Jel Sert makes all of its products in West Chicago and distributes to retailers across the United States from three distribution centers in that suburb.
The company loads product onto about 300,000 pallets annually, says Mike Martinez, vice president of customer service and distribution at Jel Sert.
Retailers started asking for "promotions"—mixed product assortments on half-pallets, used as free-standing displays—because they wanted to more efficiently use their selling space. "Retailers want to be able to display more SKUs in a smaller footprint in their stores," Martinez says.
Martinez mentioned this request at a monthly meeting with his sales representative from CHEP. Unfortunately, at that time, the pallet supplier didn't make a half-pallet. So Jel Sert found two companies that could build half-pallets to the company's specifications, using recycled materials.
Those recycled pallets weren't cheap, Martinez says. But the biggest problem they posed was that the top deck board—the upper surface, on which product sits—was inconsistent in coverage. The boards that made up the top deck had wider spaces between them on some pallets than on others.
"Inconsistent quality on pallets can contribute to product damage," Martinez says. For example, if the spaces are too wide, cartons may sag while in transit. "Our customers were complaining," he adds.
Compounding the problem was the fact that no single supplier could build enough half-pallets to meet Jel Sert's need. "We had to go to a second supplier, and those inconsistencies just doubled," Martinez says.
The relationship also created waste. Jel Sert bought pallets from the two suppliers, shipped them to retailers, and never saw them again. So Jel Sert had to keep ordering more and more pallets.
Our pallet has metal brackets instead of wooden blocks," D'Emidio says. That allows a forklift or pallet jack to take hold of the pallet on the 24-inch side as well as on the 40-inch side, making it easier to maneuver the unit through narrow aisles or doors.
The HML pallet also features three runners at the bottom, rather than a full bottom deck, providing ease and speed when lifting it on the 40-inch side.
"Just picking up a custom-sized pallet can be difficult," says Martinez. "Engineering contributes to a pallet that will be damaged less."
In addition, HML designed half-pallet to provide 87-percent coverage on the top deck. "And it has a lot of coverage around the perimeter, where the outsides of the cases will be," D'Emidio says. This improved support is another design feature that reduces product damage.
HML also made a special effort to enforce standards in the platform's construction. "When customers order a HML platform for their promotions, they know what they're going to get," D'Emidio says. The same goes for the retailers who receive the promotions. "That standardization helps to drive efficiency throughout the supply chain,"he adds.
HML was ready to start delivering the new half-pallets in 2014, but Jel Sert wasn't ready to take them just yet. The company was in the midst of its peak season, which runs from roughly March through August. "To execute a program of this magnitude in the middle of busy season would be difficult," Martinez says. So CHEP waited until 2015 to make the transition to the new half-pallets.
Before committing to switch, Jel Sert had to verify that HML's solution represented an improvement. "For us, the question was, 'Can you meet our demand with your supply? Can you get to a pricing point that will make it favorable for Jel Sert, versus the old way we were doing it?'" Martinez says.