Lydia Work has been in the business of manufacturing paper all her life and she’s never seen anything like this before.
As president of American Paper Converting based in Woodland, Wash., and with 22 years at the company under her belt, Work would know.
Clearwater Paper, which has its largest manufacturing plant in Lewiston, has seen demand for toilet paper soar, said Shannon Myers, company spokeswoman.
Before coronavirus hoarding, during other national disasters like 9/11, Work said demand actually slowed down. The most her company has ever produced is about two times its normal product, around August and September when schools order toilet paper for the influx of students.
Currently, American Paper Converting is manufacturing 10 times their regular volume. And the demand now isn’t just for grocery store shelves, where only 15 percent of their toilet paper products end up.
“People are going everywhere they can go to get it,” Work said. “We expect it only to be on the consumer end, but it’s in both.”
After shipping a truckload of bathroom tissue to one distributor in California, Work said the wholesaler reported a long line had formed outside their warehouse of consumers desperate for the product.
But the demand isn’t good news for manufacturers. Work said her company expects to lose money.
People aren’t using the paper more, they’re just filling their closets with it, she said. The company predicts a significant lull in sales in the near future, but for now costs are inflated. They’re paying over time and hiring more workers so they can fill orders.
“It’s a situation where we need to help our customers,” Work said. “We’re not doing it as an opportunity to make more money, it’s just meeting the need. We’re selling at the same price.”
And while they work around the clock, they’re also concerned about employees getting sick. At American Paper Converting, they’re staggering lunches so there aren’t groups larger than 10 eating in one room and sanitizing equipment between shifts.
At Clearwater Paper, they revised sick leave policies and placed restrictions on travel and visitors.
“We produce and sell products that are absolutely essential to everybody’s daily lives and reliable production has never been more critical,” Myers said.
At American Paper Converting, it all happened over one weekend in March — the computer filled with orders. Normally they’re filling orders two weeks out, by mid-March they had orders scheduled through the end of April.
“It was overwhelming,” Work said. “We came in on Monday and said, ‘Oh my God what happened here.’ ”
Toilet paper manufacturers are essential businesses though, so people don’t need to worry about losing access, Work said. They’re working every day to produce enough for everyone. The only thing that could deter them is workers catching the coronavirus. At American Paper Converting’s Virginia location, one employee’s wife had a flu and was being tested. He stayed home.
“The health of my employees comes before anything. If you’re nervous, stay home, don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of you,” Work said. “That’s the only thing that might shut us down. We’ll keep running until something like that happens.”