Understanding Supply Chain Dynamics via a Single Commodity: Toilet Paper. Yes, Toilet Paper.

Following one commodity along its supply chain illustrates the value added by a trusted third-party logistics (3PL) provider

The supply chain of toilet paper, as bizarre as it sounds, parallels that of many commodities. By tracing the path of toilet paper—from trees in the forest to shrink-wrapped rolls on the shelf—we can better understand the complexity of a dynamic supply chain.

Is Toilet Paper Trivial? Not Really. Consider Some Facts:

About 384 trees are required to produce an average consumer’s lifetime purchase of toilet paper. Each tree weighs about 1,000 pounds. Trees must be transported to a site to be made into bleached pulp. Ultimately, each tree yields just over 800 rolls.

The average person uses 100 rolls of toilet paper per year, and 83,048,116 rolls of toilet paper are produced per day in the United States. As you might imagine, this requires many trees. The expedition logistics can be overwhelming.1

That is why the production of toilet paper is big business-and why it is one of the first things we hear about in a supply chain crisis. Watch the news at the beginning of any disruptive event (hurricane, snowstorm, pandemic, etc.) and you are sure to hear stories about stores stripped of toilet paper.

We expect this commodity to always be there when we need it. However, without an agile supply chain, and a network of people to ensure the supply chain moves, even a commodity we need may not make it to the shelves.

The supply chain comprises many moving parts and many people working together to ship the supplies. Experienced consultants help optimize the chain’s agility and resilience. Specifically, the strategic, experienced 3PLs that are present at any (or all) points along the way add significant value.

From Forest to Finished Product, a Trusted 3PL Adds Value All Along the Journey

As we trace the supply chain journey of toilet paper, we will point out the many ways a 3PL is a “value add” along the way, providing expertise, collaboration, knowledge, and dedication to keep the supply chain moving. A trustworthy 3PL takes pride in knowing your business as well as you do and thinks of each shipment as their own. They are partners who are dedicated to your business and focused on doing the right thing.

1 - The trees that will become toilet paper originate in a forest—often in regions such as Maine or the Pacific Northwest in the United States or Canada. This means cross-border transits, cold and adverse weather, and other strains are present right at the start of the supply chain pathway.

Value Add: From the start, complications abound. Paper producers may use shipping lanes with fewer carriers. Carriers may be Canadian and need to transit across borders—which may require clearing customs as well as adhering to different regulations. Canadian transportation regulations are also known to vary from U.S. regulations. Some point-of-origin forests are remote and require special fleets. Knowing who, where, when, and how to complete this leg of the journey is important, and a 3PL can help.

2 - Trees are cut and transported to another location, where they are debarked and chipped into small pieces and then mixed with water and chemicals to make slurry. Eventually, wood fiber pulp goes through a bleaching process to remove color from the fiber. The pulp is sprayed, dried, and pressed into wide sheets. The sheets are wound into large rolls and then converted into long, thin cardboard tubing to make a paper log. These paper logs are cut into rolls and wrapped in packages before they are ready to ship out.

Value Add: A 3PL is able to leverage relationships with carriers to obtain better service and pricing. The relationships they’ve forged mean dedicated carrier partners are now your carrier partners. A 3PL will also optimize the truckload so that a full truckload obtains the best freight rate.

Value Add: A 3PL can find fleets and haulers ready to handle such bulk cargo. They can also secure available truck and trailer capacity that can service transportation to and from the production facility or facilities.

3 - From the manufacturer, the packages may go to their warehouse, a public warehouse, or a retailer’s warehouse or distribution center.

Value Add: When demand surges, trucks, trailers, and warehouse space are in scarce supply for moving or storing these goods. Finding transportation with appropriate trailers, as well as available warehouse space, is an important part of the journey. A knowledgeable 3PL will have the ability to match available transportation assets to the commodities moved during toilet paper production.

Value Add: Surges in demand for toilet paper, like similar commodities, force the same shippers to jockey for the same lanes from the same suppliers. This means that established relationships are valuable for solving any gaps in the supply chain and finding suppliers who are loyal and accommodating. A 3PL maintains many established relationships with carriers and can help find capacity to move goods when the transportation supply is strained.

4 - During disruptions—such as worldwide pandemics, hurricanes in the Gulf Coast or other regions, snowstorms, ice storms, blizzards, or wildfires in the West—consumers react and stock up on toilet paper. Truck lanes may be slowed or blocked, and routes may be diverted. But retailers still hope to keep their customers happy, which, in this case, means getting toilet paper back in stock as soon as possible. Good information becomes invaluable as the major players seek out creative solutions to keep the supply chain moving.

Value Add: A 3PL can be a one-stop shop for turnkey logistics. Why deal with multiple vendors and partners when a single hub—the 3PL—can provide a swift conduit for conducting operations? A creative 3PL can find available trucks and trailers based on their carrier relationships and their knowledge of efficient ways to ship, thus helping manufacturers and retailers keep the shelves stocked ahead of their competition. They may also find alternative routes when weather or natural disasters pose problems.

Value Add: A 3PL helps the carrier fill its backhaul. Others in their client base may be able to benefit from an available dry van to be dispatched elsewhere. With their ability to triangulate the needs of various parties, a 3PL can assist delivery and efficient conveyance by helping truckers, shippers, and even other 3PLs fill their backhaul.

5 - In uniquely difficult times (such as during the pandemic), shelves may be empty of toilet paper and other coveted commodities. Panic sets in, which causes a surge in demand. Too many buyers and not enough supply means the fastest manufacturer to fill the shelves gets the orders. As customers continue to encounter empty shelves, the sense of panic deepens and the local news station may even show up to ask store managers about the stock shortage. Everyone wants to know when the next shipment is coming in to restock the shelves.

Value Add: A 3PL partners with best-in-class technology platforms so they can access the latest technology for various capacity solutions. Using available digital solutions, combined with industry expertise and stellar supplier-vendor relationships, a 3PL can keep all partners apprised of where shipments are coming from, how much is coming, and when it will arrive. This helps set expectations and simmer down the wave of inquiries. The store managers can speak intelligently about expected arrival times. Customers may be informed where shipments are and when they are due for delivery. A 3PL adds value by providing information to keep everyone updated about shipments, easing the anxieties of both retailers and consumers.

Closing the Loop

Although toilet paper may sound like an odd subject for an article about the supply chain, it is a perfect opportunity to show how a 3PL can add value at numerous places along a multipart logistical process. Commodity supply chains are generally complex. Most (even toilet paper) are not simple. When disruption occurs for any commodity, supply chain stakeholders appreciate all the help they can get.

Value Add: Working closely with a 3PL results in a consummate, relationship-focused customer experience. A 3PL provides a dedicated account team that stands ready to serve you and your business 24/7. This elite service is a key advantage as supply chain demands and related disruptions can come at any time from any place. Readily available assistance via a 3PL is a true value add that pays dividends many times over.

Regardless of the commodity, it is crucial to have the help of a trusted partner that brings expertise, loyalty, humanity, and innovation to the supply chain, and that’s where we come in.

What’s on Your Supply Chain Mind? And How Can VP Logistics Help You?

Leveraging the value we have outlined herein, VP Logistics is a full-service third-party logistics provider that stands ready to help you deliver the goods.

Whatever the size, shape, and description of your commodities, we bring over 15 years of experience and logistics expertise. We can help with truckload, LTL and partial loads, as well as temperature-controlled commodities and shipments. We can handle expedited freight via nearly any type of transport mode: dry vans, chassis and flatbeds, low boys, all dry van conveyance, and almost any type of specialized solution. In addition, we have experience in international shipments, intermodal transit, and drayage freight capabilities. We also have solid relationships with customs house brokers, specialty freight brokers, and an arsenal of carriers to get your load booked in times of limited capacity and supply chain strains.

We spoke about value added. Now let's speak specifically about the value you are seeking and how we can move your commodities, wherever they may be in the supply chain, from origin to destination, on time, intact, every time.

To explore how we can help drive incremental value for your organization, give us a call at (855) 847-7251.

1 http://www.toiletpaperhistory.net/toilet-paper-facts/toilet-paper-fun-facts/