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Forklifts, pallets and pallet racks are an unbeatable team. Together, they transformed the materials handling industry, making it more cost-effective, efficient and productive. Somewhere along the line, though, some companies overlooked the fact that forklift accessories can expand a forklift’s capabilities and even expand a business’ horizons.
John worked in a small factory that made wooden toy trains and used their pallet racks for storing boxed finished products waiting for delivery. When the recession hit, they found their pallet racks stacked full of boxes that were going to be waiting a lot longer for delivery than they used to. Production slowed and the owner, Dave reluctantly laid off a few workers.
The shop was set up to make toy trains quickly and efficiently and even used CAD programs and computer aided machinery (CAM) to streamline the process. A relative newcomer to the business, John had been hired to assist in the office. With a background in computer technology and marketing, he was a jack of all trades who also enjoyed woodworking as a hobby. Dave, on the other hand, had been making wooden trains for over 40 years and considered his business one that made wood toys and nothing else.
One day John walked into the office and said, “Picket fences.”
“What about them?” asked Dave.
“Why don’t we start making picket fences?”
“We’re not set up for them, for one thing,” Dave replied, “and for another, the housing market is dead, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“The housing market may be in the doldrums, but people are spending money on cosmetic improvements to their homes. As far as being set up, we have everything we need right here. It just needs a little re-arranging.”
Instead of replenishing their stocks of toy trains as they diminished, the company kept just enough on hand to fill regular orders. They dismantled 2 of their pallet racks and moved them against a wall where their forklift could gain access to bundles of 8 foot lengths of 1X4s for making pickets. Then they bought fork extensions to make lifting and transporting the wide bundles easier and safer.
John sat down and spent half a day on the computer making CAD drawings of decorative tops for the pickets. He fed the information into their computerized router and by the end of the day, he had samples to show potential customers. Then he went back to the drawing board and came up with a simple A-frame “easel” that made it easy to staple the pickets to 2X4 cross pieces. The easel fit easily into the space formerly taken up by the pallet racks they had moved.
The cost of re-jigging the factory to produce both toy trains and picket fences was minimal, but it saved the business and created new opportunities for further expansion. While it’s true that the fork extensions weren’t solely responsible for their success, this hypothetical story shows that with a little imagination and the right forklift accessories, you can adapt to change without spending a fortune.