Dec 102013
 

I imagine, unless you have worked in a warehouse, you’ve never given the cost of pallets, the invisible expense of trucking, any thought. It’s one of the many things I, as a consumer, certainly never considered before I became a truck driver. Pallets are the wooden platforms that products are put on to  make it easier to load a trailer. Besides the standard wooden pallet, there are two other types, pallets painted blue which indicates they are a 1-time use throw-away pallet and a variety of plastic re-usable pallets. If you’ve ever shopped in a big box store late in the evening, you’ll see pallets with stacks of goods  waiting to be put on the shelf for consumers. Costco is another place where pallets are visible to the general public.

Pallets to the right, pallets to the left, pallets everywhere.

Pallets to the right, pallets to the left, pallets everywhere.

What isn’t known to the general public is just how big a business this is. The picture on the right shows a pallet yard with 1000’s of pallets stacked up waiting to be purchased. And, depending on the area, there is always at least one pallet yard nearby. Some of the major grocery chains require trucking companies use only #1 pallets, if anything else is used the load won’t be accepted . These #1 pallets average $11 to $14 each and  the warehouse is supposed to replace them with like quality empty pallets.

It doesn’t usually happen that way. The stack of empty pallets sitting by every dock door as replacements, are more often than not seconds that can’t be sold back to the pallet yard for more than $6 apiece. Mind you, the warehouse wouldn’t accept a load on this quality of pallets but they have no problem replacing the required #1 pallets with pallets they wouldn’t accept from any driver or company. When I questioned the quality of replacement pallets at various warehouses I delivered to I was told, “That’s all we have, take ’em or leave them, your choice.”

Providing #1 pallets to a shipper adds up to a substantial cost for trucking companies when you consider vans, the box like trailers, require 22 to 24 pallets per load. The cost to a company is an average of $264-$288 (22/ 24 x $12/ea ) for each load a driver hauls. Needless to say companies are happier if the exchange pallets are of equal quality but that rarely happens.

stacking empty pallets for use later.

stacking empty pallets for use later.

The picture to the left is the type of fork lift that is often used to load produce loads.Again, most people know what the average forklift looks like but these big guys are in a class by themselves.  They pick up and move a dozen pallets in one fell swoop. Their purpose is efficiency, to load trucks as quickly a possible and they do. I found it fascinating to watch them trundle out of a warehouse stacked with produce, it’s what I hauled most of my driving career. They’d set their load down gently and slide it into the waiting trailer with a minimum of effort.

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