Treated lumber, coins, aluminum cans are in short supply amid the pandemic

Coin currency, aluminum cans, plastic dispenser tops, and pressure-treated wood share little in common during an average July. But in 2020, all join the finally-back-on-the-shelves toilet paper as items we consumers can't seem to find enough of.

"Simple, do-it-yourself project materials are gone," Burnham & Lobozzo Builders co-founder and co-owner Alex Burnham said. "The bays are empty. You just can't get that stuff."

Burnham, based in coastal Maine, first noticed a shortage of the pressure-treated wood used for decking and other outdoor projects three weeks ago.

"If I place a large enough order, I'm going to wait a while but I will get it," Burnham said. "And that's about the only way that you're going to get your standard pressure-treated deck boards."

"Lumber is slightly different," Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business supply chain management professor Hitendra Chaturvedi said.

Chaturvedi does not blame lumber mills for failing to anticipate this massive spike in demand.

"It's been busier than it's ever been," Burnham said.

Lumber was in a recession pre-COVID-19.

"Many of the lumber mills ended up reducing their production and laying off a lot of people," Chaturvedi said.

Then, we all got stuck at home.

"We all became nesters," Chaturvedi said.

"Everybody is either fixing their deck or building a new deck," Burnham said.

"Just like a bird," Chaturvedi said, "a bird building a nest will keep on getting straws to put in the nest. That's exactly what we did."

But a shortage of aluminum cans and plastic soap dispensers Chaturvedi found inexcusable. "They should've seen this coming," he said.

When demand for products like soda or hand sanitizer jumps double-digit percentages, Chaturvedi argues, demand-forecasting and risk-mitigation departments should recognize supply-chain dependencies that might affect their organization and then respond.

"The demand for containers should also increase," Chaturvedi said. "That's common sense."

As for coins, we can blame a 30% spike in online shopping and a hesitation to handle germy cash—essentially removing change from circulation, Chaturvedi suggests, ushering in a more automated cashless economy to the benefit of our society, while consumers pay increasingly more for those products for which manufacturers failed to anticipate the demand.

"Yeah, standard lumber's gone up almost 15%," Burnham said.

"We were not proactive," Chaturvedi said. "And you think these are the only three products? There will be more to come."


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