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Main Street Earth: Pallet Businesses Increasingly Deal with Global Customers and Issues
Main St., Earth: While many pallet suppliers can still reach customers with a short drive down Main Street, their customers are increasingly delivering goods to the other side of the globe; column by Bruce Scholnick, president of NWPCA.
By Bruce Scholnick
Date Posted: 5/1/2001
Main Street, U.S.A. was the focus for business owners for decades, and it was an effective business model. But while many pallet providers can still reach their customers with a short drive through Main Street, their customers are increasingly delivering goods to Main Streets on the other side of the globe.
"It all comes down to knowing what the customer wants today, what the customer is beginning to need for tomorrow, and what the customer will expect five years from now," said Jan Fredell, chair-elect of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association. "It doesn’t matter if you are a pallet maker in Nacka, Sweden, like I am, or a pallet maker in Akron, Ohio in the United States. If you are going to stay competitive, you are going to have to meet customer’s needs and do it effectively and efficiently. And what many customers need today are pallets that can deliver products internationally."
Customer service, customer relationships and delivering value are pieces of the old Main Street business model that can continue to serve pallet providers very well. But meeting customers’ needs increasingly means understanding international shipping requirements for pallets. Manufacturers see the potential in expanding their markets beyond domestic shores, and many are aggressively pursuing new distribution avenues for their products. The pallet provider who can take on the responsibility of understanding international standards and regulations with regard to pallets brings tremendous value to their customers.
"Whether you’re in northern Idaho, western Oklahoma or West Virginia making pallets, you can be sure that those people buying pallets from you are shipping them globally," Bob Sanders, senior engineer for IBM Corporate Packaging, said when he recently accepted the NWPCA Annual Innovation Award. "This issue is entirely your business as much as it is ours. So, keep a close eye to those things and understand that you, in fact, are a global industry, even though you may feel like you’re just a small wooden pallet maker in a small town somewhere."
Bob’s comments reflect not only a growing need to transport goods internationally but also the increasing recognition by pallet users that pallet providers are an integral part of the supply chain.
Those pallet providers who acquire knowledge about international regulations and learn how to comply with them will have an incredible competitive edge with today’s pallet users. Instead of merely providing a product, they assume the role of a highly valued professional consultant in unit load management.
That said, much of this knowledge is in the formative stage. Countries are still developing standards and working with neighboring countries to try to create a workable, coordinated regulatory system. The NWPCA is at the table, representing our members’ interests in these ongoing discussions. Several of the association’s leaders will be on hand at the World Pallet Council and Interpal meetings in Bordeaux, France, in May to discuss regulations and standards.
"The association is lucky to have as our chair-elect Jan Fredell, an experienced lumberman and pallet maker in Sweden" said Monte Lowe, chairman of NWPCA. " It’s very timely and fortunate for the association and our members to have his knowledge to draw upon as we work with international organizations to come to agreements that are good for the pallet provider."
The NWPCA is working with the American Lumber Standard Committee on international phytosanitary regulations and marking systems and with the European Union on their emergency requirements. Our association is also conferring with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service about development of a global rule and giving our input to the International Plant Protection Congress in their standards development.
The NWPCA board of directors recently endorsed an ISO project intended to develop international standards for alternative materials pallets. We are also making recommendations to ISO on standardizing sizes and reducing footprints of commodity size pallets.
As regulations are established in a final form, the NWPCA will get the details to our members with the greatest possible clarity and timeliness. We will also deliver step-by-step guidelines for compliance that members can use to be an indispensable partner to their customers in international unit load management and give them marketing tools on this issue that they can use with customers and prospects.
The NWPCA is building strategic alliances worldwide that keep the association connected to the decision making process for standardization and regulations in the international arena. We will use these alliances to share information and to gather knowledge. These business links allow us to steer industry strategies worldwide and give us business links to gather "tricks of the trade" from every corner of the globe.
The NWPCA already has members in 28 countries from the Pacific Rim to the Arctic Circle. As our resources for our knowledge base grows worldwide and our ability to deliver that knowledge to our members in the form of innovative customer-focused solutions, the NWPCA will continue to increase our value to our members.