When Range International raised $50 million to list on the ASX on July 22, few knew that royalty stood behind the fifth-largest shareholder in the maker of recycled plastic pallets.
Holding 3.51 per cent of Range's issued capital is Enviropallets Europe S.A.R.L, an entity controlled by Albert II, the Prince of Monaco since 2005.
Along with the likes of Sri Widati Ernawan Putri, an Indonesian heiress, the Prince is supporting Range's $US2.5 million purchase of a factory in Surabaya (currently in due diligence). It will eventually contain 14 pallet-making machines, imported from New Zealand's Scott Technology at $US1.8 million apiece, to produce pallets from waste plastic using a patented process called ThermoFusion.
Range International's founder, Matthew Darby, has been a regular visitor to the Prince's Palace of Monaco since Albert II became an investor in 2012.
"The prince is a keen environmentalist, he's particularly concerned with deforestation so he understood the potential impact of what we were doing," Darby said.
"He's been very supportive and as you can imagine his network's pretty good."
Of the 4.6 billion pallets forecast to be made globally in 2016, Darby claimed 90 per cent of them will be wood, making the humble item the major culprit in the "quiet crisis" of deforestation.
"We lose a football field of trees every four seconds in the world, and the wooden pallet industry accounts for 40 per cent of the cut timber very year," he said.
Darby's own environmental concern drove him to found Range International in 2002, after selling an advertising business in 1996 and a logistics software business in 1999. Using only "friends and family" capital until a 2011 investment by current chairman Stewart Hall, a past chief executive of Indonesian banks, Darby said $20 million had been spent developing Range International's business before the float.
"Making a pallet from recycled plastic hadn't been done before, and I'm not an engineer so that slowed things up," he said.
"The first engineers I worked with said it couldn't be done, but I was naive enough to believe it could. I put the overalls on every day and get hands-on in the process – you wouldn't trust my welds, but overall it's been fun because I believe I'm solving a big problem."
Darby will only disclose sales of "hundreds of thousands of pallets" since he moved Range to Indonesia in 2012 and commenced production with two of the Scott Technology machines. Adidas and Unilever are among the buyers.
Australia's big pallet-maker, Brambles, might be a competitor domestically but offshore it may become a customer of Range, Darby said. The former president of Brambles subsidiary CHEP Asia, Lars Amstrup, is Range's chief executive, while head of global strategy Ken Brandt just spent 10 years at CHEP in Florida running product development.
The price of a Range "Re>Pal" pallet was comparable with the $US10 average for a wooden pallet, Darby claimed, and hoped it would become cheaper once the Surabaya factory came on-line in early 2017 and began processing 50,000 tonnes of waste plastic a year.
"What's adding a dollar or two to the price of wooden pallets now is Photosanitary Rule No.15 from the World Trade Organisation, which bans the use of wood pallets unless they've been heat-treated and fumigated. With 12 billion pallets in circulation at any one time that adds up," he said.
Range International expects $2.9 million revenue in the 2016 financial year, increasing to $17.8 million in 2017 and $44.4 million the year after.
The company has told investors it expects to go from a $1.8 million loss to a $10.8 million profit over the same timeframe.