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How thinking outside the box evolved an Adelaide sawmill


A northern suburbs sawmill and pallet-making company that began building gift boxes from offcuts a decade ago, has had so much success with its side business that it is now focusing on it full-time.

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Trevor Jones bought the Parafield Gardens sawmill in 2006 and focused on the production of standard freight pallets while making smaller crates with the offcuts.

“We were making lettuce crates and tomato boxes for growers so we were in the box business back when fruit and veg growers still packed product in wooden boxes and the idea was that those wooden boxes used the off-cuts from the side of the logs,” Jones said.

“We started to sell variations of those lettuce and tomato boxes to fruit shops for displays and then we got into making gift boxes for hampers and it just became an evolving process as we went along.”

That evolution has branched out to SA businesses including Prohibition Gin, Rossi Boots, Beerenberg Farm as well as producing pop-up displays for Rundle Mall, the Tour Down Under and numerous wineries.

Trevor Jones and his daughter Megan O’Brien review a custom design.

“We still make lettuce and tomato boxes and we supply a large number of them to one of the large supermarket chains,” Jones said.

The company has since moved to Edinburgh and Jones sold the pallet and sawmill business off in April to focus on the Li’l Boxes full time.

The pine logs are now purchased pre-cut from a sawmill in Mount Gambier.

The company has also launched Out of the Box Displays brand this year, which is a range of flat pack displays designed to be easily shipped around Australia.

“While the Li’l Boxes business has been very good, the freight costs in Australia are challenging for a business that ships wooden boxes full of air so we started to evolve the flat-pack business two or three years ago and are now really starting to get that up and running,” Jones said.

“One of the things we’re looking at doing is flat pack point of sale displays for pop-ups in shopping centres or people who have stalls at markets and we think the flat-pack idea is something they can take apart and store in their garage at home.

“For people who have been developing all these home industries during COVID, we’re looking to try and provide some way they can market themselves instead of just using a trestle table.”

Jones and his team of about 10 staff have also developed a vintage stain that can be applied at volume to give new pine boxes an aged look.

“It’s taken us years to get it right but having got it right it’s been very successful and we did more than 25,000 lettuce crates with vintage stain last calendar year.

“It’s still the exact same design as we used 15 years ago to make boxes to transport lettuces – the one the old green grocers used.

“When we first started in this business people used to say ‘do you have any old boxes’ but we didn’t because they were all made new.

The vintage stain lettuce boxes are popular for gift hampers.

“So over a long period of time we worked on a vintage stain that we could do in volume and was sustainable. Nothing happens overnight but we’ve now got a vintage system that works really well.”

While Jones sees huge potential for the Li’l Boxes and Out of the Box Displays, like many SA businesses it has lost some momentum during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been a challenge because really since we sold the pallet business we’ve been in COVID mode,” he said.

“A lot of our product goes through Melbourne and for quite a while they were in trouble in terms of lockdowns and shutdowns and were only doing about half of what they normally do since May or June.

“At this stage we’re just looking to get through December and then once we get into the new year and hopefully we get a vaccine and tourists come back into our economy then lots of the things we do become more significant.”


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