By GRETCHEN METZ , Staff Writer 01/12/2003
DOWNINGTOWN -- John Rock is moving west.
The manufacturer that has been pounding out wooden pallets since the late 1970s in the Downingtown Industrial Park expects to be in its new 115,000-square-foot plant on 20 acres in Sadsbury the first quarter 2004.
The old 30,000-square-foot plant, split between two buildings on six acres at 409 Boot Road, is for sale.
John Rock owner Bill MacCauley said there are several interested buyers.
The reason for the move is the companys success. It has outgrown its longtime home. The new location will provide more room for outside operations and more areas for pallets to be stored under cover. Inside, the new building will allow for more efficient operations and more room for growth.
"We sell to chemical, food, clothing, auto and cosmetic manufacturers. The list is long," MacCauley said. "Anything you touch in a day was something that was on one of our pallets."
The pallet maker has 55 to 60 employees operating five automatic nailing machines and two high-volume saw lines. The company also operates a growing repair and recycling department in a separate building from pallet construction. The new facility will allow all operations under one roof.
MacCauley said he is working with First Union Bank to finance the $5 million project.
"If we were ever going to do this, now is the time," MacCauley said. "Interest rates are low, machine manufacturers are making more aggressive deals. Were growing and we need to expand. Were doing more repair work and we need more room to do that."
John Rock fills 70 to 80 tractor-trailers a week in pallets. On average, 90 percent are delivered by the company.
"The rule of thumb is not to deliver more than three hours from the plant," MacCauley said. "Our niche is we deliver fast."
There are plenty of competitors for John Rock, but many are in rural areas. So while John Rock pays higher taxes and higher utilities than those competitors, it has the location close enough to Philadelphia to get the product to customers faster, MacCauley said.
And timing is the key.
MacCauley said most people only think about pallets when they run out, then they want the product right away.
MacCauley, a West Fallowfield sheep grower, came to work at John Rock in 1994 as plant manager. Before that, he worked for a competitor. After three years at John Rock, he bought the company.
"And I havent looked back since," MacCauley said. "When I came here, there were making 10,000 to 12,000 pallets a week. Now were making 40,000 to 45,000 a week."
MacCauley said company founder John Rock is retired and living in Vermont, but spends a lot of time traveling.
John and his brother, Jimmy Rock, started the company in their mothers garage in Honey Brook in 1972, MacCauley said. In the early days, they went to local companies back lots, picked up old, broken pallets and took them home to fix and resell. They bought their first gang saw in the late 1970s when they moved to Boot Road.
"Now we make 2.5 million pallets a year," MacCauley said.
Nationwide, pallet making and pallet recycling is a $6 billion industry, according to Bruce Scholnick, president of the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association in Alexandria, Va. There are about 2,000 pallet makers and recyclers producing 400 million pallets and repairing 250,000 a year.
"Bill MacCauley is one of the best managers out there," Scholnick said. "He motivates his staff better than most people. Hes a true leader."
For MacCauley, the best part of the job are his employees.
"Theyre great people," MacCauley said. "Theyre very confident. We have a lot of fun. Our business is very fast-paced. Theres no next-day air. Its all by truck, today."
One of the big misconceptions about the industry is the where the wood comes from.
"Nobody cuts down a tree to make pallets," MacCauley said. "We use scrap wood, the cants which means cant use for floor or furniture. The last thing a sawmill wants to do is sell wood to a pallet company -- flooring, railroad ties -- anything but a pallet company."
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