When Cain Kunze launched the Bermuda Paper Company a few days ago, he manufactured 10,000 rolls of toilet paper, thinking that would be plenty to start with.
What he and business partner, Gregory Armstrong, didn’t take into account was coronavirus panic.
On Saturday afternoon, they sold 22,000 rolls of toilet paper, in four hours.
“It was pandemonium around here,” Mr Kunze said. “We had to make new product as we were selling. Gregory and I both brought in our wives to help. People were asking for 20. We were like 20 rolls, they said no, 20 packs of 24.”
By Wednesday afternoon things had quieted down around the Mills Creek Road facility, but people were still popping in to regularly to collect orders.
One sceptical senior wanted to know if the toilet rolls were made of newspaper.
“No,” Mr Kunze said and pointed to a sample roll left on the front desk for just such a question. It looked and felt just like any other toilet roll.
He said some Bermudians are finding it hard imagine that such a product can be made in Bermuda.
“When we put out a little flyer last week we started getting calls mainly from the elderly,” he said. “Their concern was that it was a hoax, or that we didn’t actually exist.”
Yes, they do exist, and no, the stuff is not made of newspaper or any other inferior material. It’s toilet paper.
Mr Kunze brings in one-tonne rolls of toilet paper from paper pulp companies, then uses specially imported equipment to cut it into regular size rolls, stamp it with the company logo, an origami longtail, and package it with the Bermuda Paper Company name.
The equipment allows him to set the ply, and the texture, among other things. This process is called conversion, and according to Mr Kunze, is exactly how all the big name brands make their toilet paper.
Initially, he planned to market his paper products to hotels, Government, companies and grocery stores.
“I wanted to supply the suppliers,” he said. And he will do that when the coronavirus panic dies down.
“I can’t make money selling ten rolls to ten people a day,” he said. “The secret to this business is volume.”
Right now the company could manufacture about 100,000 rolls with the amount of material they have in stock.
Mr Kunze is originally from Zimbabwe, but lived in England for 13 years. He met his Bermudian wife, Taitu Wilson, when she was studying in Cardiff, Wales. Four years ago, she started to miss Bermuda, so they moved back to the island.
Previously, Mr Kunze ran an export business in the UK. He first started thinking about paper products seven years ago, when he saw the converting process at a trade show in South Africa. He took a keen interest, but in the end decided it wasn’t the right time for him to start such a venture.
“Then, when we moved to Bermuda, I said can I get into imports and exports,” he said. “That is the field I am familiar with. It is a very saturated market here. There have been a few companies that have been getting the larger share of the market and it is very hard to compete with them and offer competitive rates in either importing stuff or even exporting.”
He said shipping things to Bermuda is costly.
“It is very difficult to become profitable,” he said. “To send a 20ft container from Southampton, UK to Mombasa, Kenya or Walvis Bay, Namibia is $1,800. But to ship a container from New Jersey to Bermuda is $3,300, even though it is a much shorter distance.”
Even so, his operation is able to offer toilet paper for about 10 per cent less than the cost of bringing it in ready made.
He said Bermudians spend about $60 million a year buying paper products from overseas, including items like printer paper.
“That is money leaving the Bermuda economy,” he said.
His hope is to branch out into other products such as paper towels, paper straws, takeaway containers, and basically anything made out of paper.
“We’d like to export from Bermuda,” he said.