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Pallet Summit Drew Solid Interest In Spite of 9/11
Networking Is Strong Element of This Year's NWPCA Event
Date Posted: 12/1/2001
Indianapolis, Indiana - The NWPCA Pallet Summit, held October 25-27 in Indianapolis, drew well over 200 people to the biennial event. Since the terrorist events in September, many meetings have either been cancelled or played out to very disappointing crowds. While attendance was less than many past summits, about 225 enjoyed some of the best networking opportunities in recent years.
Industrial Reporting, publisher of both the Pallet Enterprise and the Pallet Profile Weekly, was the only publisher in attendance. Since I attended my first pallet industry meeting in 1977, one of our staff members or I has attended almost every major NWPCA sponsored meeting, every major pallet machinery exposition (Richmond, Missouri, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and many others,) and most Canadian and western association meetings. We have even attended all five international Interpals and all of the major pallet recycling meetings. We are the only publisher that has been there to provide you detailed industry coverage even in the lean times. We remain dedicated to serving our friends in the pallet industry and take pridein the fact that saw dust flows in our veins and pallets occupy our thoughts.
The Pallet Summit history stretches back to the first meeting in October 1991. Known as the "Memphis meeting" this gathering probably held more excitement than any pallet function before or since. It combined the excitement of quite a few recyclers who were relatively new to networking with the excitement generated by concern over this new threat to our industry - CHEP. The electricity in the air at that first summit was contagious. Concern over CHEP and its emerging pallet pooling program sparked an unprecedented level of networking that set the tone for future Pallet Summit meetings. Since then, the Summit has been held every two years in the central portion of the country. In addition to Memphis, summits have been held in St. Louis, Nashville, Cincinnati (two times) and now Indianapolis. While it will be difficult to duplicate that initial enthusiasm, I still consider these meetings to be among the most important in our industry. They provide an avenue for more people who are not in the association, or not particularly active in it, to attend and make new friendships that will serve them.
In spite of the 9/11 events, preregistered pallet people attended and did not cancel in significant numbers. Many drove in, but their geographic proximity had them plan to do so anyway. The exhibit hall seemed to be more successful than some in the past.The program allowed several blocks of time when the exhibit hall was the only thing scheduled. Each exhibitor had individualized raffle tickets to give attendees who came by the booth. This was a good way to encourage attendees to visit with exhibitors.
One trend from recent years that continued was the number of new faces in the industry. The next generation is taking over; many former regulars at pallet functions have handed management responsibilities to younger family members or sold their companies. Recyclers made up a larger portion of attendees. This has become the norm at pallet meetings because recycling has taken on a more and more significant role each year.
A number of people said that the program was a little weaker than normal. One reason for this observation is that NWPCA meetings have typically been recognized for their strong programs. The NWPCA typically puts on some of the strongest program content meetings I have attemded. However, taking out the time for the Thursday and Friday evening receptions and the exhibit hall times, there was less time devoted specifically to programs. Thus, I suspect the association was trying to slow down the pace a little.
Jay Rifenbary, the keynote speaker, talked about "No Excuses! An Action Plan for Success." Jay was one of the best speakers I have heard at an NWPCA meeting. Jay spoke on how to motivate people. He focused on one of my major themes - taking ownership over your life. I have always believed that much of what happens to you is controlled by what you allow to happen and how you react to conditions around you. You decide your attitude and feelings, and they decide your happiness and ability to cope. Get the tape of his presentation. You will be glad you did.
One of the hottest topics in the pallet industry for a number of years has been labor - how to get enough and how to manage what you have. Two concurrent sessions featured labor. One covered the legal requirements involved in hiring immigrant workers and how to obtain them. Without immigrant workers, many pallet plants would be in serious trouble. In addition, many employees have found immigrants are among their best workers. Frank Jones of Best Pallet in Memphis shared how he reduced employee turnover, hired for success, trained employees in communication skills and set-up a training budget.
The two sessions on international shipping and the recent EU wood requirements drew packed audiences. Panel members included knowledgeable people from SII Dry Kilns, Timber Products Inspection, and the Animal, Plant, Health Inspection Service/USDA. We have covered this topic extensively in past issues of our magazine as well as our Web site, but the list of questions never seems to end. About the time I think I understand the rules of the game, somebody will ask a question that makes me listen attentively to the explanation and the discussion. John Mead, who moderated a session of U.S. Europallets also shared during the second session of the EU discussion. It is interesting that in spite of the fact that the NWPCA has been in a position to register USEpal manufacturers for a couple of years, there has not been a rush to do so. People seem to be waiting until they have to register to take care of a customer's demands instead of being proactive, registering, and going after international shipment business. It is my best guess that this situation will change significantly within the next couple of years.
Thom Labrie, who has been pushing his concept of retrieving valued added material from your waste pile for the last couple of years at NWPCA events, spoke again on this topic. While the industry has been slow embracing Thom's concepts, interest is always high on the topic.
Other concurrent topics included communication within your plant, where Bob Moore of Pallox discussed moving orders through his plant, owning vs. leasing a trucking fleet by Frank Walter of Palmer Leasing Group, and how to cope with noise pollution ergonomics inspections by John Swenby of PalTech Enterprises.
John Clarke, director of the Center for Unit Load Design at Virginia Tech, spoke on rackable pallets, how to increase your efficiency and your competitiveness.
The last general session featured a panel discussion on satisfying your customers. Sam McAdow of Buckeye Wood, Davie Eason of Pallet Resource, Mark Ottinger of The Nelson Company, and Dave Taylor of Polymere Pallets LLC provided insights into what they do special to make their companies, products, and services stan dout from the pack.
No Pallet Summit would be complete without some discussion about CHEP. Many talked about the lawsuit that Buckeye Wood submitted in Ohio on Sept. 18. CHEP was served notice of the suit on Sept. 25. I understand that CHEP responded on Oct. 25 with a 64 page answer. This is the first time to my knowledge that a law suit of this nature has been filed against CHEP by a pallet company. Ownership is now a clause in most if not all the contracts that CHEP tries to get pallet companies to sign. So, the issue is significant to the company. If this suit sees its way through to completion, it could end up being a landmark case within the pallet and material handling industries.
No announcement has been made concerning whether or not the NWPCA will have its next biennial Pallet Summit in two years, but I have grown to respect this important meeting as one of the most significant in our industry. See you there next time.