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Industry Thought Leaders
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Share What's on their Mind, What's on their Desk

The wooden packaging industry is a dynamic, evolving, and ever-changing network of businesses and business models. The only constant is change. Whenever NWPCA staff travels to visit members, they always return with interesting stories on how people originally got into the pallet business, what they do outside the pallet industry and, what they expect for business through end of 2016. It’s all about you – and knowing each of our members better helps us make a greater impact on your company. For this article, we hope our readers enjoy these off-the-cuff conversations with several industry thought leaders, and then share with us your story as well.

  • Q1: How are general business conditions? What do you expect through year-end?
  • Q2: How did you get started in the pallet business?
  • Q3: What is on your desk right now? Operations? Expansion plans? Customer concerns? Opportunities?
  • Q4: What do you do when you’re not at work?
  • Q5: If you weren’t in the pallet business, what would you be doing?

Stephen Grimes, Co-Owner, Pallet Resource of N.C, Inc.

A1: Used pallet cores are currently tough to come by and the margins are bad, but new pallet business is good, better than it has been since before the recession hit in full in 2008. I’m in a state (North Carolina) where the recession started early. In early 2007, PRNC was already looking for ways to operate much more efficiently and to cut out waste. It put us in a better position than most folks when the bottom fell out the next year. I would be happy with some growth, but recent times have taught me a lesson in being content with steady business.

A2: I remember that I didn’t even know what a pallet was in the summer of 1985. I had just finished the fifth grade, but my father had left his job with a furniture manufacturing company. Even back then, furniture was an industry that he knew was going away and never coming back. He took a gamble on buying a small, 15 employee business that repaired wooden shipping pallets. It was a gamble that changed my destiny forever.

A3: I’m still catching up from being gone for the March NWPCA Annual Leadership Conference. I’m hoping to actually uncover my desk at some point.

A4: Bicycling, hiking, playing guitar, cooking, pottery, drawing, painting – though I’m not particularly good at any of them.

A5: I got a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Guilford College in 1997. I worked for a few years as a graphic designer before I realized how much I hated it. I loved working as a theatrical production designer, but there’s absolutely no money in it. So I’m perfectly happy with the pallet business.

Debra Berry, CEO, Berry Industrial Group Inc.

A1: The pallet market is still balancing out (downward) from the past several years of volatile pricing. It is hard to say whether the pre-election rhetoric will influence consumer spending for the rest of the year.

A2: The outstanding sales ability of Peter [Berry] complemented my organizational skills, so I left my current job to help grow Berry Industrial Group.

A3: RFQs, monthly reports and professional development plans. Under the glass that sits on my desk is a collage of family and friends photos and phrases. My favorite phrase: I’ll have a Café Mocha-Vodka-Xanax-Latte to go, please.

A4: Read, travel and volunteer.

A5: If I wasn’t in the pallet business and didn’t need to work, I would be mentoring young girls and women on career choices, along with the women business enterprise opportunities and programs.

Ray Gutierrez, President/CEO, Commercial Lumber & Pallet

A1: Generally speaking, I feel that this year will be very similar to last year, which would be great. Presently, I am anticipating upward pressure on pricing though, as lumber mills in the Pacific Northwest continue to struggle for logs.

A2: Commercial Lumber was established in 1941 and was heavily involved in heavy engineering and industrial grade lumber. When Governor Pat Brown came into office, he didn’t see the need for this type of infrastructure in the State of California at that time. Before things came to a significant halt, and much research was needed in the alternate industries involving wood, we decided to get involved in the pallet business. We completed that expansion in 1974, and changed our name to Commercial Lumber and Pallet Company.

A3: Knudsen Cottage Cheese, Road and Track Magazine, sawmill lumber offerings and my current in-house Rail Car Report.

A4 & A5: I work from home. And if I wasn’t in the pallet business, I would be looking for a job!

Gabriel Curry, General Manager, HUB Industrial

A1: Business is good. We are busy providing pallet operations with the consumable products they need, along with the speedy and reliable service they have come to expect from HUB.

A2: We started out as a local industrial supply company. In 2003, I managed to persuade a pallet recycler in Jacksonville to give us a chance. The better we got to know the unique needs of the pallet business, the more committed we became to finding the best ways to meet those needs. In the process, I’ve had the privilege of making many lifelong friends in the business.

A3: Our company was recently acquired by Applied Industrial Technologies (NYSE: AIT), and is now operating as a subsidiary of Applied Maintenance Supplies & Solutions (Applied MSS℠). Being part of a bigger company means more for our employees and customers. We now have access to more resources, buying power and new products to support the pallet industry – it’s an exciting time!

A4: I enjoy spending time with my wife and three kids—two of whom are teenagers. We enjoy sharing time together and traveling.

A5: I would be in a business where I could work and serve down-to-earth, kindhearted folks like I have grown to love in the pallet industry!

Howe Wallace Jr., CEO, PalletOne, Inc

A1: Business conditions are solid. We are projecting a small organic growth from existing customers.

A2: I started in the pallet business in 1983 when I joined Ridge Pallets in Bartow, Florida as director of human resources. My career was focused on HR and organizational development until 2001 when I became CEO of PalletOne.

A3: Paying attention to the economy, supporting our culture, and monitoring shifts in raw material supply.

A4 and A5: Reading consumes a good bit of my spare time. I'd be in education or coaching if not in pallets. But, my joy is that I get to teach and to coach in my job now.

Jimmy Wilson, President, Bay Wood Products, Inc.

A1: We are level with last year through the end of February, so that is good. We are forecasting to grow approximately 5% this year. We don’t see any indication to change the forecast.

A2: In the 80s, I was an independent manufacturer’s representative selling to OEM in the outdoor power equipment industry. The largest company I sold for and my largest income producer was bought out by our largest competitor in a hostile takeover in 1988. They employed company sales reps and yours truly was out with no notice. This forced me to look for any opportunity to support my wife and soon-to-be newborn son. I continued representing the other companies I worked for but took on light contracting jobs around town. One of the companies that had contracting work was Knight Forest Products, a building supply company that owned a pallet and sawmill company (North Star Lumber). Eventually in October 1989 the owner asked me to manage North Star Lumber Company. I jumped at the opportunity that offered a weekly paycheck and medical insurance for my young family. Soon afterwards I met Tommy Orr with WNC Pallet and Forest Products who agreed to help me with any question I had about what had worked for them or not and he encouraged me to join the NWPCA in 1990. In 1993 the WNC Group offered me a position with their newly acquired operation in the Florida Panhandle that would eventually become Bay Wood Products and allowed me to become a stockholder.

A3: We are very close to breaking ground on a 12,000 sq. ft. building to expand our lumber cutting ability, make room for some new assembly equipment and relocate our maintenance shop.

A4: In my spare time, I try to play golf when the weather allows, or spend time with my family.

A5: If I wasn’t in the pallet business, what would I be doing? I never thought about it, so I don’t know.

(Article published in PalletCentral magazine, March-April 2016. Read this digital edition.)

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