helium shortages Some are hampered by inflated prices and lack of supply while others are noticing almost no ill effects at all.
According to the federal Bureau of Land Management, which operates the only government helium storage reservoir in the country, helium is the second most abundant element in the universe. Unfortunately, this nonrenewable element is most abundant on the sun and in stars. On Earth, it’s extracted from natural gas deposits and has a wealth of important uses, ranging from medical to military, many of which supersede balloon inflation.
So when supplies tighten, which they’ve been doing for about a year now, balloon retailers are low priority customers. So Senior Editor Shelley Urban asked floral leaders: How has the helium shortage affected your floral department?
We changed suppliers to ensure that we would still be able to get helium. Suppliers will serve hospitals and industrial customers first and then balloon retailers, so, from what I have heard, all balloon vendors are affected. We have seen a 30 percent increase in cost so far. With the steps we have taken, we have been able to take care of our customers without any problems, and we have not raised our retail prices at this time. Balloons have been a great grossing item for the floral departments, so we will just have to give up a little, and hope that, in time, this shortage will pass. Ken Tirpak, director of floral operations Reasor’s Inc.; Tahlequah, Okla.
We are getting spotty deliveries of helium at a much higher cost than prior to the shortage. We are seeing some of our competitors with more supply issues than we have while some have a better supply; it depends on the suppliers and the retailers. At the same time, the “dollar” and discount stores are not inflating balloons and are sending customers to our locations. Most of our customers do not know we have a shortage, and sales, due to the “dollar” stores sending customers our way, have actually increased during this time.
We would normally inflate balloons and display them throughout the store, but in order to combat the shortage, we have pulled many of the inflated balloons off display and are now displaying only in floral. For the long term, we are looking for ways to sell balloons without helium. The shortage has forced us to be much more creative with air-inflated balloons to offset the helium issues. Debora Coleman, director of floral Albertsons LLC; Fort Worth, Texas
At this time, our helium supplier has been able to meet the demands of Publix, with little exception. While prices have increased, we have been able to mitigate the expense to our customers. The only change our customers may have noticed is that we do not keep free Publix latex balloons inflated at all times. Instead, we now inflate our free balloons when customers request them for their children. To ensure our helium supply remains intact, we have ordered additional helium, by store, to have on hand. Maria Brous, director of media and community relations Publix Super Markets, Inc.; Lakeland, Fla.
We were on a 50 percent allocation, but that has turned into a complete freeze for the next 30 days, at a minimum. We now have stores that are completely out of helium though most still have varying amounts. We have instructed the stores to stop displaying inflated foil balloons, so we can conserve the helium we have.
All of the competitors in our area are having the same issues, with most having run out. This has created a huge amount of business for us. Customers who have gone to competitors only to find out they don’t have helium are frustrated by the time they come to us but are very happy to hear that, in most cases, we can take care of them.
Unfortunately, the cost has more than doubled. We are still holding our prices; however, we are uncertain as to how long we can keep the prices the same. If the shortage continues, we will certainly have some negative consequences in gross margin and in sales. Tracey Mort, floral merchandiser Martin’s Supermarkets; South Bend, Ind.