The humble shipping pallet—nearly invisible to users of the merchandise it helps transport—could well be the unsung hero of consumer products distribution.
This simple platform, often made of wood or plastic, functions largely behind the scenes as it moves through myriad stops in the supply chain, from manufacturer to warehouse to retailer and back again. In most instances, it fades back into the endless cycle of shipping and receiving removed from customer view, known only to packers, stock boys and store clerks.
But the pallet is far from insignificant. Without it, everything from dry goods to perishables such as milk, meat and dairy could not easily be shipped, warehoused or arranged on store shelves.
“I never thought anybody could be passionate about pallets,” says J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire investor and philanthropist whose private equity firm purchased PECO Pallet Inc., a small but promising North American supplier of wooden pallets, in March 2011. “But I have to say, three and a half years later, I am passionate about pallets.”