WOODCATS International, the Kingston-based producer of pallets, has set its sights on diversifying its product offerings "up the value chain" by next year while it is also keen on pushing its products in the export market.
Derrick Cotterell, managing director of Woodcats International, told the Jamaica Observer that the company is currently exploring a number of possibilities with lumber, outside of pallets. "If we are going to make more profits for the company, it will not be through pallets. There is no great profit on pallets."
"Our primary product is a product for which we have to keep the cost low," Cotterell told the Business Observer. "So, pretty much a pallet is probably the lowest value-added product you can get from lumber. We are looking to go further up the value chain to produce more products from lumber with the similar skillsets that we now have."
Pressed as to which products Woodcats is exploring, the company's managing director was quick to point out that no final decision has been made as yet, but gave an insight.
"We [are] looking at furniture, in particular recreational outdoor furniture, which can be made with the skillsets we now have and using the same raw materials we use now to make pallets," Cotterell said, before adding that the company could move into indoor furniture in the future. "Anything that gives that rustic feel, but not high-end furniture like a dining table or beds."
He added that other products could include wooden fencing, decks, construction lumber and doors.
Currently, he said the company has been trying to better understand the market over the last few years and is now at the stage where it feels comfortable that it can support Jamaica's production sector "with the share of the market that we have".
Woodcats has a majority of the market for pallets in Jamaica. Cotterell says most businesses look at the product as a "nuisance cost" though it is important for manufacturers to move and store their products.
General manager of Woodcats International Peter Douglas was quick to assure that the company won't be looking to exit the pallet business.
"We will definitely stay focused on serving our customers in an expanded way. This new thrust won't take away from our pallet business; it's just to complement it," Douglas added.
More value-added products aside, Douglas also said the company is "looking to direct export pallets now".
"We have brought our costs in line with the prices for pallets internationally, and that has afforded us to look outside of Jamaica to sell the product," Cotterell chipped in.
"What Woodcats has set out to achieve is that Jamaica's manufacturing sector is on a solid footing because pallets are very important to them. However, we are not just looking at Jamaica, but the entire Caribbean, generally speaking, and we have put the company in a position to supply pallets to the region."
He said the outdoor furniture to be produced, starting next year, will also be exported to both the Caribbean and North America.
Douglas, the man charged with the day-to-day running of Woodcats International, said since the Derrimon Trading acquisition of the company in 2019, production has grown "three- to fourfold" even though the company is operating at 60 per cent of capacity.
Since the acquisition, the company has added a new location at Marcus Garvey Drive in St Andrew on the same compound as its parent company. All assembling of pallets are done at the new location, while the original location, a few miles down the road at Slipe Pen Road in Kingston, is used as the area to store raw material and mill the lumber ahead of transporting it to the factory for assembling.
The waste generated from the production of the pallet now is repurposed under the company's waste-to-revenue programme and turned into mulch for gardeners or sawdust which is sold to exporters of agricultural produce as a cushion for various items.
Woodcats also engages in the reconditioning of pallets.
"Repair and reconditioning have become a big business because it saves customers a lot of money. Previous to us doing repair and recondition of pallets, when the pallets got old, they were just thrown around, but we were able to sell to customers, that if they repair the pallets, they would last longer and save them money and that has been bearing fruits for them," Douglas pointed out.
The company also said it has taken a conscious view of becoming a sustainable business with regard to how it treats the environment.
"We are very much involved in the sustainable development of local lumber. We are very responsible in ensuring that there [is] no illegal deforestation. We work with the Forestry Department to ensure that the raw materials we get are the lumber that they have authorised to be cut. We are also working with them to plant more of these trees in Jamaica to ensure the sustainability of the forest resources," Cotterell told the Business Observer.
Cotterell said he is also pushing for more trees to be planted than are cut down for the production of pallets. He said going up the value chain will also help them to pay farmers more for lumber and encourage them to plant more trees.
"We think we have a responsibility to lead, and so, we are looking at our carbon footprint every day. We are also looking at a programme to reduce our energy cost and looking at more sustainable energy sources. Woodcats has a mantra that we want to have as close to zero waste as possible. We send very little products to the dump. We try to recycle as much as we can. It's not 100 per cent as yet, but in terms of environmental regulations we try to meet the international standards."
"We in the private sector have to begin to show our fellow Jamaicans how to take care of the environment while producing," Cotterell added.