PALLETS: FRONT AND CENTER
P allets are so ubiquitous and modest in what they do that they can easily be overlooked amid the bells and whistles of the supply chain, particularly as the environment around them grows increasingly sophisticated and high-tech. Still, the supply chain depends on pallets—most products cannot be shipped between manufacturers, distribution centers, and retailers without them—and at no time has that been more apparent than during the supply chain disruptions that accompanied the pandemic.
“We were focused on making sure that our customers had enough pallets to keep up with the demand,” Pepperworth says. For pallet suppliers, that meant keeping a close eye on forecasts and ordering trends to anticipate the market and ensure customers always had sufficient pallets in their inventories to keep products moving. TURNING TO TECHNOLOGY Technology tools that can help anticipate customer needs in the supply chain became particularly coveted for the support they could provide trying to decipher the signs of what lay ahead. No one wanted a lack of pallets to bring trade to a standstill or even hold up deliveries one extra day in an e-commerce-driven environment that has raised customer expectations for rapid delivery of orders. Many pallet manufacturers upped production as much as they could. Against the backdrop of high demand, wood pallets have faced ongoing cost challenges caused by stiff competition for lumber with other industries, such as furniture and construction. Meanwhile, plastic pallets have seen price pressures in 2022 due to rising oil prices. For many who need
For pallet suppliers, that meant extending their network and pallet
“Until 2020, pallets were the most under-appreciated thing in the supply chain for a long time,” says John Vaccaro, president of Bettaway Supply Chain Services. “They were taken for granted. There have to be pallets for every load, every container, every truck, but they still have been overlooked.” Pallet shortages caused by surges in e-commerce-fueled consumer demand for products reminded everyone of pallets’ essential nature. The pallet shortage brought heightened attention to the industry and made pallets more than “a second or third thought,” Vaccaro says. “They’d always been there, readily available, but the shortage shined the spotlight on them,” Vaccaro says. “For the first time, when there weren’t enough pallets, everyone realized how important they were because you can’t ship a load if you don’t have a pallet to put beneath it.” ONGOING ADJUSTMENTS The surge in demand that accompanied the pandemic led to adjustments that have endured for the pallet industry and the supply chain at large. For instance, Jeff Pepperworth, president and CEO of iGPS Logistics, says many of his company’s retail partners found that their main suppliers were unable to keep up with demand, driving them to secondary and tertiary suppliers.
availability to manufacturers that they may not have had relationships with prior to COVID. Now, some of those secondary suppliers have retained their foothold with the retailers who turned to them in a pinch and the partnerships have deepened. “Those suppliers were key early on at the onset of the pandemic, and they’ve remained key as we’ve moved a couple of years down the road,” Pepperworth says. “They’ve led to some very strong relationships.” Throughout, pallet suppliers such as iGPS worked hard to respond to their customers’ needs, no matter how difficult the task.
Plastic Pallet Pros provides new, used, and recycled plastic pallets to businesses throughout the United States. Placing an emphasis on customer service, the pallet supplier takes the time to understand customers’ operations to provide optimal solutions.
May 2022 • Inbound Logistics 75
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