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chaz2Competition is hot in the UK pallet network market as it reaches saturation point and sees some competitors fall by the wayside but leading suppliers are looking to diversify their service offering and so add value for their customers.

Since the first UK pallet exchange business was founded in 1992, based on a hub and spoke principle operated  by independent member companies, the one great advantage that propelled its phenomenal growth was the much cheaper cost of sending just one pallet load across the UK. This was because a haulier collecting that one pallet on a round robin collection would deliver to a central hub for the load to be decanted and then loaded, with other pallets, by another member haulier for the final leg of the journey. A secondary,  but not inconsiderable advantage, was that lorries carried full loads in both directions and so cut down on carbon emissions, fuel and other environmental nuisances.

Today, however, recognising that the industry did not always have a particularly good name, market players are looking to be even greener and more cost-effective for their customers. Pall-Ex is a case in point. Its new Eco Drive service uses its in-bound vehicles to take back recyclable waste rather than using a skip and separate waste vehicle. At the hub, the waste is baled, and Pall-Ex’s partner in the scheme, The Green House, collects these once there is a full load for recycling. Some members would charge extra for this service as well as collect money from selling on recyclable items but others would not, taking the view that it makes sense to give free, added value to retain customers.

In the drive to add value, Pall-Ex now offers Retail Plus, which differs from a simple drop and go operation in that the delivery vehicle will take pallet loads into the customer’s storeroom. This allows retailers to keep their staff front-of-house where they can be more profitably employed.

There is no reason why this principle could not be extended so that goods could be moved on other transit devices like trolley bases, roll cages, pallet boxes, etc, directly onto shop floor display areas, or factory production lines, though this might require upgrading of IT practices and hardware. There is a charge for this service but rates are negotiated  after a due diligence has been completed and rates would be volume related.

Already, some players are looking beyond the timber pallet as the transport load support and considering large, awkward loads that would be unsuitable on standard pallets. Pall-Ex also stresses that its successful business model is exportable to mainland Europe. Last year it launched Pall-Ex Italia, its first move in a strategy to establish networks throughout mainland Europe and so enhance its appeal to more UK companies.

IT and security investment are also helping to widen the pallet network appeal, believes Fortec Pallet. Hitherto, for example, high value goods were not considered appropriate for a pallet network services but by introducing track and trace and CCTV for recording all goods, Fortec is changing that perception. Mis-routes, it claims, are extremely rare, typically an error rate of just 0.0016%.

Palletline is another pallet network that has transformed the way it delivers its service, by offering live tracking. Last summer Palletline went live with ‘Signature Capture’ across the network, which has proved an instant success with customers. All customers using Palletline’s ‘Web Despatch’ can now see live signatures of delivery details within five minutes of the delivery being made. They can also ‘track and trace’ their consignments right the way through the network without the need to call the local depot.

The pallet network market has moved on significantly since it began as just a single pallet drop and go service to become a fully fledged 3PL business. Pall-Ex International, for example, handles in-bound deep sea containers, including de-stuffing, sortation and distribution UK wide. It deals with quarter, half and full single pallet loads, offering a range of delivery services from guaranteed next-day to 2-3 day service. It also offers ugly pallet loads, at a premium rate, which is a pallet that does not fit in with the rest of the load. Expect to see more client-centric developments.

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