South Carolinians may now have enough toilet paper for a century stored in basements, attics and bathroom closets, but at Spartanburg's Sun Paper Company, sales haven't faltered since March.
Even as the economy reopens and fears about shortages have subsided, like many "essential needs" manufacturers, the plant is seeking new workers to keep up with the pace.
"Sales are still as strong as they were," said Joe Salgado, executive vice president of the company. Sun Paper manufactures consumer paper products including toilet tissue and paper towels for a number of major grocery and discount variety stores across the nation.
Over the past few months production of toilet tissue has been up by 25%, he said, with an all-hands-on-deck mentality. The factory never sleeps.
Still, few people would notice any changes on the floor under pandemic production protocols and normal production because of the plant's streamlined, high-tech operations.
"It was business as usual, you know," he said. "It's a lean operation, and you wouldn't know the difference, except for the fact that everyone's wearing masks and there's different procedures in place for checking drivers in and out. We revamped the way that we clock in and out of the building. We're using a geofencing system, so we can clock-in from our phones instead of a common clock."
A multi-automated production line parcels out 450-pound bales of bath tissue the size of a petite conference room into 500 embossed rolls within a minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Salgado argues that the toilet paper shortage consumers had braced themselves for never really happened from the producer's perspective, but grocery shelves were picked clean because of consumer expectation. Retailers and distributors struggled to keep up, Salgado said. Some desperate or innovative retailers replaced stocks with commercial tissue brands: those purchased wholesale for hotels and offices, as opposed to Sun Paper's at-home brands like WonderSoft, Gleam and Foresta.
"The industry didn't really have this residual capacity available as a result of this pandemic, but there certainly is not a shortage of bathroom tissue and paper towels. It's just that customers are buying more for fear and speculation that there is not enough. But that is just not the reality," Salgado said.
Generally, the industry hovers at 90% capacity or above, and Salgado said Sun Paper already keeps its supply chain close to home.
"There aren't machines just...