Will coronavirus finally get Americans to embrace the bidet?
The panic of 1907 led to the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The Crash of ’29 brought us the WPA and the Hoover Dam. Might the legacy of the coronavirus crash be…bidets?
Jason Ojalvo certainly thinks so. He’s the CEO of a little five-year-old company in Brooklyn called Tushy. Tushy (hellotushy.com) makes bidet attachments, and sales are skyrocketing as people look for alternatives to TP. “This could be the tipping point that finally gets Americans to adopt the bidet,” Ojalvo wrote in an email this week. The Tushy bidet (the classic, $79, or the spa, $109) is an attachment that connects any standard two-piece toilet to a nearby sink quickly and simply, with no extra plumbing or electricity required. Tushy sales are up tenfold over the past few weeks, after already doubling from a year ago.
The company was founded by Miki Agrawal (who also launched period underwear line Thinx with her sister). Agrawal, who has been the center of some controversy and most recently penned the 2019 book Disrupt-her: A Manifesto for the Modern Woman, helps steer Tushy’s trajectory and brand vision, says Ojalvo. Tushy made its way on to the Goop 2018 holiday gift list and has been the subject of a piece on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update in 2018 (which hilariously compared TP to eating a chicken wing with a fork and knife, and a bidet to putting a drumstick in your mouth and pulling out a clean bone).
Meanwhile, paper products manufacturers are scrambling to meet increased demand. Both Target and Costco responded to this story with statements about devoting all hands on deck to meeting mounting consumer demands, while Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble would not comment beyond stating that they’re in the process of tweaking the supply chain to adjust to shortages.
Toilet paper startup Who Gives a Crap has entirely sold out of its product in the U.S., posting a note on its site with promises of updates on availability to come. Eric Abercrombie, a spokesperson for privately held Georgia-Pacific, says, “We aren’t currently experiencing production issues, but we are monitoring the situation to see what develops.”
Abercrombie says his company sells to businesses, hotels, theme parks, and other commercial outlets, as well as to retail vendors who meet consumers’ needs at home. With every flu season, Abercrombie says, Georgia-Pacific anticipates dips and surges in sales depending on how travel and sick days wax and wane, but the coronavirus has introduced a new level of market awareness.
Joëlle de Montgolfier, senior director for the retail and consumer products practice at Bain, says we have only started to scratch the surface of what’s happening in retail with toilet paper anecdotes. “It’s a matter of quickly ramping up the production and assembly facility,” she says. “That’s fine until you run into labor shortage. Now we are seeing companies spinning their wheels to quickly respond in fear schools get closed and maybe half of their employees miss work because they have to stay home and take care of their children. It’s not even just the virus. There is an unprecedented exception to the situation that is creating the tension.”
This week, as the fight to find TP intensified, Ojalvo, whose bidets are made in China, has been able to take advantage of his small and nimble structure, creating ads that cheekily play upon the shortage. An ad on Instagram reads, “Toilet paper shortage? Sounds like a First World problem with a First World fix. Get a Tushy bidet. Problem solved. #BIDET2020.” On Facebook, another ad taps into the logic of hygiene: “If you got poop anywhere else on your body, would you just wipe it with paper? Of course you wouldn’t!” Ojalvo says he’s been careful to keep things light, leaning on humor wherever possible. A quick scan of the comments below Tushy’s most recent post shows a lot of love among this new wave of bidet buyers: “So glad I already have a Tushy bidet and can avoid this craziness!” “Watching friends and family melt down over toilet paper is real weird now with Tushy in our life!”
Marketwide, bidets account for roughly $106 million worth of business in North America, according to one report from BRG Building Solutions. The same report also shows that industry sales are expected to grow 15% year over year through 2021. American manufacturer Kohler and Japan-based Toto both make and sell bidets, too, with a range of seat-only and one-piece, full bidet models starting around $300 and those on the fancier end priced in the thousands and equipped with seat warmers and a Bluetooth remote control. In 2017, Kohler reported 33% of the customers they surveyed were “bidet curious” and interested in upgrading their toilets. “When coronavirus became a topic and got serious, I was thinking, ‘Bidets are more hygienic; our sales will go up because of that,’” says Ojalvo. “But then when TP became a thing, that’s what really moved the needle for our sales. It wasn’t people thinking about their health and hygiene. It was like, ‘Uh-oh, there’s no TP! I guess I’ll look at bidets.’”
For now, until the shelves are restocked and the American people go back to their regularly scheduled Target runs, the bidet stands to capitalize on an otherwise, er, sticky situation.
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Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to reflect a further increase in Tushy’s sales over the past few weeks.