When The Coronavirus Outbreak Creates A Panic-Buying Boom For Your Product

Mar 13, 2020
Originally published on March 13, 2020 8:05 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the global economy, disrupting manufacturing and supply chains all over the world. That's hurt a lot of business, but not all. Stacey Vanek Smith and Cardiff Garcia from our daily economics podcast The Indicator from Planet Money have this report on what it's like to have a business in the middle of a strange boom, a situation where everyone suddenly wants to panic-buy your product.

CARDIFF GARCIA, BYLINE: Andrew Kessler and Robby Patrick (ph) make the Scough.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Is it scoff like, I scoff at you?

GARCIA: Scough is - it's a smash-word of scarf and cough.

Basically, a Scough is a scarf with a powerful air filter tucked into the fabric; essentially, a chic face mask.

VANEK SMITH: Yeah. The Scough was a little side project for Robby and Andrew, not part of their main business, which is a marketing and consulting firm.

GARCIA: Still, the Scough quickly found this small, very devoted audience.

ANDREW KESSLER: There's our immunosuppressed community and people that were getting chemotherapy or people who ride motorcycles and bicycle, some allergy-sufferers. And it's just a steady state of orders.

VANEK SMITH: At least it was. And then last month, a CDC official got on TV and said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANNE SCHUCHAT: However, current global circumstances suggest it's likely that this virus will cause a pandemic. Now, it's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen.

VANEK SMITH: Suddenly, thousands of panicked Googlers were desperately roving around online for face masks. And they found the Scough, and they said a gas mask filter in a cute scarf? I'll take one or two or 20.

KESSLER: Normal volume then turned into double, then quadruple, and then soon it was, like, 50 times the number.

GARCIA: Andrew and Robby unwittingly found themselves in the middle of a strange panic-buying boom. This little product that would get a dozen or so orders a week was suddenly in massive demand.

VANEK SMITH: Customers from all over the world are flooding Scough's inbox with questions.

KESSLER: Are you getting more product in? My doctor wants me to wear a mask. Why advertise if nothing is available? I just need it for my husband and myself. We are elderly. When will you have more stock? Any idea when you'll have more stock?

VANEK SMITH: You look a little stressed looking over these. Is it stressing you out?

KESSLER: Yeah, it's just - it's a lot. Then, of course, the question that we probably got a thousand times in the last few weeks is, does this stop coronavirus?

VANEK SMITH: And?

KESSLER: No, it doesn't.

GARCIA: No, it does not. Not that that's doing anything to slow demand.

VANEK SMITH: The coronavirus continues to spread. There have been more than 125,000 cases reported globally, thousands of deaths. Businesses, stadiums, factories and even entire cities have essentially been shut down to try to contain the virus.

KESSLER: We're out of everything. We're out of all of our raw materials. We're trying to work with our suppliers to get them back as quickly as possible.

VANEK SMITH: Are any of the supplies you order from China? Like, are the coronavirus supply chain shutdowns affecting you?

KESSLER: So we get one ingredient for our filters from China, and that is a problem.

GARCIA: Andrew and Robby are now trying to figure out if they want to make their business more about the Scough or if this is just a temporary bump that they should ignore.

VANEK SMITH: And of course, the small team at Scough is doing what it can to get more Scoughs in production ASAP and keep up with all the questions.

Stacey Vanek Smith.

GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia, NPR News

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE STATES' "YOUR GIRL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.