Not knowing what to do meant stacks and stacks of pallets out back, which meant fire marshalls, concerned and ticket-ready, poking around the potential hazards. It also meant a lot of material ended up in a dumpster, material the company was paying to discard.
Fortunately, or maybe serendipitously, the what-to-do-with-the-pallets problem coincided with a chance encounter Junaid had with an Amish man.
A closed loop
One day, as Junaid was on his way home from NSC, a broken-down horse and buggy was holding up traffic. Junaid, who decided to help, learned the problem was an Amish man whose buggy broke while trying to haul a 55-gallon drum of kerosene. Their chance conversation led to an invitation to Sugarcreek.
“So I went out to see him,” Junaid says. “They were cutting trees. In a tree you have furniture lumber, then you have construction lumber and then you have pallet lumber, which they really got rid of it, just as waste. I looked at that as an opportunity.”
Junaid, connecting the dots, recognized that retailers were throwing away pallets because they weren’t considering the value of the non-inventoried items. He had the idea to create a model in which customers buy the pallets and then later sell the used pallets back to Junaid, who, via his newfound Amish connection, would either repair them and get them back out, or recycle them and turn the materials into cash or other products to be sold.
As Junaid explains it: “I’m going to come to you and I’m going to say, ‘Look, you just bought something from me that you’re paying to get rid of. I’m going to find a solution for you. I’m going to pay you for it.’
“They did not understand,” he says. “They cannot comprehend the concept. They were like, ‘What do you mean you’re going to pay us for it? Really? You’re going to pay us for something we throw in the dumpster?’”
Junaid rented a 24-foot truck and made the rounds, dropping off the pallets he sold to his customers, picking them up when the customers sold them back and leaving them with his Amish partners to be repaired or recycled.
“What we call that is a closed loop,” Junaid says.
From many to one
As Junaid made the rounds, he began to see the rest of the packaging materials — the empty boxes, the shrink wrap, the banding — creating much the same problem as pallets had. He wasn’t exactly sure how he could address it, but he knew what to do: ask questions.
“We always ask, ‘What’s your problem?’ And sometimes they don’t know. And so I go into the plant and figure that out,” he says.