For over 30 years the leading pallet and sawmill magazine in America.
Mid Continent Builds Enduring Relationships in Pallet Industry: Nail Manufacturer Marks 20th Year, Adds Pneumatic Nailing Tools
Mid Continent Nail Corp.: Understanding the pallet business and appreciating customers has been the key to the growth and success of Mid Continent Nail Corp.
By Carolee Anita Boyles
Date Posted: 4/1/2007
Different companies in the pallet and sawmill industry, and their suppliers, excel at different aspects of business. Some are experts at getting the most lumber yield from a log. Others do a great job of getting products to customers on time.
A few excel at developing relationships with customers that go far beyond just selling them a product.
Mid Continent Nail Corp. is one of the latter. Not only is Mid Continent the only company that domestically manufactures both collated and bulk nails for the pallet industry, but its leaders have developed relationships with their clients that have matured into deep, lasting friendships.
“What makes us different is our ownership,” said Kelso G. (“KG”) Sims, manager for pneumatic tools and industrial sales at Mid Continent.
The roots of Mid Continent began in the early 1970s, when David Libla returned home to Greenville, Missouri after serving in the military. David’s father owned a hardware store there, so David already had an interest in wood products. His interest grew into a business when he started brokering pallets, and it continued to lead him along a path into the forest products industry.
“After a while he couldn’t get enough pallets,” KG said, “because he was selling more than his suppliers could make. So he started making his own pallets.”
David started out in a very primitive way, assembling pallets by hand with hammer and nails. The business grew, and over time it became a fully equipped pallet company, with pallets assembled by hand with pneumatic nailing tools or automated nailing machines.
David and his brother, Doug, over the years have found themselves needing other products and services to grow their business. Their solution: find it, buy it or start it. “That’s how they got into trucking, sawmills and other manufactured goods during the 70, 80s and 90s,” K.G. explained. “They have since devoted their resources and energy to the nail manufacturing business. For 20 years now, the Magnum brand has been the recognized leader in supplying high quality, U.S.-made nails to the pallet industry.”
The Liblas have met and done business with a lot of people over the years.
“Because David was in the pallet business for many years, he understands the challenges of that business,” KG said, “and he has a genuine appreciation for and loyalty to the people who are in the business.
The relationship part of it comes from the customer understanding that the people who are supplying them — David and Doug — have empathy and regard for what the customer is trying to do every day. Understanding the pallet business and appreciating the customers has been the key to this company’s growth.”
That understanding goes right down to a grasp of quality. “We started out 20 years ago making machine-quality bulk nails for automated nailing machines,” KG said. “You have to have a very good nail for those machines to accept it and run it consistently so that you get a good return on your investment, because those are very expensive machines. Ten years ago, we started making collated nails because we had customers who had been using nails collated in plastic coils and they weren’t happy with them. David and Doug didn’t know a thing about it at the time, but they made an investment in the equipment to make wire coil nails because we had customers who said they needed them. That was a milestone in the company’s history that was created by demand.”
Recently the company achieved another milestone. Mid Continent developed its own line of pneumatic nailing tools — again, because customers asked for them.
“That line has been launched with both industrial and construction tools,” KG said. “The pneumatic tools that we’re bringing to the market now are the result of 10 years of study and benchmarking of the best pallet nailers and staplers in the industry. We made a substantial investment in what it takes to make them because our customers said, ‘We need this.’”
Edwards Wood Products in North Carolina is one of Mid Continent’s valued customers. The company has three plants. The main pallet plant in Marshville, which also contains a sawmill and scragg mill, operates nine automated pallet assembly machines while the second, smaller pallet plant in Laurinburg is equipped with three automated pallet assembly machines. The company’s third facility in Liberty houses two sawmills and dry kiln operations.
“We met David and Doug through the National Wood Pallet Container Association 20-plus years ago,” said Jeff Edwards, company president. “When Mid Continent was formed and started selling nails, they came to us and asked us about buying some.”
The timing was excellent. Edwards Wood Products was not satisfied with its supplier of imported pallet nails. The company experienced a number of problems, ranging from orders that were not received on time to boxes of nails that were broken and contained rusty nails. Edwards sought a more reliable source of nails.
“We started buying nails from Mid Continent about the time they started making nails, and we’ve bought the vast majority of our nails from them ever since,” Jeff said.
Prior to doing business with Mid Continent, Edwards Wood Products had to buy large quantities of nails and keep them in inventory in order to compensate for long delays in shipments, according to Jeff. Reliable, timely shipments by Mid Continent have enabled the company to minimize its inventory.
“Now we keep a very low inventory of nails on hand because Mid Continent ships so quickly,” Jeff said. “We use both their bulk nails and their collated nails. With nails from Mid Continent, the nails are palletized and stretch-wrapped, and there’s never any damage to cartons or rusted nails.”
Jeff values the relationship he has with the Liblas and Mid Continent. “They’re people of integrity,” he said. “If they tell you they’re going to do something, they do it. There have been times that they could have been charging us more for nails than what we were paying. Wire (wire rod, the raw material used in manufacturing nails) got in short supply, people who had not been buying from them started calling and needing to buy nails, and they could have been selling those spot market nails for a lot more. But they kept our price constant even when they could have been charging more.”
At times, Mid Continent has been able to reduce prices. “When wire has come down, they’ve given us a reduction in price,” Jeff said. “It’s pretty unusual for a company to do that.”
When it comes time to replace some of the pneumatic nailing tools that Edwards uses for assembling custom pallets and short runs, Jeff said he will definitely consider Mid Continent’s new line of pneumatic tools.
The relationship between Jeff and the Liblas goes beyond that of vendor and client; they have been good friends outside the marketplace for years.
“Doug and Dave have been friends of mine and my father’s for a long time,” Jeff said. “Dave is a lot like my father, Carroll, in that he does business the way we try to do business here. When he tells you something, you can believe it. That’s one reason doing business with them is such a pleasure. Their philosophy and values on doing business are right in line with the way we feel.”
Arrington Lumber & Pallet, located in Jacksonville, Tex., is another long-term customer of Mid Continent. Arrington produces an average of 41,000 pallets per week on six automated pallet nailing machines.
“We make pallets for a wide diversity of customers,” said Nathan Dyess, Arrington plant manager. “We sell pallets to beverage companies, chemical companies and many others.”
Arrington Lumber & Pallet began buying nails from Mid Continent about 15 years ago. Like Edwards Wood Products, at one time Arrington bought imported nails for its automated pallet nailing machines. “We had to go to the port in Houston to pick up our nails,” Nathan said. “They really got hard to get, so we started using some from Doug and David.”
Now, Nathan is proud of the fact that Arrington buys nails that are “American made.”
“I don’t care whether that’s politically correct or not,” he added “They’re superb nails, and they’re super, super good people.”
Arrington Lumber & Pallet uses a full truckload of nails — bulk and collated — every 11 working days. “There are 18 skids on a truck,” said Nathan, “and we use that many in 11 working days.”
Nathan is friends with both David and Doug, especially Doug — to the point of trusting him with the welfare of one of his children.
“I have a son who’s a senior in high school this year,” he said. “He’s kicking around the idea of going to college in Missouri. I talked to Doug about it, and Doug said, ‘Send him up; I’ll treat him like he’s my own.’ And you know what? I wouldn’t have any problem at all sending him up there and expecting Doug to take care of him.”
The Liblas’ business is based on integrity, Nathan said. “Once they had a problem with a machine,” he said. “Anybody who has machines is going to have problems with them sometime. Some of the nails that came off that machine, the heads were messed up a little bit when we got them. Most companies would say, ‘Just try to get by with them.’ But they brought us a whole new load the next day and picked up the bad ones.”
Nathan said Arrington will be looking at Mid Continent’s new line of pneumatic nailing tools when it comes time to replace equipment.
“I don’t have any qualms about using any of their tools,” he said. “I know that if there’s any problem with them, Doug and David will make them work. They always do what they say they’re going to do, and they’re good Christian people.”
Where does KG see Mid Continent Nail Corp going in the next few years? Obviously, the Liblas will continue to nurture the relationships they already have developed. “And they would like to develop more of those relationships,” KG said.
“We manufacture quality nails,” KG added. “Our nails are made here in this country in three locations — two of them here in Poplar Bluff, Missouri and one in Hillsboro, Texas —and we believe that we do a better job.”
Another benefit of doing business with a domestic nail manufacturer is that customers have greater accessibility not only to their service rep but the people that actually make their nails, KG noted. Customers can contact Mid Continent directly, and the company is positioned to provide strong service.
That service is assured by other members of the Libla family. David’s son, Jeff, manages all manufacturing operations, and his daughter, Marsha, handles a territorial sales area. Jeff and Marsha have excelled in their positions, particularly in the one area required by David and Doug: keeping the customer happy.
“You won’t get an answering machine here,” KG said. “You get a live voice. And you don’t get thrown into someone’s voice mail without the operator and the employees in the department you’re calling doing everything they can to try to assist you first.”
Doug and David believe very strongly in staying in touch with customers on a regular basis.
“We call every single customer every month,” KG said. “That takes a lot of time. But it’s a service that our customers expect and deserve.” The person who calls the customers reviews each one’s sales history and coordinates their upcoming needs.
“A lot of people depend on us to make sure they order their nails,” KG said. “They know we’re going to call them, so they don’t worry about it.”
Customers also know they can count on Mid Continent in an emergency. “We’ve had many instances when we’ve gotten a phone call from a customer who says, ‘We miscounted,’ ” KG said. “When we hear that, we know immediately that the customer is in trouble and needs their nails quickly.”
Mid Continent has turned its production schedule upside down many times to make sure the customer gets what he needs. It can make size and quantity changes quickly.
“If a customer is in trouble, we don’t hesitate at all,” KG said. “Our customers don’t cry ‘wolf.’ If they say they need something, they do, so we respond as quickly as we can, and our customers know we’ll get whatever they need to them one way or another. We do everything we can to make our customers successful, because when they’re successful, we’re going to be successful.”