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Ongweoweh Develops Unique Solutions for Customers: Data and Reporting Capabilities Have Become Keys to Its Success
Pioneering Spirit: Ongweoweh Corp. has expanded beyond the usual broker role to develop national networks including rental programs for customers using its in-house tracking software. Data and reporting has become an increasingly important part of its business. It has successfully created a formula that others hope to follow.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 5/1/2013
Since its inception, Ongweoweh Corp. has been breaking with convention and pioneering new ways to service pallet and transport packaging customers. Ongweoweh was one of the first independent pallet companies to develop its own tracking software and to use this capability to service national accounts looking for pallet management and control services. It has developed private pools and managed rental networks for various large corporations. The company’s Native Trax™ software allows Ongweoweh to provide extensive reporting to customers on everything from pallet movements to landfill diversion figures.
From its heritage as a small American Indian owned company to its current size as the largest privately owned pallet management company in the United States, Ongweoweh keeps growing. The company’s reported gross sales were up 8% last year to $160 million.
Ongweoweh has made a number of daring moves over the last two years. It signed a large contract to buy high-tech, composite pallets from Axios Mobile Assets Corp. It also acquired White & Co., a packaging consulting firm that recently developed the Best Load® and Best Pallet® design software for unit loads and pallets. White & Co. is led by Dr. Mark White, the former head of the pallet research program at Virginia Tech. Ongweoweh manages more than 30 million pallets and related products each year. It has a network of more than 407 service partners it utilizes to manage its dock sweep programs that span across the United States and Canada.
One of the largest pallet sales and management companies in the country, Ongweoweh has no physical plants of its own. Most of its 63 employees work out of the corporate headquarters in Ithaca, N.Y. It didn’t always used to be this way. The company started out as a traditional manufacturing and repair operation. However, it changed through the years due to necessity and unforeseen forces, such as a major fire and customer transitions.
Today, Ongweoweh operates some of the largest and most complex pallet networks and management programs in the country. It is a prime example of where the industry wants to head.
Daniel F. Bonamie, the president and chief executive officer of Ongweoweh, said, “Our business model has changed a lot over the years from just buying and selling pallets to managing complex networks for customers. We have been tracking customer assets for about 12 years. We are a lot more service oriented now in terms of helping customers manage private pools.”
He added, “We have been doing this long enough to know that we have to stay one step ahead. If imitation is a source of flattery, a lot of our competition is trying to start what we do. That’s why we always stay one step ahead.”
Ongweoweh’s Structure Showcases Its Distinct Strategy
Using the slogan providing “Full Circle Solutions,” Ongweoweh specializes in management, reporting and networking as well as working with the customer to train and integrate with its staff at the plant or distribution center level. Ongweoweh has the following major divisions: Pooling, which oversees its private pool and asset management programs; Sales and Business Development, which buys and sells pallets similar to other brokers; Reporting, which tracks pallet and packaging data and provides useful reports to customers; Recycling Services, which oversees its dock sweep and recycling initiatives; Vendor Management, which coordinates the mill and pallet recycler network; Customer Service, which ensures the customer is happy; and the Unit Load Technology Group, which provides packaging consulting and design services.
While these focuses may exist at some other pallet companies, they generally don’t have the resources or manpower that Ongweoweh brings to bear on these key areas.
Ongweoweh works with a large network of partners, which has become a major focus for the company’s top executive. Daniel F. Bonamie, who used to own an independent pallet company that worked with Ongweoweh before he came back in the family business, said, “Coming from the vendor side of the business, I definitely saw the need to focus on the pallet supplier side of the relationship because a vendor can affect multiple customers.”
In addition to working with local pallet recyclers, Ongweoweh will utilize contract labor to perform some functions.
Data & Reporting Are Core to Ongweoweh’s Mission and the Future of Recycling
When you look at Ongweoweh’s investment in people and technology, it is truly more of a data and management company than a typical pallet operation. Keeping track of pallets requires a major commitment to collecting data along a customer’s supply chain as well as from recycling partners.
James O’Neil, vice president of operations for Ongweoweh, said, “Our dock sweep program has been successful and has helped support our customer pooling initiatives.”
O’Neil added, “One of the added values we offer customers is the auditing process we have for dock sweeps. Our field reps will go in and audit those trailers thereby establishing a check and balance system. By working directly with a pallet company, that opportunity is lost. That is an extra piece we bring to the table that our customers appreciate.”
Audit data is collected and shared with customers using NativeTrax. This process ensures accurate counts as well as consistency in its processes across multiple locations for each customer. The software can provide data on key metrics that are important to customers, such as expenditures, landfill diversion, returned income, pallet tracking, etc. The software helps coordinate activities when Ongweoweh services many regions of the country for one customer.
Bonamie commented, “Our reporting is a real value-add to customers. We can offer national service – a one-stop shop for a company’s pallet needs.”
Bonamie added, “Our national customers like that one-stop shop approach. But the difficulty for us is trickling that down to the plant level and getting the cooperation of the customer to support us at the plant level.”
Accurate data assists in this process while providing accountability for everyone in the process. Bonamie said that Ongweoweh has become effective through the years at breaking through those barriers and getting communication through with mid-level managers at customer locations. Although the process can require some finesse, it is a core advantage for Ongweoweh because of its successful track record as well as its software analysis and data capabilities.
Bonamie explained, “When you first go into a new customer location, people think you are just the middle man who is going to skim some of the cream off the top. You have to show them what value you bring. I can honestly say in most cases, over time, customers see the value.”
NativeTrax is a web-based software platform for tracking pallet activity, reviewing core metrics, placing orders and reconciling bills and auditing pallet counts. It is the glue that ties all of Ongweoweh’s operations together while providing transparency, improved communication and accountability to its various functions.
Transitioning from a Plant-Based Operation to a Management Company
The company began in 1978 when Frank and June Bonamie, along with sons Daniel and Peter, produced their first load of pallets and delivered it to General Motors. Frank, an enrolled member of the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York State, sold pallets to key clients including IBM, Kodak, Corning Glass and General Motors. The company began in the Syracuse area and spread out from there.
Ongweoweh started brokering pallets because its production couldn’t meet the demand early in the company’s history. Then, Ongweoweh landed the Kodak account in 1993 and started a pallet facility in Rochester, NY to service this customer. Daniel ran this facility for 20 years until it was shut down. Ongweoweh doesn’t manufacture or repair any pallets today. It stopped its last manufacturing plant in 2003.
After a fire destroyed the company’s manufacturing facility in 1998, Ongweoweh shifted to a distributor/management business model. Daniel Bonamie said “We have always been able to reinvent ourselves.”
A key part of that rebirth was the development of its NativeTrax software in 2000. It has been upgraded a number of times, and Ongweoweh plans to release a new version later this year.
The company shifted from the 48x40 market to specialty sizes. Bonamie commented, “We have been going after our customer’s special needs pallets and done less with the 48x40 market. These are odd sizes, which gives us the opportunity to retrieve those pallets easier compared to the typical 48x40 pallet.”
Even Ongweoweh’s odd-sized pallet strategy is in flux. As more recyclers have started to tear down and reuse boards from even non-48x40 pallets, it has had to take steps to safeguard customer pallets. Bonamie added that any board with 40 inches or more can be stripped down, recut and used for recycled lumber.
In 2003, Daniel came back to the company as a quality assurance manager. In Jan 2010, Daniel became the CEO and president. Change and reinvention has become a key process for Ongweoweh. Bonamie said, “The core situation right now is crazy. It provides challenges as well as opportunities. We are always trying to figure out a better way. And that really sets us apart from other brokers or pallet management companies out there.”
Spirit of Innovation
From its software and analytics approach to buying the packaging consulting firm led by renowned pallet design expert Dr. Mark White, Ongweoweh keeps pushing for further innovation. Last year the company developed its own Unit Load Technology Group when it brought on Dr. Jim Bisha, a graduate from the Virginia Tech Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design. Bisha together with Dr. White provide Ongweoweh some sharp minds to analyze customers’ pallet and transport packaging needs.
Now that Ongweoweh owns White & Co. it has control of one of the most innovative software products developed in years for optimizing transport packaging. White & Co. has spent several years developing Best Load, which helps users optimize the integration of the full unit load including pallet, load stabilizers, boxes, containers and materials handling equipment.
White & Co. is being run as an independent packaging consulting firm under the guidance of Dr. Mark White. It is open to taking consulting projects from a wide variety of clients, including even competitors. Bonamie explained, “We want our consulting firm to be used by the rest of the industry. In order to keep its integrity, we will guarantee confidentiality.”
Some concern has arisen because White & Co. started marketing its pallet design software called Best Pallet ™ before Ongweoweh purchased it. Some leaders of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA) were concerned about the sales of Best Pallet as a stand-alone software product because the association makes a large percentage of its revenue from licenses of its Pallet Design System (PDS) © software. However, Bonamie suggested that Best Pallet is not likely to be much of a problem for the NWPCA because it does not offer all the functionality of PDS. He added, “Our reputation in this industry is worth more than the income I believe we can make by competing against the association in selling software.”
Best Load is being offered to customers of White & Co. as well as Ongweoweh’s customer base and PalletOne, which sold its ownership stake to Ongweoweh last year. It is not being offered as stand-alone software. It is being marketed more as a software service model. Best Pallet is being sold as a stand-alone software product. You can find out more information by reading the advertisement on page 32.
Lowering Costs Makes Ongweoweh Very Customer Friendly
Bonamie said that his father always stressed offering value to customers and keeping the company’s prices competitive. Bonamie said, “My father used to always say that you didn’t want to price yourself out of the market.” Even though the company had gross sales of $160 million last year, Bonamie said its net income was merely a small percentage of that amount.
Ongweoweh is also looking to lower costs by improving the use of waste streams for customers. Bonamie forecasted, “Wood waste management is where our best opportunities for the future are.”
Currently, Ongweoweh offers a complete recycling service to one customer where it will manage all recyclables including pallets, cardboard, plastics, cans, bottles, lose paper and metal – essentially any recycling commodity that can be fit on a truck. It plans to open up this service to more clients and find more ways to add value, such as customers looking for fuel to energize co-generation plants. Bonamie stated, “We want to redeem recyclables into the best form to add value even if it requires further processing. The major goal is to reduce the amount of recyclables going into the landfill while adding some value to the bottom line.”
• 1978 – Frank and June Bonamie, along with sons Daniel and Peter, produce their first load of pallets and deliver it to General Motors.
• 1981 – With sales beginning to exceed manufacturing capabilities, the company begins to distribute pallets from third-party manufacturers.
• 1986 – Ongweoweh reaches $1MM in sales.
• 1990 – First large-scale plant opens in Jamestown, NY.
• 1993 – Second facility opened in Rochester, NY.
• 1998 – After a fire destroyed the company’s manufacturing facility, Ongweoweh shifts to a distributor/management business model.
• 2000 – Development of NativeTrax™, an asset tracking software to facilitate the retrieval and reuse of customer’s platforms.
• 2008 – Ongweoweh reaches $100MM in annual sales
• 2010 – Daniel F. Bonamie becomes president and chief executive officer.
• 2011 – Ongweoweh issues from third-party pooling company
• 2012 – Ongweoweh Buys White & Co., the developer of the Best Load™ software