SPRINGFIELD (KOLR) — A local man ordered thousands of them months ago, and now he’s selling them.
In the last few weeks, the ripple effect from Coronavirus (COVID-19) has come in several forms. It has caused big drops in the stock market and caused state, federal, and health officials to do some critical planning.
It has had an effect on local stores that haven’t been able to keep things on their shelves like hand sanitizer – and safety/medical face masks.
The Executive Director for Missouri’s Health Department, Dr. Randall Williams, says face masks serve more of a purpose for those who are ill.
“If you’re sick, wear a mask, or socially isolate yourself. Masks do not prevent you from getting the disease. If you think wearing a mask is going to help you not get sick, it doesn’t,” Williams says.
Despite that advice from the State’s top health official, it hasn’t stopped people from clearing the shelves of masks at stores across Springfield.
But one man in Springfield purchased hundreds of them in the last few months, and now he’s selling them to the public.
Earlier this week, KOLR10 got word of these signs in Springfield. They read: “N95 Masks, Delivered 24/7, 417-233-1869”
We called the number listed to get some more information. We left a name, and we were called back by a person who says he is a businessman in Springfield.
The man, who requested to remain anonymous, says his business relies on a few supplies from overseas, and back in December, they were curious why their parts were taking so long to come in.
“Some of the items we would typically from overseas, specifically in China, we started to see a supply issue – a supply chain issue – due to quarantines and delayed shipments,” the man explained.
Shortly after that, they had the idea to order thousands of masks in bulk.
“We put out five signs in the Springfield area to increase awareness and the availability of these masks because everybody was sold out of them,” the man says. “Once the big box stores started selling out, we started keeping a close eye on whether the stores still had masks available.”
KOLR10 visited multiple places that would normally carry such masks, but were out of stock.
At Sutherland’s, Store Manager Cecil Kirby showed us empty racks where their N95 masks would normally sit. He says people ask frequently about when they’ll have more in stock.
“When are you going to get another load in? We’re selling them at the same price we’ve always had them at. Can’t keep them in stock,” Kirby says.
Their prices at the store range from $2.79 each all the way up to $8.99 dollars each, but Kirby says their suppliers are out of them.
At Bach Medical Supply on Sunshine, Co-Owner Steve Bach says they are dealing with the same issue.
“We have calls all day long, and we have had a minimal supply for about two weeks now. We get them in occasionally, but they are almost always back-ordered,” Bach explains.
Their prices go from just $1.97 to $2.50 per mask, but again, their shelves are cleared with nothing but display models left.
“Supply and demand, and right now there’s a big demand and little supply,” Bach says.
That brings us back to the “anonymous” salesman. He initially told KOLR10 that his group was sitting on thousands of masks, but now their inventory is down around 720 masks.
“We aren’t sure of the exact quantity that we’ve sold, but we have had 553 customers,” the man says.
He says it started as a way to keep friends and family prepared. But now, but the demand is so high that they are making deliveries locally, and even making shipments as far away as the East Coast.
“We’ve spent approximately $23,000. That’s just on masks,” the anonymous seller says.
Earlier in the week, he says they were selling 2 masks for $25.
After KOLR10 inquired, he now says they are selling them between $6 each, and $12.50 each depending on the type of mask the buyer wants.
He says they have various brands and styles which causes the difference in prices. The seller says after their next shipment comes in, they will have approximately 720 total masks.
After all costs are figured in such as labor, packaging, delivery, shipping, as well as gas, the anonymous seller says they expect to profit between $2,000 – $2,500 over the total span of a few months.
When asked what his response is to anyone who might think they are taking advantage of a health crisis, this was his response:
“We are not selling these masks to make a profit. We are selling them as close to our initial cost as possible without losing money, and paying for our expenses with shipping from each distributor, the time spent sourcing the masks, as well as our cost to deliver, package, and so on,” the man says.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt was in Springfield today to discuss fraud among seniors, but we stopped by to get his thoughts on the matter.
He says he would need to know more details before commenting on this operation specifically, but he did say his office is a resource for Missourians who feel they may be getting scammed in any situation.
“I think anytime you’re dealing with issues of concern in the public, it’s just really important to remember to reach out to our office. If something seems too good to be true. Reach out to us, and we want to be the advocates for the people,” Schmitt says.