- On October 16, 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic overtook the country this year, Walmart found itself needing an abundance of face masks to respond to consumer demand. Toner Plastics, a decades-long supplier to Walmart, had pivoted for Walmart with major success in the past, and took on the challenge of helping to deliver 10 million USA-made face masks for the nation’s leading retailer.
“In 2013 Walmart asked us to deliver to them a made in the USA children’s rubber band bracelet to respond to a hot trend that had taken the country by storm,” said Jack Warren, Toner Plastics president. “We delivered one million licensed made in the USA ‘Wonder Loom’ kits to Walmart between Black Friday and the end of December, resulting in a major gain in retail sales for Walmart that could not have been achieved with an overseas sourcing model.” Toner Plastics was recognized with the Supplier of the Quarter award by Walmart as a result.
That success led to a major change in the strategic direction of Toner Plastics. “The Wonder Loom taught us two very important lessons. First, we needed to increase the extent of our supply chain’s vertical integration so that we could react to a customer’s need even faster the next time. By gaining control over critical manufacturing processes, we could remove risk and inefficiency from our supply chain when time is of the essence. Second, we learned that leveraging our customer service capability in ways we hadn’t done before could allow us to discover and then solve previously unknown problems faced by our customers.”
In keeping with its new strategic direction, between 2013 and 2017 Toner Plastics made four acquisitions and thereby gained additional manufacturing capabilities. Through 2020 the company developed partnerships with critical suppliers and gained elite sales representation to position itself for growth in new markets.
As mask mandates became almost universal in early 2020, Walmart needed a large supply of face masks fast. Consumer demand had exploded almost overnight. At the same time, organizational changes at Walmart had placed tremendous pressure on its merchant teams who were assuming new and expanded responsibilities amidst the existing challenges of working during the pandemic. Now more than ever, buyers were looking to their suppliers to help fill the gaps in order to get the right products onto the shelves at the right time and in the right quantities.
“Upon learning Walmart was interested in a USA-made fabric mask program that could be in stores within a matter of weeks, we were very quickly able to confirm that we were up to the challenge from a production standpoint. We went to work immediately upon getting the commitment from Walmart. However, while producing 10 million face masks over the course of a couple months was no small feat, what we believe set us apart from the competition was the service level we provided,” Warren said. “From product design, to overnight prototyping and sampling, to maximizing an assortment’s sell-through using real-time point of sales data analysis to make mid-stream adjustments, we operate more as a strategic advisor than a supplier.”
The face mask program was the start the company needed to launch its newest division, Toner Textiles, which will initially focus on gaining market share in retail apparel. More information can be found at TonerTextiles.com.