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U.S. stuck on duct
Latest terrorism preparation warning spurs sales, production of American icon -- duct tape.
February 13, 2003: 12:04 PM EST
By Chris Isidore, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Duct tape is the all-American product.

It is produced at U.S. factories with only nominal foreign competition. Consumers buy an estimated $100 million of it a year, and use it for purposes never foreseen by its creators.

This week it became the latest tool against terrorism. It also became scarce on store shelves.

A 5-foot wide, 1,500 yard roll of duct tape on a factory floor in Stony Point, N.C., before it is cut down to normal consumer-size rolls.  
A 5-foot wide, 1,500 yard roll of duct tape on a factory floor in Stony Point, N.C., before it is cut down to normal consumer-size rolls.

Factories in North Carolina and Kentucky shifted into high gear Wednesday to try to meet the sudden demand spike after U.S. Fire Administrator David Paulison's statements earlier this week that Americans should buy duct tape and plastic sheeting to be prepared to protect themselves and their homes in the event of a biological, chemical or radiological attack.

Major home improvement stores, especially in the New York and Washington areas, reported selling out of duct tape Tuesday.

Industry statistics show that chain home centers, such as Home Depot Inc. (HD: Research, Estimates) and Lowe's Companies Inc. (LOW: Research, Estimates), sell about $75 million of duct tape annually, about a quarter of their total tape sales. Mass market retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT: Research, Estimates) sell another $20 million among them, with about $5 million of additional consumer sales scattered among other retailers. Executives said consumers looking for duct tape amid shortages should check with plumbing supply and other traditional business-to-business suppliers.

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Duct tape is not only good for protecting you against terrorism, the silver wonder easily translates to fashion items. CNN/'s Allen Wastler takes a closer look at the many uses of duct tape.

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The nation's two major duct tape makers, Tyco International (TYC: Research, Estimates) unit Tyco Adhesives and privately-held Shurtape Technologies, were scrambling Tuesday and Wednesday to rush shipments to retailers, as well as crank up production to meet increased demand. Tyco and Shurtape make much of the tape sold by other companies under other brands, although consumer products maker 3M Co. (MMM: Research, Estimates) started making its own tape about a year ago after relying on other producers in the past.

Duct tape makers, as well as those that rebrand the tape for the consumer market, said the real problem is trying to sort out how much long-term additional consumer demand there will be.

"There's plenty of safety stock to cover a one-day peak like that we saw Tuesday," said Shurtape CEO Jim Shuford, whose 250-employee plant in Stony Point, N.C., began increasing production Wednesday. "The question is, does today look like yesterday? If it's just a couple of days' demand, then outside of a few key regions, there should be enough material."

Shurtape and other executives said this week's spike in demand is similar to that seen when there is a hurricane warning, although it was larger and more widespread.

"We're pretty familiar with what's going on. We're putting the same tactic into place to respond," said Bill Kahl, executive vice president of marketing for Henkel Consumer Adhesives, which is supplied by Shurtape and is one of the largest companies selling to the consumer duct tape market.

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Even if most consumers who bought the tape in response to terrorism warnings this week never use it for that purpose, Kahl said he believes the buying spree could spur some new demand down the road.

"Hopefully they won't need it for homeland security, but I can tell you its useful to have around the house for anyone for general fix-it jobs," he said. "We've always said we think duct tape is America's most useful tool. That's being reinforced by what's coming out in the press."

Demand for duct tape by U.S. businesses outstrips consumer demand by an estimated three or four to one, with uses for everything from heating and air conditioner work (thus the "duct" in the name) to construction to taping electrical wires in place..

"We haven't seen demand for duct tape spike for those [business] channels," said an Tyco executive, who asked that his name not be used. "It seems largely consumer driven."

Tyco's prime duct tape plant is a 500,000 square foot, 800-employee facility in Franklin, Ky. Tyco also produces duct tape at two Italian plants as well as one in South Korea, but imports very little to the U.S. market, due partly to its relatively heavy weight. Industry executives said that in no other market do consumers embrace the use of duct tape as do Americans, nor do they demand the same strength and durability of the product.

"The product is very much an American icon, but it's not widely known in consumer channels outside the United States," Henkel's Kahl said. "If you go into Europe and say, 'I need duct tape,' you'd get blank stares."  Top of page

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