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Three Things Retailers Need to Know to Optimize Pallet Logistics

Transportation capacity, a reliable cost structure, and more responsive customer service are big issues for retailers in 2019. Here are some suggestions to help make pallet management simple for retailers in the year ahead.


The U.S. economy has been strong and employment is up, giving consumers more buying power than we’ve seen in years. That’s the good news. But increased sales, both online and in stores, can create unwelcome supply chain-related stress for retailers. Carrier capacity, cost effective labor, and true customer service can be difficult to find.

With some experts predicting continued strength in the economy, how can retailers avoid some of these supply chain pressures? As the VP of Supply Chain for the largest provider of recycled pallet solutions in North America, I can offer some suggestions that will help make pallet management simple for retailers in the year ahead.

1) Understand how much transportation capacity your pallet solutions provider really has.

delivery logisticsFor retailers that operate within clearly defined seasonal windows and high consumer expectations, product needs to be in distribution centers and stores in time to satisfy consumer demand. The last thing you should worry about is pallets.

When a pallet provider doesn’t have enough trailers or relies on a third-party carrier, they’re competing with everyone else with products to ship. They have to get in line with the rest of the world and wait for a tractor/trailer/driver to become available. As a result, they can’t provide pallets or drop trailers as quickly to retail customers.

[The right supplier is based on your needs and how well the supplier's capabilities align. Get the full guide on how to select the right supplier here.]

48forty owns our tractors and trailers and has company drivers available 24/7. We operate one of the largest private fleets in the country. This allows us to be responsive to retail customers’ needs. You need just-in-time delivery to a distribution center in Chicago? We’ve got you covered. Not only can our Chicago facility respond to your order, there are sister 48forty facilities in the same region that can also step up to the plate.

And, because 48forty is a national company with tractors and trailers across North America, we can easily respond to seasonal spikes in demand or to the reduced cycle time requirements of online retailers like Amazon. All you have to do is call, email, or go online to our 24/7 customer portal, PalTrax™, and schedule pallets and pallet retrievals when you need us.

2) Figure out how much control your pallet solutions provider has over their cost base.

cost baseAll pallet companies have to manage through fuel and labor inflation; however, cost challenges are exaggerated among pallet companies that have to go to market for transportation capacity rather than leveraging the strengths of a private fleet. The going rate for freight is what they charge you and what ultimately increases the cost of their pallet program. Similarly, if a pallet provider does not control their raw materials, they can see supply interruptions and large shifts in cost that will ultimately reduce the value and service to the retailer.

[Vetting potential pallet suppliers? Conduct site visits before you make the final decision. Here's what to look for.]

Private fleet assets and reliable supply gives companies like 48forty control over our cost base and our ability to provide service, and makes us less sensitive to market fluctuations. Our structure is more predictable and reliable so we’re better able to maximize value for our retail customers.

3) Determine how customer-service focused your pallet solutions provider truly is.

customer service representativeWhen unexpected demand strikes, you need a pallet provider that can deliver and/or retrieve pallets immediately. The last thing a customer wants to hear is “no” or “let me see if I can schedule a truck.”

Pallet solutions providers with nearby facilities and owned and operated assets are much more likely to respond with a “yes” or come up with a creative solution to your request. Whether it’s a hot load or something more strategic, 48forty can help.

[A formal issue resolution process ensures customer satisfaction and benefits large organizations. See what we've learned along the way of making sure everyone is a customer-focused quality pro.]

Let me share an example with you. One of 48forty’s retail customers wanted to eliminate the practice of back-hauling pallets from their stores to their distribution centers as it wasn’t the optimal use of their assets. We suggested a reverse logistics solution where we would collect the used pallets from their individual stores for them. We’re able to do it cost effectively because we have a fleet of trucks with multi-stop (“milk-run”) capability. We implemented the nationwide program in 60 days for nearly 1,000 stores and helped them increase pallet revenue, reduce cost and create backhaul potential.

This type of customer-focused, reverse-logistics solution would be impossible for most pallet companies. It simply wouldn’t happen.

These three things—transportation capacity, a reliable cost structure, and more responsive customer service—are big issues for retailers in 2019. Are you partnering with a pallet solutions provider positioned to meet your expectations? If you’d like to learn more about how 48forty can help you optimize your pallet logistics, we welcome the opportunity to talk with you and provide insight into our retail pallet management solutions. Connect with us here.

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LeRoi is Vice President, Supply Chain at 48forty Solutions. He has over 15 years’ experience in transportation, quality, sustainability, strategy, and engineering. LeRoi currently serves as Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee within the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association. Read more about LeRoi here.