For over 30 years the leading pallet and sawmill magazine in America.
Founder of Verbeek Pallet Overcame Business and Personal Challenges
Despite personal disability, B.C. pallet maker builds successful business. He relies on L-M Equipment (Canada) saw for remanufacturing lumber.
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 7/1/2003
MISSION, British Columbia — Verbeek Pallet Supply is well known in the lower mainland of British Columbia as a reputable, leading manufacturer of softwood pallets as well as a provider of custom lumber cutting and remanufacturing services. The company’s attractive white trucks are a common sight on local roads as they deliver to customers throughout the region.
Much less well known, however, are the tough challenges that owner manager William (Bill) Verbeek has met during the course of his career.
Bill has been developing Verbeek Pallet Supply the past 19 years into a progressive, profitable company. The company manufactures about 45,000 pallets per month for a variety of industrial and building products applications and also supplies specialty dunnage, and custom cutting and other lumber remanufacturing services.
Verbeek Pallet is situated about 45 minutes east of Vancouver and about 15 minutes north of Washington. Surrounded by vacant land at the time it was established, Verbeek Pallet today has many industrial neighbors as well as a large shopping mall next door. While such development has increased the value of Bill’s property, it also increases the cost of expansion; Bill is considering buying another parcel of land that adjoins his company’s two acres.
Verbeek Pallet has about 11,000 square feet in its two primary buildings – one for lumber remanufacturing operations and one for pallet assembly — as well as offices and several sheds for assembling specialty pallets. Bill’s duties include buying all lumber, sales, personnel matters, and other management activities. His son, Dale, works in operations while his daughter, Rachelle, works in the office.
Bill is legally blind; he has only 3% vision. He inherited Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition, from his mother. Born and raised in a small town in Alberta, he suffered from poor vision as a child and faced cruel teasing by other youngsters. His mother died of cancer when he was 12, and he quit school to help run the family farm. He was only 14 when he got his first introduction to the forest industry, working in several Alberta mills before moving to British Columbia three years later. By the time he married at 19, his vision had deteriorated so much that he was only allowed to drive during the day.
When he was in his 20s, Bill worked in logging as a feller and became a logging contractor. By the time he was 32, however, he could no longer see well enough in the dim woods to fell trees accurately or safely operate vehicles or equipment. "It got to the point where I couldn’t see half-way up the tree," Bill recalled. Canadian authorities revoked his driver’s license because of his poor vision.
Bill moved his family north to Terrace, British Columbia in 1973, where he found employment shoveling manure at a chicken farm. He did the job for nine months, 12 hours a day, and worked the last 63 days without a day off. The experience demonstrated his strong work ethic and determination.
He subsequently returned to Mission with his family, and he quickly won a contract to burn piles of stumps and brush. Bill rented some equipment and hired a worker, and he made more money in a week than the previous nine months on the chicken farm.
Shortly thereafter Bill took a job at a shake and shingle mill several miles away in Surrey. He rode with co workers in return for gas money. Piling bundles of shingles was his main job, but he also learned how to make pallets for the company. He contracted with his employer to make pallets — which he did on weekends — to earn extra money.
After nine years, however, a fire destroyed the mill. The company rebuilt it but went out of business soon after. Bill, 45, with a wife and four children to support, including one with diabetes and another with bi-polar disorder and learning disabilities, was without a job.
Bill, who now only had 7% vision, decided to start a pallet business. He borrowed $2,500 to get it going. He and Dale, his oldest son, worked in a friend’s back yard. They had two power nailing tools, a circular saw, and an old pick-up truck. When he needed a bigger truck to make deliveries, he made a deal with one customer to borrow a truck at night — when the customer did not need it; he supplied pallets to the customer in exchange for using the truck. Bill worked long hours and moved the business several times over the next years, during which time he and his wife divorced. In 1989 he purchased property from the city of Mission and built the first phase of the current plant.
Bill has learned to use his mind and memory to compensate in other ways for his poor vision. For example, he has committed hundreds of names, phone and fax numbers and addresses to memory, according to his wife, Erica, and can calculate numbers quickly and accurately in his head. He knows facts and figures on such matters as accounts receivable, company bills, and traffic routes to customer locations.
Despite being legally blind, Bill handily makes his way around the plant. "It’s easy for me because I was here and grew along with it," he said. He has the plant layout memorized. With a tap here and there of a stick he carries with him, he successfully navigates through the buildings, avoiding a pallet on the floor and stopping for passing forklifts. He can still check quality, too – by running his hand over a pallet.
Bill buys softwood lumber from up to 12 brokers; the lumber is manufactured in British Columbia and Alberta. He buys rough or dressed S4S 1-inch or dimension stock, running it through an L M Equipment Co. Ltd. (Canada) Verticut package saw or individual chop saws to cut the material to the correct length. While the chop saws provide better recovery from low-grade lumber, the L-M Verticut provides as much production with one operator as the four chop saws do with four workers — a real plus from Bill’s perspective. Bill designed a custom wheeled cart and heavy steel end wall stopper to flush the bundles of lumber before they go into the L-M Verticut. Utilizing 40 railway tracks, a forklift operator sets a package onto the cart, and then pushes it briskly forward into the steel end wall to straighten up the load.
Bill also designed a unique below floor level conveyor system; it moves trim ends from the chop saw line across the building to the L-M Verticut conveyor. The conveyor is covered by plate steel and allows unimpeded forklift traffic above it.
Trim ends from the chop saws and L-M Verticut are reduced by a Sumner 53-inch chipper. Verbeek Pallet segregates the chips and sawdust, storing them in separate silos; sawdust is sold for animal bedding and the chips are sold to a mill that manufactures oriented strand board. The reman shop also is equipped with a Kenwell Jackson double-head notcher with power infeed as well as a custom machine for cutting grooves in lumber.
In the building dedicated to pallet assembly, Verbeek is equipped with two Rayco nailing systems; the most recent addition was a Rayco Edge. Bill was attracted to Rayco for a number of reasons, including value, and compact design and small machine footprint. "They provide a good bang for your buck when you consider their productivity and pricing," he said. The Rayco Pallet Pro, acquired a few years before the Rayco Edge, uses collated nails. The Pallet Pro is designed for high production, averaging a 20-30 second cycle time; it can assemble pallets up to 60x60.
Verbeek Pallet has a custom fabricated semi automated nailing machine that was manufactured by Pacific Coast Installations, which provides services to local sawmills. The machine is used to assemble 80-inch long door skids. This type of skid requires different deck board widths and spacing, and steel jigs ensure proper placement. The custom nailing machine, which uses collated nails, has powered infeed chains to present deck boards and stringers to the operator.
Verbeek Pallet uses about 40 to 50 power nailing tools, mainly rugged MAX® CN 70 and CN80 units as well as a few Hitachi tools; General Fasteners provides weekly on site service.
Verbeek buys collated nails from General Fasteners that are manufactured by Tree Island Steel or Duofast. Saw blades and cutting heads for the notcher are supplied by True Cut.
Bill prefers to buy — not lease — equipment. For key equipment, such as nailing systems, forklift trucks and delivery trucks, he prefers to buy new, not used. With a workforce that was unionized in 1997, maintaining steady productivity is essential.
Verbeek Pallet uses four Nissan gas-powered forklifts and one Toyota. For deliveries the company has a 2000 Western Star tractor truck with a 54-foot triple-axle drop trailer and a 32-foot Ford Louisville flat deck truck. The attractive white trucks are an important component of Verbeek Pallet’s marketing efforts. "Lots of people have made comments about our nice trucks," said Bill, who previously used common carriers, a practice that he found both expensive as well as problematic in terms of providing good customer service.
"I don’t like having trucks, but it is a necessity," Bill said. "My trucks pay for themselves and the driver. I don’t necessarily make money on them, but I can depend on them." Company owned trucks provide such benefits as being available to load on weekends and certainty about trailer height.
When a common carrier previously came in with an unexpected trailer height, it might require last-second modifications to an order. When they arrived late, it impacted delivery time. Company-owned trucks have enabled Bill to ensure consistent customer service.
Bill, 62, is in good health and has no plans to retire soon. He is active in a church and enjoys singing and playing the accordion, performing at weddings, funerals and special occasions.
"My father is living proof that life is not about what you have," said Eleanor. "It’s about what you do with what you have. And I think he’s done alright."