Timber lining to dual crises

Timber lining to dual crises

There may be a shortage of timber but there is no shortage of camaraderie among staff, customers and suppliers, according to Palletmasters’ General Manager Lorraine Hughes.

Lorraine says it is one of the good things to come out of COVID-19 which, coupled with the so-called ‘Black Summer’ bushfires, had resulted in a shortage of timber and staff.

“It’s all about relationships and it’s really helped us through this,” she says.

“The whole business mindset has changed. We’re all in this together, we’re all trying to achieve and I think if you can say anything good has come out of COVID, that’s possibly one of the things. We’re all generally more understanding of the challenges.”

The Clontarf-based business has been around for about 40 years and is still owned by members of the Jackson family – Joanne and Paul who are children of founder Kevin.

It is a successful business, of which Lorraine has been at the helm for the past three years and worked in for seven.

“We have 50 staff on site but we’re looking for more. Staffing’s a real challenge at the minute, trying to get people,” she says.

Previous experience is not necessary for the six roles she is keen to fill, just a good attitude and willingness to work. A forklift licence would also be helpful but is not essential.

The company sources its timber from Queensland and New South Wales and with about 30 per cent of stock lost in the devastating bushfires of 2019-2020, supply has been a significant challenge.

“It’s a massive problem for everybody across the country. We’ve got people phoning us from other states saying, ‘please can you help, our current pallet manufacturer is letting us down’. We’re saying, ‘no they’re not letting you down, we’re the same’,” Lorraine says.

“Everybody’s in the same boat. There’s competitors in the business but we tend to have a pretty good relationship with people and now we’re all in it together. It’s a very different approach. We’re all struggling to get timber. We use about 25,000 cubic metres of timber a year.”

Doing things differently

In a bid to overcome the shortage, Palletmasters is buying larger pieces of timber and processing them so they are suitable for pallets.

“It’s not something we’ve ever been geared up to do. We’ve had a machine there that used to come out a couple of times a year if we had some timber that needed resizing,” she says.

“Now, we have two shifts a day running on that machine six days a week just to be able to process enough timber to make the pallets.”

It requires more staff and costs the business more, and it’s still not enough to meet demand.

Lorraine says pallets are essential for a large number of businesses needing to move product and produce. She’s particularly concerned about the upcoming citrus season and is advising customers to source pallets where they can.

“It’s a massive issue and I don’t think people realise the onflow of it. Everything comes on a pallet,” she says.

The business has worked with customers whose need was most critical to supply them as best they could and paid suppliers straight away to ensure they had adequate cashflow, particularly smaller timber mills.

Palletmasters’ biggest supplier is AKD at Caboolture, which has expanded to increase its capacity.

“We have very much a focus of making sure we look after our suppliers as much as we try and look after our customers,” Lorraine says.

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