Shipping Pallets: Meet Brent McClendon
“I have sawdust in my veins.” That’s the way Brent McClendon, the new president and CEO of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association, introduced himself on the phone a few weeks ago.
McClendon has limited experience with the pallet industry, but he is a forester by training and spent 23 years in the wood products industry. He has worked in the woods and was the general manager of a forest products company. He has also been a trade association executive, including nine years as the CEO of the International Wood Products Association.
He takes the helm at a time of transition in the industry. The economy is coming out of the recession. Companies such as Costco are focusing on the role of pallets in their supply chain. And technology is playing a more important role at every company. The pallet industry is asking where it fits and what role it might play in this new environment.
“Our biggest challenge is the 3 M’s of materials, manpower and markets,” McClendon told me.
Start with materials. On the one hand, there is no shortage of the lumber that goes into pallets. The available capacity to produce lumber is another story. “One of the presentations at our annual meeting showed that production capacity is down 50% from pre-recession levels,” McClendon said. “There’s a question of where the raw materials are going to come from if we get booming. We may be looking at engineered wood products. The answer may be global sourcing. Or, we may look at different ways of sourcing domestically.” The latter could involve using more softwood than is used in pallets today.
When it comes to labor, the pallet industry is facing the same issues as other industries, especially labor-intensive industries. Despite a high unemployment rate, fewer individuals are interested in working in manufacturing today than in the past. The NWPCA doesn’t yet have a program centered on labor, but McClendon recognizes the issue.
Markets represent the biggest challenge and opportunity. It is also an area where McClendon wants to devote a significant amount of energy. “The industry needs to connect more clearly with pallet users,” he said. “I really want to raise the profile of pallets by meeting with the various industries that are large consumers of our products. We’re going to have lunches throughout the country and we’re looking at a Webinar schedule. I really want end users to understand how involved our members are in their logistics and how with minor tweaks we can lower the cost of moving their goods.”
While there is no M in technology, McClendon is also interested in what kind of role the pallet industry can play in capturing information and intelligence. “Every industry is thinking about how it can capture intelligence about its supply chain operations,” he told me. “Now we have some pallet companies that are providing tracking data to their customers. I really want to see how we can maximize information that everyone is trying to get their hands around.”