Embry-Riddle Supply Chain Expert Unravels the Mystery Behind the 'Great Toilet Paper Shortage'
The coronavirus pandemic will leave behind many lasting legacies, but among the most prominent memories for many people will be the “Great Toilet Paper Shortage.”
The sudden and prolonged disappearance of bath tissue from store shelves has been the butt of many jokes. But for Dr. Aman Gupta, a supply chain expert and professor at Embry-Riddle Worldwide’s College of Business, there are real lessons to be learned from the well-publicized disruption.
Dr. Gupta created a presentation and talk on the phenomenon, which broke down how the supply chain was stretched nearly to the breaking point when panic buying took hold before any stores were ready for it.
“One big takeaway is that in the event of an uncertainty, we as humans overreact and try to control our environments by buying and hoarding the essentials, including food and toiletries,” Dr. Gupta said.
His presentation explored how the shortage started as the pandemic began, with people snapping up some items at an astonishing rate and sending sales of toilet paper spiking to 845% above normal levels.
Dr. Gupta also took an in-depth look at what happened inside the supply chain, and explored some other reasons the toilet paper supply was constricted, not the least of which was the fact that bulky inventory such as paper products are usually kept in limited quantities at most stores.
Although panic buying and hoarding sent the supply chain reeling in the short term, it recovered fairly quickly as companies implemented new strategies and workarounds, many of which Dr. Gupta analyzed in his talk.
“To meet the demand of high margin items, organizations probably procured their supplies from the alternate partners, most likely local suppliers,” Dr. Gupta said. “For low margin items like toilet paper, manufacturers made fewer varieties with increased production of the domestic toilet paper and reduced production of commercial varieties.”
As a researcher and a renowned observer of supply chain logistics, Dr. Gupta said it is essential for businesses to have contingency plans in place to face any future disruptions.
“Organizations should map their supply chains, which requires extensive investment of time and money but has long term benefits,” he said. “Using mapping techniques, manufacturers work closely with their suppliers to map and understand the operations of their suppliers and their supplier’s suppliers, more importantly to understand how the parts travel between the members of the entire supply chain. Most organizations maintain relationships up to Tier 2 suppliers but should strive to go beyond that also.”
Among the other highlights that resulted from Dr. Gupta’s presentation was how Embry-Riddle business students can benefit from working with instructors who are leading industry experts, and who can provide up-to-date real-world insights.“There is a real benefit to exposing students to real-world applications,” Dr. Gupta said. “Real world applications make learning more engaging and meaningful.”