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Vandermeer’s Aspen Pallet Stock Program Helps Fill Hardwood Void
Company Handles Products from Mills in Western Provinces and States
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 9/2/2003
“About three years ago we got together with two mills in
He believes that aspen has helped fill a void in the hardwood market. “Today with the scarcity of alder, aspen has really come into its own,” Jim said. “It’s not as strong as alder, but it is being used more and more by people who design pallets. They may be using alder stringers with aspen boards, or oak stringers and aspen boards, or fir stringers. And as a result, aspen has become increasing attractive. The main thing is that it is a hardwood.”
Jim, who started out in the banking industry 43 years ago, has had a lengthy and multi-faceted career in the forest products and building materials industries. His journey has included tours of duty at McMillan-Bloedel and 11 years at Weyerhaeuser. He retired seven years ago, but Vandermeer founder Alan Huston lured him back to the industry in 2000 to head up the company’s parlay into aspen.
“Jim is a dynamic individual,” Alan explained, “but at Weyerhaeuser once you reach a certain age, you have to retire, and there are not a lot of options to it.”
Bill Barnett of Vandermeer, who used to be Jim’s boss at the building materials division of Weyerhaeuser, suggested the possibility of bringing Jim on board. The veteran forest products professional was well known to Alan, who had known and interacted with him in the industry for over 20 years.
“Because I knew him, I knew what a dynamic person he was,” said Alan. “We didn’t waste any time. So we said to Jim to get over here and let’s have some fun.”
Vandermeer was launched by Alan in 1985 in
Vandermeer handles products from mills in the Western provinces and states and markets product both in
Alan has been selling pallet lumber since the late 1970s and early 1980s. “I sold pallet stock long before it was fashionable,” he recalled of his days at Marathon Forest Products in
“When we started the company in 1985, our first orders were for pallet stock,” Alan said. “It has almost been a mandate in the company that if you are going to work for Vandermeer as part of our crew, you had better be able to sell pallet stock because it is one of our core building blocks.” At that time, Vandermeer was selling spruce pallet stock out of
Before his arrival at Vandermeer, Jim was already highly experienced in the aspen arena. He had gained first-hand experience in northern
While aspen is not as strong as other hardwoods, it can still provide good value in a pallet. Jim noted that more and more pallet manufacturers are substituting aspen in place of components made from other hardwoods.
Some manufacturers utilize the Pallet Design System (PDS) computer software to determine what changes they must make in order to use aspen instead of more traditional species. “With PDS, you can take a pallet made out of alder and plug in the requirements for aspen,” Jim said. For example, a 1 3/8-inch alder stringer may be compatible with a 1 ½-inch aspen stringer, or 1x4 aspen interior deck boards might be compatible with Douglas fir 1x6 outside boards.
A benefit of aspen is that, as a hardwood, it is not affected in any way by the
Vandermeer puts together its loads at Trendwood, a reload facility in
The Trendwood reload yard handles all orders, large and small, with ease. Volume sales ensure fast inventory turnover and fresh stock to customers.
Jim emphasized the quality of Vandermeer’s aspen stock. “We have a very good quality control system so that when we get a product in
On time shipping is a key part of the company’s service to customers; more and more customers require demanding ‘just-in-time’ deliveries. “With our reliable, quality manufacturers and a good reload, we are able to be a ‘just-in-time’ shipper to some of our customers so that they don’t have to carry heavy inventories,” said Jim.
Aside from consistent high quality, the other important factor in providing ‘just-in-time’ service involves coordination of manufacturing and delivery. “First of all, we have to pay attention to production at the mills,” Jim said. “The main thing is to keep the production and the transportation closely coordinated through our reload yard.”
Like other hardwood lumber, aspen is sold as a rough sawn green product. All aspen pallet cut stock sold by Vandermeer originates from cants that are sawn specifically for the end use of making pallets. The cants are remanufactured into boards and stringers.
Boards can be de-dusted upon request. “Sometimes this is important in the food production industry,” Jim noted. “The dust falls off in the plant, and it can get into the gears on the conveyor belt and foul that up.”
Over 95% of the pallet stock sold goes into pallets that are used in the
In explaining Vandermeer’s interest in aspen in recent years, Jim noted that traditionally a tremendous amount of aspen has been used for pulp or not harvested. Another attractive feature of the species is its ability to regenerate in 25 to 30 years without reforestation. Given these factors, some companies have now specialized in sawing only aspen. “As a result,” he said, “some of them have become experts in manufacturing the product, and we have become experts in marketing it. Therefore, we are performing a service for a northern
In the past, some companies supplying aspen have had problems ensuring prompt delivery and also experienced challenges to lumber quality, such as staining and rot. “One of the things that happened when we got involved is that we filled the slack in the market place,” said Jim. “While pallet manufacturers may have had trouble getting wood from the smaller mills, we were able to pack up a truck and ship it to them right away. So as a result, we have delivered some reliability into the market place.”
Vandermeer’s success in the aspen arena can be summed up in terms of quality, consistency, custom sizing and competitive pricing, along with ‘just-in-time’ service. Not bad for a dynamic retiree, who clearly enjoys running the aspen marketing program at Vandermeer. “We are very careful to meet the needs of the customer in the marketplace,” Jim concluded, a strategy that remains as important now as when he began his career 43 years ago.