emphasis on customer service. Customers order in the morning, and often McIntosh will deliver in the afternoon. Their three biggest customers frequently need products in less than 24 hours.
McIntosh’s emphasis on service allows them to respond to specific customer needs. The customer calls the shots, and McIntosh provides the required service.
McIntosh keeps very clean facilities. Employees are conscientious about following the company rule – nothing on the floor. They follow the basic concept of picking up after themselves. The only way to have a clean place is to keep it that way.
McIntosh got involved in recycling in 1992, fairly early during the move of established manufacturers toward recycling. Recycling has been one of the major factors behind the growth of many pallet companies. Like most recyclers, McIntosh focuses on 48x40s, which make up at least 90% of its recycling business; the rest involves niche sizes. Today, recycling and managing repair depots makes up about 40% of McIntosh’s total business.
While the company focuses on 48x40s, either As or Bs, it makes some combo pallets with a mix of used and new lumber. It makes some smaller pallet sizes from used lumber, including four routine combo sizes.
The recycling machinery at McIntosh includes a variety of Trace and Smart Saw machines and Bronco stackers. The company has not become involved in high speed sorting lines but has used established pieces of recycling machinery along with Bostitch pneumatic nailers. Bostitch services McIntosh’s pneumatic nailers weekly.
McIntosh uses a cell recycling format with three man teams, one bandsaw operator to inspect and prepare pallets for repair and two repairmen. Four cells include a Smart Saw for removing broken parts, two roller top repair tables, and three Bronco stackers. Their other three repair cells do not have stackers at this time, but adding more stackers is part of this year’s budgeted capital improvements.
McIntosh bought seven Bronco stackers in 2002; the others date back to the 1990s. They have helped reduce recycling labor and increase the speed of processing. Will Wester, director of operations at McIntosh, said, “Our Bronco stackers have worked very well for us. Our repairs and maintenance have been very limited. You can still see some orange paint on the older ones. Morris Self and Bronco have been good for us. They have always been there when we needed them. They even challenged us a little on occasions. Bronco has always done what it said it would do. Morris makes you want to do business with them. Bronco is always thinking. Morris stays in touch with the industry.”
McIntosh has spread plants across New York and Maine to provide the kind of service it needs to properly serve its customers. In addition to New York, the company ships products to Pennsylvania and throughout New England. It even got a large block pallet order in South Carolina. The customer was satisfied enough to give McIntosh more business in Connecticut and Washington D.C. This serves as a good example of the importance of parlaying quality, service, and honest customer relationships.
Focused service at McIntosh includes two plants that are dedicated to sorting and repairing pallets for pallet rental systems. Another example of specialized recycling includes repairing older Anheuser-Busch wooden block pallets. McIntosh is nationally certified to repair these pallets; most of them are at least ten years old.
The company has its own fleet of trucks, including four tractors and 65 dry vans used as drop trailers for recycling. Most finished new products are shipped on flat beds. The company mostly runs 53 foot flat beds. McIntosh has a fleet of Nissan forklifts, maintained by in-house mechanics and Stanley Material Handling.
Most of the recycled pallets are hardwood because they dominate the industry. McIntosh has about a 50/50 mix of hardwoods and softwoods for the new wooden pallets they manufacture. Many pallet companies use only one of the lumber types, but because of their location and focus on specialty needs, McIntosh works with both.
About ten sawmills supply McIntosh with hardwoods; most are in New York but a few are in Pennsylvania. While many hardwood pallet companies east of the Rocky Mountains and plains states are experiencing supply problems in early 2010, McIntosh has not experienced hardwood supply problems yet this year. Local hardwood mills have cut back on production but are still providing enough cants.
At the time of this interview, softwood prices were moving rapidly higher. McIntosh uses eastern white pine (EWP), Southern Yellow Pine from the South, and Canadian SPF. Wet weather, particularly in the South, has emptied log decks and caused prices to shoot higher. McIntosh buys mostly random length material and cut stock through brokers.
Over 5% of McIntosh’s business is crates and plywood and OSB boxes. The company specializes in open sided crates; customers can see their products through the crates. Open sided crates are strong enough to be stacked.
McIntosh uses four package saws, two Holtecs, one L&M (Canada), and one Pacific Trail, to crosscut much of its random length softwood lumber. It also uses a variety of single-cut and radial arm crosscut saws. Several Baker double-head resaws and a Wood-Mizer four-head resaw are used for ripping. The company concentrates mostly on crosscutting but will rip softwoods when necessary. McIntosh uses a 20 year old Brewer gang saw to cut cants into pallet stock.
A shop-built chamber in Rome heat treats hardwood pallets; McIntosh bought some heaters and chamber parts from Temp Air when it made the chamber. Softwood lumber comes in already heat treated. Conway Robinson certifies heat treating for McIntosh Box.
McIntosh has some problems getting rid of wood fiber waste products. They currently burn some waste to heat their chamber but pay to get rid of much wood waste. One of the company’s missions this year is to turn wood waste from a cost into a positive revenue stream, at the very least moving it out of the cost column.
The service and specialty product practices at McIntosh require a close level of management. Except for the people on recycling lines, most other employees rotate their responsibilities to match the requirements of a changing product requirement. Most production employees are classified as either a sawyer or an assembler and moved around as needed. The company has focused on cross training to provide the needed flexibility.
Over the last year, McIntosh’s work force has been pretty steady. In addition to about 210 employees, McIntosh uses temporary workers as needed to handle any busy periods. Sometimes they need 50 or more temps, but recently the number has run about 20. Management gets a chance to assess how well a person fits into the McIntosh team, and after a period of about 13 weeks or 500 hours, a decision can be made about how well a temp fits. This system allows the company to carry a potential employee without some overhead costs through an evaluation period.
Each employee has an annual hearing test and wears personal protective equipment, such as steel toed shoes, safety glasses, and hearing protection. Each plant has a safety coordinator who keeps all the needed paper work, conducts a monthly safety refresher class, and maintains first aid supplies. Will stated, “Our work floor polices itself. Peer pressure helps reinforce strong work habits.”
McIntosh has a diverse workforce composed of a wide variety of races, both male and female. Most of the seven plants are running a single shift at this time. The original Syracuse location runs two shifts, and the two pallet management locations often operate 18 hours a day.
When asked if he had any words of wisdom to share with our readers, Will said, “Relationships need to be win-win relationships with both customers and employees. We will not tell a customer when or how they can order. Just supply the service and product they need. Partnership and relationship - they are really interchangeable words.”
Every morning McIntosh does a vendor managed inventory in its own plants and in many customers’ plants, particularly its largest customers. It keeps stocks of certain products for many customers and evaluates their needs every day.
McIntosh is a member of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association and leases its PDS pallet design system, a computer program that analyzes a pallet to see how well it performs a needed job. It occasionally uses the Crate Pro computer program for analyzing the crate designs.
When speaking about how the company is handling today’s economic conditions, Will said, “We are doing a lot of waste identification. We are taking advantage of grants that the state of New York has for lean manufacturing; we are using real time data to match our efforts with prices. Price obviously has to be considered on every job. We have control over labor and material and have to manage them to provide products our customers need at a price that can keep McIntosh a sustainable company.”