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NWPCA Must Grow By Involving More People, Says New Chair
Enterprise Interview: Pat Sherry, NWPCA Chairman
Date Posted: 5/1/2004
(Editor’s Note: Pat Sherry, vice president of NEPA Pallet and Container Co. Inc. in
Sherry: I served as chair-elect last year. I served on the board of directors for three years representing the West Coast. Prior to that I spent five years on the trade promotion committee. I was also on the original communications committee, and I chaired it over the last year.
Sherry: We became a member shortly after we purchased NEPA. NEPA was in a position of being close to auctioned off, so it had given up its association membership. NEPA had been a long-term member prior to that.
Sherry: I have developed some extremely good friendships with people from around the country with whom I can pick up the phone and pick their brain, and they do the same with me. We see each other a few times a year. We’ve become truly much more than just business associates. They’ve become close friends.
I even had a phone call from a gentleman who called me and said, ‘You told me something when I saw you at the meeting last week. I’ve been thinking about it all week and I just wanted to call up to tell you that you’re doing it wrong.’ And then he went through the whole scenario and explained what I was doing wrong, and why I should approach it from a different direction.
That is something only a friend would do. He took the time to think about it and point out how I could do better in my business. You just don’t find that anywhere. From being involved and meeting people and spending time with them, they are willing to help you grow your business, and they’ll do it because they think it is the right thing to do for their own business. It is almost like one hand washes the other.
Sherry: I would have to say that there are definitely some things that are demonstrable on the bottom line. I know in the past the association has been accused of being an ‘old boys club.’ I don’t think that’s fair. When you take the time to go out and meet other people and exchange information, they’ll come to you to exchange information, and as that comfort level builds, if they have opportunities in your area, they will definitely bring them to you because they have comfort that you will handle their customer properly. I have several instances of business I have entered into because of relationships I have developed over the years.
Sherry: I do think that consensus is definitely needed, but at other times you have to go forward with what you know to be right. You can’t act unilaterally, but there are certain things where you know you need to go in a direction, and sometimes you have to drag people yelling and kicking until they see the true light of what needs to be done.
I’ve got a lot of people out there I rely upon to help me with the association. These friends I’ve developed -- I will pick up the phone and ask them what their opinion is. One of the important things is going to people who you know won’t necessarily believe or think you’re right. There is nothing wrong with getting a different opinion. There is something wrong with not listening to the other side.
But then you have to reach a point when everything is said and done, that you make a decision and move on with it. I like to see debate, but then I like to see decisions made and then for us to move on. We have so much work in front of us, and one of the complaints we have from members is that we do not move fast enough.
Sherry: For the association itself, I feel that we need more people involved because there is strength in numbers. I think that all business in the
The word association comes from associate. My friend Steve Mazza told me, ‘If you think that if you join the association and someone is going to hand you the holy grail, you are going to be disappointed.’ This takes work, but if you put the effort in, it comes back to you. And that’s what it is. You have to work at it. You can’t just spend your money and expect results.
Sherry: We are working very hard to bring these (association) meetings to people. If they just want to come and sit in the meeting, they can pick it up on CD or tape and save the air fare, but that’s not going to sit you down to have a conversation with someone who runs a business very similar to yours and who has ideas of his own. He’s there looking for ideas, too, and it becomes symbiotic. You start feeding each other ideas, and it is very beneficial. I’ve been so sold on the idea of getting business from others, and I do definitely think that it adds to NEPA’s bottom line.
We’ve got an extremely good association staff. President Bruce Scholnick is very much unappreciated for the efforts he puts forth for the association on our membership’s behalf.
The global physotanitary regulatory issue has been nothing short of extremely difficult for an association such as ours. The staff informs the membership what is going on, and then the target moves. We are told one thing by the government, we report it to the membership, and then the government changes the answer. There are issues that we have absolutely no control over, but we end up looking like we have egg on our face. That is what I believe to be an unfair situation.
Both Bruce and Karen Wanamaker, vice president of industry and government affairs, went out and got their lobbying licenses, so they are considered to be lobbyists and they can go out on our behalf. That is so very important in regard to what we are doing. Bruce put a Ph.D (technical director Edgar Deomano) on our staff in order to answer technical questions from our members. I think the development of our Web site by Barry Foer, director of sales and membership, is noteworthy. It is far better than it has been in the past. It’s just a glimpse of what we can do in the future.
I think these people are hard-working, pleasant, professional – they give that proverbial 110%. If you call them up, they will get back to you with answers to your questions. They won’t necessarily tell you what you want to hear, but they will tell you what you need to hear.
Sherry: The Deliver the Goods program is really starting to go. We got our people in front of GMA (Grocery Manufacturers of America). We are talking to GMA about improving their pallet pool. We are talking to FMI (Food Marketing Institute) about what their needs are. Through our marketing program, we’ve got people to look back at pallets and say ‘Hey, our members use pallets -- do you think we can do something better out there? Let’s go to the pallet guys and see what they can offer us.’ DuPont recently contacted us. I spoke to the Petroleum Institute last summer. I’m speaking to the frozen foods product group in the future. We are getting exposure to the people we want as customers, and we haven’t had that in the past. We are talking to these people in large numbers in generic terms.
Sherry: There have been discussions about new ways for manufacturers to look at doing business. We have discussed that with them. We have talked to them about looking at the quality of their present pallet pool and perhaps placing a quality assurance program into that pool that guarantees to eliminate some of the problems that the GMA has been susceptible to and has had for years.
Everybody always said that it wasn’t the pallets, it was the quality of the pallets within the pool. It deteriorated, and people cheated. The problem was that there were never teeth involved in the GMA program. And that is what we are discussing with them. If GMA members say they want to go to a block pallet, we are going to entertain that. We can’t lead them anywhere. They have to tell us where they want to go, and then we can lend our expertise to coming up with a solution for them.
Sherry: We accomplished a lot of extremely good things while Bill Biedenbach was chairman, including getting more involvement from our members. I’d really like to carry those things forward.
The association developed a safety program over the last year, and we have Adelle Abrams available for consultation. Safety is one of the biggest issues that any business can have inside or outside the pallet industry.
The Deliver the Goods program markets from our industry to associations of other industries that are our customers. We are getting into their trade publications. Our members are seeing that as very beneficial. We now know who to go to in certain industries when we have questions about what they are doing.
We had a problem in
Bruce is not a ‘pallet guy.’ But we’ve got enough pallet guys out there that he knows he can pick up the phone and ask a question, and they will give him an honest answer, so he gets what he needs to know from his members. And that’s important. He knows how to build a staff, and knows how to get people together and get them talking.
Sherry: The future is very murky, but I see it as very positive for wooden pallets. Wood is so easily tooled to meet the needs that we have. It is easily assembled into products that are usable. It can meet the needs of our customers. It will get its load from point A to point B safely. It is biodegradable. It is recyclable, it is reusable, it is environmentally sound. It is clean and for the most part is inexpensive. As my father said, the guy who invented wood really knew what he was doing. It is a good material. Competitively, the wooden pallet is going to be around for a long time, they aren’t even close to coming up with anything that is going to beat it.