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Redemption Is Their Business: Cleveland Recycler Strives to Give People Second Chances, Innovates in Upcycling Art
Redemption Business: Cleveland Custom Pallet & Crating does everything differently from most pallet shops. And the strategy is working to recruit millennials and innovate in the emerging field of pallet art and furniture. Find out how this small pallet company can make you rethink the pallet business.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 11/1/2016
Cleveland Custom Pallet & Crating does everything differently from most pallet shops. And the strategy is working to recruit millennials and innovate in the emerging field of pallet art and furniture.
The first thing you notice when you walk into Cleveland Custom Pallet & Crate, Inc. in downtown Cleveland is the graffiti artwork on the walls and the young faces running everything. This is not your normal pallet recycling shop. And then you quickly see furniture and art made out of old pallets and crates and understand that this company does more than just recycle pallets. Its employees also turn pallets into works of art.
Cleveland Custom Pallet & Crate, Inc. (CCP&C) does things differently. You can see that from its website to its business cards and signage. The company reflects the values of its owner and the style of its managers.
The general manager and vice president of the company is Thurman Usrey, known as JR. He is an accomplished artist whose favorite style is graffiti art, and he takes that raw, vibrant attitude into everything the company does. From hiring people who may have some rough backgrounds to combining pallet production with pallet art to giving young people the opportunity to advance and start over.
Giving Workers a Second Chance
JR came to the company 28 years ago fresh out of high school, and he likely never thought that it would become his career. Mike Broeckel, the owner and founder of CCP&C took a chance on JR wanting to give young men from his church a place to work and grow in their faith. For Broeckel, hiring young people and trying to give them a place to do good work and mature was a key reason for being in business. He started the business in 1981 and has recently retired.
JR explained, “For 30 years Mike has been like a father-figure to me. From the very beginning, Mike said that people can come in and stay and go – bringing in younger people from the community and the church.”
JR went to night school for graphics arts while working at CCP&C, and eventually he worked his way up to become a manager. Like all pallet companies, hiring good people is a challenge. But CCP&C has found that its connections with local ministries and community organizations can help locate people.
Charlene Usrey, the administrative manager and human resources director for CCP&C, explained, “It is difficult in manufacturing to find good people to come in and work. So we try to work with the Salvation Army, the City Mission, Catholic Charities and the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry to identify people who don’t mind hard work and need a good job.”
Charlene added, “A lot of what we spend time doing now is training and working with people who don’t have experience in the industry. We take time to work with employees to invest in them.”
The company runs background checks on all new employees although it will hire people who have issues in their past as long as they are moving in the right direction. Charlene commented, “We will take people with something in their past depending on how recent it was and the circumstances around those factors. We feel that Jesus would have done the same thing in giving people a second chance.”
Hiring somewhat risky people hasn’t always paid off, in fact, more often than not it does not work long-term. But, then there are those times it does pay off, and today the company has a great group of young employees who keep the company’s daily operations running. Currently, the shop foreman joined CCP&C while participating in the Salvation Army program, and the maintenance manager joined the team through the Salvation Army job placement program.
One example of going the extra mile for workers involved an applicant who was looking for work but had a hard time finding jobs due to deafness. This person wears hearing aids, but he could still do the physical work. CCP&C trained the man and made adjustments and accommodations to help him succeed. Today, this employee has become one of the top production workers and is very reliable.
About eight months ago, the company had a key manager leave, and at that point JR and Andy decided to shake everything up. They assessed the WHOLE production team, identified workers showing not only good work performance but also the critical competencies needed to develop leadership qualities, and gave them a chance to step up – “level up.” The company put its youngest workers (in their 20s) in positions of leadership, such as shop foreman, shipping & receiving manager and maintenance manager.
Charlene said, “The company was in a transition phase with Mike phasing himself out of the day-to-day business, so we decided let’s put the next generation, the young ones, in charge.” JR adding “and we turned everything upside down and gave them opportunities to lead us into the future.”
Charlene explained, “Instead of just transitioning the leadership team to the usual more experienced, tenured employees, CCP&C wanted to [as JR is constantly saying] think outside the box and build a leadership team with new, fresh and different ideas and approaches.”
Charlene added, “CCP&C made the decision to significantly invest in three millennials – three millennials with only about two years combined total experience at the company. A significant investment in time and training – but oh what an exciting idea! We made a conscious decision to put our company in their hands.”
Key personnel in their 20s include Lucas Archer [Mike’s grandson], the crating coordinator, who also has helped design the company website; Bill Reichle, the shop foreman; Jonathan Barnes the maintenance & training manager; and TJ Usrey, the shipping and receiving manager. The company has showed faith in them and given them opportunities to develop and thrive.
TJ Usrey said, “I was bouncing around after high school and trying to decide if I should work here full time or go to college. What I decided is that I want to do some type of ministry work. But, what I found is that I can do ministry work here, just not the way that I expected. I can be a mentor to other employees and try to be a good example.”
Jon Barnes has the primary responsibility for the training of new employees. Management recently completed a total revamping of its training program that included development of a special training area away from the main production lines. This area includes a whiteboard, tools, sample pallets, etc. Jon commented, “The new training set-up is a lot easier because you are by yourself and secluded away from everything else that is going on. It is designed to keep the employee being trained more engaged and results in a shorter learning curve.”
TJ also noted working with new employees and others in a management capacity allows him to turn the production floor into a place to do ministry and care about the people. TJ explained, “We treat everyone as teammates and not just employees, and try to build on those personal relationships.”
Bill Reichle, the shop foreman, declared, “This is the only place that I have ever worked where you could see a Christian faith in the management. They give us tons of chances to work hard and move up the organization.” He added, “I love interviewing new guys and telling them that you can start fresh here.”
While the company believes in second chances and fresh starts, JR makes it clear that everyone is held accountable to a high standard. From weekly meetings to regular performance assessments to careful training focused to ensure everything is done right, the company wants everyone to contribute to the process.
So far the younger/next generation leadership experience has worked. The “young guns” like the responsibility and have worked hard even though they have made a few mistakes here and there. JR said that you have to give people opportunities to learn from mistakes and challenge them to do their best.
In addition to JR, Andy Archer, also Mike’s grandson, is the assistant general manager, with primary responsibility for managing sales and customer interactions. He is fairly young too and joined the company in 2012 coming from a construction background. Andy and JR have become each other’s catalyst – blending each one’s greatest strengths – they work together managing operations and serving customers. Recently, they took their separate interests and joined them together to start a new division, Redemption By Design, which makes custom furniture, signs, and other functional art from old pallets.
Redemption By Design – Upcycling Pallets
This new venture takes advantage of the hot trend in design where old pallets and lumber, as well as old metal objects, etc., are turned into a wide variety of products or artwork giving off an Industrial chic style. Andy is very good doing woodworking and carpentry. And, JR is a gifted artist who likes to paint almost anything, but graffiti art is his favorite. You can tell that with all the graffiti art throughout the building when you visit CCP&C.
JR explained, “Graffiti art – I like the rawness of it and yet the bold colors. I have never done illegal graffiti. But what draws me into graffiti art is the boldness of the colors. And I like the freedom to it; there are no boundaries to it.”
Andy added, “We want to turn recycled material into pieces that people look at and are astounded when they learn it came from recycled pallets.”
The idea behind the name is that they are upcycling, turning something that might otherwise get thrown away and making it into a work of art – not unlike what Christ has done for us. From a sustainability standpoint, used pallet creations are very popular with people who are environmentally conscientious.
In the recycling shop, there is a section set up for painting, sanding and other woodworking functions. This is where the magic happens. The company has made signs, tables, chairs, kitchen islands and more from old pallets and crates. So is this just a creative outlet or viable part of the business? Andy admitted, “The pallet art and furniture could become an important revenue stream for us, but it is not there yet. You still have to work on what pays the bills. Our hope is when we have some downside in pallets, they can switch to doing more of the signage/artwork and furniture.”
A big reason to do the art is because it makes the place a fun place to work, and it gives some employees a creative outlet, and uses or develops other skill sets. From making patio furniture to a bar made from pallets, almost anything is possible. The company also sells pallet material and crates to do-it-yourself enthusiasts who want to make their own pallet creations.
A Strong History Pallet Operations Review
CCP&C primarily offers used pallets as well as custom new or combo pallets. Also, the company specializes in wood crate design. It even sells Inca presswood pallets and plastic pallets.
The man who made everything possible at CCP&C is Michael Broeckel, the company founder and owner. In many ways, the company bears his DNA even though he has turned over daily management and operations to JR and his team.
Broeckel started the company in 1981 having purchased pallets while working for Fisher Foods and Martin Brauer. He originally began the business because he wanted to have a place where his sons could work. It all started with a hammer, nails and a pickup truck. His three sons joined him in the pallet business. From the beginning, the company always involved family and youth from church in the business. Many of them came to work summers or in short terms between college classes. Broeckel wanted to provide his family and others an opportunity to earn money, learn the value of hard work, and build work experience.
The company kept growing year after year, ultimately changing its name from G&M Pallet & Skid to Cleveland Custom Pallet & Crate, Inc. in 2011. The name change reflected a shift in product offerings as crates became a bigger part of the business and custom work its niche. Mike Broeckel recently retired to Greer, South Carolina, but still stays in touch with JR and the management team at least weekly via phone calls or visits.
As long as the company follows the original vision, it should continue to attract quality workers as they redeem pallets and people for a brighter future.