As the helium shortage starts to bite there is a feeling of frustration and worry amongst balloon professionals. Understandable you could say but In this blog post I am going to share with you why I think the current helium shortage will actually be good for our industry and most importantly for securing the growth and future of your business.
Mindset is key to running a long term sustainable business.
Okay first things first before I get into the specifics of why I think the helium shortage will be good for the industry and your business I want to take an important look at mindset and the ability to build a long term sustainable business. The key thing is that You as a business owner can not control everything that life throws at you but what you CAN do is control how you respond to these things.. Having been in business 17 years – first in corporate sales and marketing and then 7 years running my own business – I can tell you the number one thing you have to do in EVERY situation is first look for the opportunity and second adapt to use that opportunity to grow your business. This is what will take you from strength to strength where others might stagnate and fail!
A real life example…
I want to give you a real life example of how this can work… when I was a sales manager we would have big national conferences 4 times a year where we would pull the whole sales and marketing team off the road to teach them new stuff and to build their mindset to go out and grow their businesses. On the eve of one such conference there was an announcement on the news – the government wanted to cut the NHS spend by £2.2 billion! and they wanted them to do more with the money that was left! At the time the company I worked for were the most expensive dressing company selling to the NHS. Within seconds of that announcement my phone began to ping. So many emails – emails from sales and marketing people saying how on earth can I hit my targets now and emails from other managers saying what we going to do – the conference is going to be a total nightmare! The only thing you can do in situations like this is to stay totally calm and look for the opportunities – sure the NHS needed to cut spending and some would look for quick and easy wins of switching to a lower cost supplier but I knew that wouldn’t solve their problem. You see we were the most expensive but our products were the best – we had the longest dressing wear time which meant they could save money. We had studies to prove it too so that night I dusted them off, changed my presentation and got ready for the following day. As I arrived at the hotel you could feel the tension and the panic amongst the majority of attendees but as I prepared to take the stage in front of hundreds of people I knew it was going to be okay. You just got to find that cloud’s silver lining. I am not going to lie there were challenges that year. Some budget holders looked for quick easy wins to cut dressing budgets with a quick competitor switch. It was hard for the sales team but I told them to stay close to the end user the nurses using the new dressings and start to build a case regarding the false economy. The fact they were having to use more dressings. Clinic times were over running as patients come back. More time dealing with patients and families on the phone. The true escalation of cost as a result. We took these case studies to every trust in the country and showed them HOW they could save money and our business grew taking big market share from the competition. My point here is we could have panic responded, cut prices, reduced profit but because we looked for the opportunity, the silver lining we were able to grow from a situation outside of our control. You can’t control what life throws at you but you can control how you respond to it!.
What’s this got to do with my balloon business?
So at this point I hear you saying “okay that’s all well and good Sonia but what has this got to do with my balloon business even surviving this year now?” I get it – it’s tough starting a business and trying to grow it. Just about getting by and then a bombshell like the helium shortage lands on your lap. Just like the NHS annoucement, the helium shortage is outside your control but you can control your response to it and there is a silver lining to this cloud! Having lived through a helium shortage before in my business I can tell you it absolutely is possible to continue to grow your business. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a bit of a pain, but there is also great opportunity for you and your business just as long as you start to adapt now! So here are the reasons why I think it’s a good thing for the industry as a whole and most importantly your business!
1. Your cheap “non-professional” competition will diminish!
One of the biggest frustrations I see in the balloon industry groups is being undercut by cheap competition in the neighbourhood – am I right? Well want some good news? Helium scarcity and soaring prices is going to see a lot of this competition close up their balloon business and move on to something else!. Escalating helium costs and unreliability of supply moving forward will see supermarket chains revisiting whether it continues to be profitable and feasible to continue inflating helium balloons in store. Sure the fact they buy in high volume will protect them a bit but if the scarcity bites like predicted there is a good chance they will feel the pinch too. This probably applies even more so to your local “inflate and go” balloon businesses that are forever springing up in your area. They are not professional balloon artists like you so they can’t adapt in the way you can – During the last helium shortage I saw many fold in my area. You have the opportunity to still create amazing without helium and your talent and creativity will hold you strong. The same cannot be said for cheap inflate and go competition so one less headache for you moving forward!
2. Industry pricing will get better!
During a time of challenge when businesses are forced to adapt, the best businesses always do a lot of inward looking. Reviewing what works and what doesn’t and this usually leads to revisiting pricing. One of the biggest factors for businesses failing in this industry is poor pricing methods. Unfortunately I see way too many companies drastically underpricing their goods. Not only does this stifle their business growth but it affects the industry as a whole. It really is a big frustration. Helium went up 135% last year and is set to rise again on the 1st July. You honestly can’t afford to bury your head in the sand, if you want to continue running a profitable growing business you need to understand your helium costs and then how to price to not only cover these costs but cover your overheads and create enough profit to grow your business. Switching helium for air also results in more profit for your business and this can only be a good thing! For me, the industry and most importantly you, becoming more price aware is a big plus of the helium shortage that will have benefits for all of us long after we move past helium scarcity!l
3. Creativity will blossom even more!
The balloon industry has seen a huge boom in creativity over the last few years. No doubt as a result of the digital age and the ability to share and seek inspiration world-wide from the comfort of your sofa. The helium shortage will absolutely require businesses to adapt and with that will come another huge wave of creativity. In order to keep your business growing you will need to take a good look at your portfolio and most importantly what air filled designs you can create to continue delighting and amazing your customers. The smart companies are already doing this now! Did you see the amazing video shared by Chris Adamo to create air-filled 3ft balloons that still have the wow factor of being helium by adapting a not stand? Clever companies are thinking ahead of the curve!
4. Further differentiation in your business
In the quest to adapt you will further differentiate your business and be able to come up with premium designs! The key to growing your business over cheap competition has always been to differentiate. It’s the creative elements when brought together that wow and amaze your customer. It is these differentiating factors that keep customers returning and happy to pay more because they want something different. In the desire to adapt and include more air filled designs to your offering this will further differentiate you from local competition and make your business stand apart from diy, supermarket offerings and cheap inflate and go competition.
5. The potential to help to dissipate the environmental backlash.
Concern over recent years has grown amongst the general public concerning the affect of helium balloons on the environment. This has been further escalated by the content shared on social media. Images of creatures suffering as a result of plastic waste has raised heightened emotions resulting in calls for bans on balloons. Balloons were listed in the consulting phases of the EU directives on single use plastics. The balloon industry has switched its response from trying to minimise and educate to a positive no release and dispose of properly stance but social media feeds are often still highlighting this problem. Many councils in the UK have banned balloon releases from council owned property and many more will follow suit. Having achieved this environmentalists are talking about pushing for a total ban on helium balloons as unfortunately its hard to police what members of the general public do with balloons and Helium is rapidly disappearing from the earth. Showing helium usage is reduced in your business will show you as a responsible, caring and ethical company.
6. You can prepare your business for the future…
As I alluded to above the future of helium and specifically of helium for use in balloons sits under a huge shadow. There has been talk of it running out for the last decade and this has not changed. Helium is a non-renewable source which is recovered through the nuclear decay of uranium in mining. It’s unique ability to cool like no other gas see’s it used in MRI scanners, semi conductors, space crafts and satellites as well as the party balloons we create. For many of these applications there is no alternative to helium. Helium is in abundance in outer space as most of it that is used on earth eventually ends up there but it is too expensive to collect in this way. The privatisation of Helium in America saw a law passed to sell of its huge stock pile at below market prices substantially reduce its reserves in the world. The USA produces 80% of the worlds helium and it is now finding it hard to keep up with demand! Scientists have said they think helium reserves are likely to run out in the next 20 years and have already called for it to no longer be used in balloons. In 2018 Norway refused to issue permits to sell helium filled balloons in many of its cities.
Whilst the amount of helium used in party balloons is a fraction of all helium use, and much of it is recycled from MRI use, it’s not hard to see that moving forward pressure may be applied to the authorities to restrict the use of helium for essential uses only. One of two things could potentially happen: either there is a total ban on helium in balloons or the price could rise so high its actually prohibitive to use in balloon decor. Who knows maybe this scenario will hopefully change moving forward and another source of helium will be found but having the foresight that this could potentially happen moving forward allows you to prepare your business that should this happen (yes it would be a total nightmare but) you would have still have a sustainable business you can continue to grow!
So what are the 3 key things you need to do to take advantage of the opportunity that the helium shortage has to offer?
- Design more air-filled pieces for your portfolio. Start with the events you cater the most for and then move on to other types of celebrations. If air-filled isn’t your thing at the moment book yourself onto a course to learn more!
- Market your air filled designs. People buy what they see and love. Create a buzz around them and see their popularity grow – you only have to look at organic balloons to see how powerful this is! Let your customers know that there is a helium shortage and that is why you are designing more air filled pieces to amaze and create stunning events for them .
- Look at your pricing – now is the time to look at your air filled pricing. Do you know if you are pricing correctly? If not check out my free masterclass at the bottom of this post. You will need to revisit helium pricing after the 1st July once we have the next price increase. Treat Helium as a premium product and price accordingly. You can also find a free printable to calculate helium costs below.
Building a long term sustainable business comes down to mindset and action
Finally I want to bring you back to mindset in your business. A positive mindset is so important to dealing with the unexpected and challenges in your business. As I said in the opening you can’t control external factors but you can control your reaction to them. A positive mindset with the belief in the opportunities will drive your business forward. A negative mindset makes you unproductive, impacts on creativity and stops you driving your business forward. It’s not enough to go about things half hearted. You have to believe in the opportunity and put your drive behind it. Take action now to really drive your business forward through the current helium shortage and protect it for the future!
Until next time… Stay Amazing!
SOME USEFUL RESOURCES
Quickly Calculate Helium Costs
3 Simple Steps to Quickly & Easily Calculate balloon prices