April 17, 2020

We’ve been shaking our heads at all those irrational folks who hoarded all the toilet paper over the last few weeks. (Couldn’t have been any of us, of course!)

Unlike hand sanitizer or N95 masks, this pandemic did not create a burning need to maintain a ready stockpile of toilet paper. So what’s with all the hoarding?

As it turns out, while there may have been some folks who panicked and overbought, there are some very logical, fact-based reasons why there started to be shortages of consumer toilet paper last month. As this article explains, the toilet paper industry is split into two separate markets, commercial and consumer. Toilet paper manufactured for the commercial market is a different product than what we buy off grocery shelves:  it’s thinner, in larger rolls, and doesn’t come in nice packages of six or twelve. It often doesn’t even get manufactured in the same factory as consumer-grade product. The end to end supply chain of the commercial toilet paper industry is entirely different than that of the consumer market. It’s impossible, it seems, to quickly reorient one to another.

Georgia-Pacific estimates that the average household will use 40% more toilet paper if all household members stay at home around the clock. With roughly three-quarters of the country under stay-at-home directives, that’s suddenly an enormous strain on a supply chain based on relatively steady demand.

So there are some logical reasons why toilet paper shortages started affecting consumers a month or so ago, reasons that go beyond simple “hoarding.”

As Brené Brown discusses at length in her book Braving the Wilderness, assumptions lead us into sorting and categorizing individuals, which, in turn, fuels disconnections. If you’re in business trying to serve a particular community or demographic, disconnections are lethal.

It’s easy to generalize:

  • New Yorkers are elitist snobs
  • The deeper the Southern accent, the lower the intelligence
  • Californians are kale-eating wingnuts
  • Republicans are fascists
  • Democrats are socialists

A few of you, maybe more than a few of you, felt a rise in your blood pressure as you read an item or two from this list.

So while your blood pressure is a bit high, consider some big assumptions we hear in the business world right now:

  • No one is buying anything
  • They’re probably going out of business
  • They can’t pivot their business
  • Everyone has time to watch Netflix
  • Everyone has downtime to rethink their business

Think about how irritated someone must feel to hear that they’ve got all the time in the world to watch Netflix, for example, but what they’re really struggling with is the extra time demands of dealing with employees suddenly work at home, keeping their vendors on board, trying to keep connected to customers and hopefully make a few sales, wondering if their cash will hold out, and when and if that PPP loan will come through. Then, on top of that, they’ve got bored kids at home with the dog barking in the background while they’re trying to meet on Zoom.

Someone in that position has no patience for anyone declaring that everyone is watching “Tiger King” on Netflix.

Assumptions are the fertilizer of disconnections. Disconnections are lethal for your business.

I heard about a couple of people who are holding Zoom-based virtual coffee hours for their tribe—whatever group or industry that entails—and just letting people talk about what’s going on in their business or offer anything they want to share. Contrast that approach with the one-way only webinars some marketers are holding right now to help all of us rethink our business.

Who do you think will get a better idea what’s going on with their customers and, in turn, will be better equipped to pivot, as necessary, and survive this economic chaos? Who will come out of all this mess much stronger?

What do you think you know about what’s going on with your clients right now? Are you making faulty assumptions? Where are the disconnections you’re creating for your business?

You don’t know until ask and listen.


Photo by Valentin Farkasch on Unsplash

©Ray Business Advisors, LLC and John Ray


About me:  I’m enthusiastic about how changes in pricing strategy can significantly change profitability for a business and enhance life choices for business owners. I live this passion through Ray Business Advisors, my outside CFO and business advisory practice, in which my pricing is exclusively value-based, not hourly. I work with business owners on how they can change their pricing not just to increase their profits, but better serve the wants of their customers. Click here to learn more or call me at 404-287-2627.

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