January 22, 2013

Helium shortage causes need for drastic measures

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star

CHICKASHA — As Valentine's Day rises into consumers minds, local florists have started preparing for a holiday that will be virtually devoid of floating balloons.

A global helium shortage has left many florists without the ability to purchase the gas, which keeps holiday balloons elevated for several weeks.

Sue Kendall, Co-owner of Kendall's Flowers and Gifts has found an ingenuitive way of combatting romantic's deflated hopes. She and her employees have employes the use of decorated plastic sticks to hoist balloons to what would have been their helium enhanced elevation.

"This shortage has been around for about a year, but it just started affecting us about three months ago," Kendall said. "We use the sticks during Christmas time, but we were unhappy with the results, so we went to a class this weekend and learned some new ways to make them prettier."

Despite this innovative thinking and balloons with air inside instead of helium, Kendall said her sales have taken a hit and she fully plans on buying helium tanks again when they're available.

"People have actually come in and purchased just the balloon to try and get it filled elsewhere, but it's hard to find any place with helium," Kendall said. "For decorations, it's much easier to float them, but you do almost anything with a stick. A lot of people like to use them as center pieces."

Despite the lack of helium demand is still up and Owner of Cynthia's Flower Box, Cynthia Burner happens to have two tanks being delivered today.

"We heard about the shortage in October and my first thought was Valentine's Day," Burner said. "It's the biggest balloon holiday of the year."

She said a full tank of helium will fill between 1,200 and 1,500 balloons.

Now, several florists from outside of Chickasha told Burner she is one of the only ones with helium.

"I was told that as you move westward none of the drug stores and none of the bigger places like Dollar General have helium," she said.

Since helium is used in machines that conduct MRIs, Burner said florists tend to be the bottom wrung of those that get the gas.

"We had to get more," she said. "Balloons are one of the most popular things we do. People sending arrangements to school don't typically want to send flowers, they want to send balloons."

Even with the additional cost of buying two more helium tanks, Burner said a 30 percent influx of business would offset the purchase with a profit margin in the thousands of dollars.

There is an upside to the lack of helium though according to Kendall. She said her shop plans to sell candy bouquets as well.

"The balloon will last long after the candy is gone," she said.