Ansir Junaid’s curiosity, and lots of pallets, generate success at Prime Woodcraft

 

Consider the pallet. Some two billion of them are currently crisscrossing the U.S. Yet they’re overlooked, tossed aside and broken, stacked in teetering towers behind businesses and forgotten. But everything that Prime Woodcraft has become — its more than 60 company-run facilities across the U.S., its 1,000+ employees, its A-list client roster of retailers, its 40 percent annual growth, and its many products and services — began with pallets and the question: What do you do with that?

“Pallets move the world,” says Prime Woodcraft Founder and CEO Ansir Junaid. The Pakistani immigrant explains, frenetically, in the newish and tastefully decorated office of his Brunswick headquarters, how he, the youngest son of a military family, landed in Cleveland and in just a few years created a model to turn pallets into a disruptive national business.

“I’m inquisitive because I’m an immigrant,” Junaid says. “I don’t understand your system. And that, I think, is part of the story when you bring an immigrant in who’s not comfortable, who’s inquisitive and is trying to figure out how do you make a difference?”

A chance encounter with the Amish

Junaid, unable to realize his dream of being a military pilot because of an issue with his vision, left Pakistan for London, where he worked and went to school briefly, before shipping off to Cleveland to attend Cleveland State University. He had no plans, at the time, to start a business.

While at school he took an internship with Pepsi Co. in the procurement department, then a job doing the same with National Solvent Corp., which carried over post-graduation.

It was the mid-1990s and one of NSC’s customers — a national retailer — was adding distribution centers. NSC supplied product to 2,800 of this customer’s stores and was in the process of consolidating deliveries in full truckloads and working to meet the demands of the newly implemented just-in-time delivery method.

The retailer received, literally, tons of varied products, all of which were arriving on pallets to its distribution centers.

“I started walking around the back end of the distribution centers and I see all this wood. I’m an inquisitive person and I’m just trying to figure out, why is that happening?” he says. “Well, the first thing I heard is, ‘We don’t know.’”