Higher prices and limited services hurt small businesses

INDIANAPOLIS — As people return to events at full capacity, the Art Haus Balloon Company says business is booming.

“People are starting to host events again, so we’re getting back in touch with our customers,” said Rye Von, owner. “They’re having these massive celebrations to make up for the fact that they haven’t been able to for two years.”

Von opened her store, inside the downtown Circle Center mall, a little earlier than usual on Friday to get a head start on a busy weekend of shoppers.

These days, his balloons aren’t the only ones seeing inflation.

In business since 2019, it has faced its share of challenges to the present day, including the continued inflation of materials and supplies. As costs fluctuate, Von said she temporarily dropped her price list to accommodate the changes.

“It just depends on what it’s going to cost me to get it in the first place so I can provide it to another client,” she said.

“I could quote a person one thing because the price is something one day, then when they pay their bill and I go and buy it, the price has now changed,” she said. “I can’t go back and change the price, so I’ll have to eat that difference, and I’ll know for the next customer that I have to charge more if they want the same thing.”

Supply shortages have also limited Von, forcing him to seek out different distributors for items that are usually easy, like helium balloon base colors.

The series of challenges continues to change the way small business owners, like Von, do business. Suffice to say that this raises concerns for the future.

According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, small business owners surveyed across the United States said they feel less optimistic today than nearly 50 years ago.

“The three main elements are inflation, supply shortages and labor shortages,” said Sarah MacInnis, vice president of small business development at the Indy Chamber of Commerce. “We’re doing our best to be responsive and help them resolve these issues.”

MacInnis says the pandemic has exposed many disparities among historically marginalized and underrepresented communities and business owners.

“Thanks to COVID, thankfully, one of the benefits of that was that a lot of programs were started to support those communities,” she added.

MacInnis highlights the success of the chamber’s Business Ownership Initiative, which is the leading agency for small businesses within the chamber business services center.

MacInnis says BOI has been around for over 25 years and is designed to provide resources and support, primarily and historically, to these groups.

“We were able to lend over $20 million to our community in central Indiana, and we’ve continued that work,” she said. “Much of the resources we deploy, in terms of technical assistance, small business mentoring, training and lending, are focused on these populations.”

The chamber is also home to other initiatives and programs, including the Central Indiana Women’s Business Center and the Hispanic Business Council.

As small businesses look to the future, MacInnis says access to resources and support is key.

“They’re going to continue to need the financial help,” she said. “The Business Ownership Initiative, BOI, is a Designated Community Development Finance Institution, or CDFI.

“With this designation, it allows us to be a little more flexible than perhaps traditional financial institutions. This allows us to be more flexible in our underwriting, underwriting requirements, etc. This injection of capital is usually a critical part of keeping these businesses open,” MacInnis added.

If you’re a small business owner and need help, MacInnis says the chamber is here with open arms to see if BOI or other services are right for you.

As a customer, how can you help small businesses in your community? MacInnis recommends always considering buying local where and how you can.

“Whether it’s a caterer, or an event space, or something like that. If you have lawn care, landscaping needs. If you have sourcing opportunities for consultants and so on, do your part to think broadly about not just your home environment and how you can use your local contractors there, but your business environment as well” , she suggested.

Von, who is trying to remain optimistic as the difficulties continue, urges customers to understand if services are more expensive or if certain requests are more difficult to meet.

“We feel the heat with them. We don’t raise our prices to be greedy. We’re raising our prices to make sure we can stay in business to be able to service them,” Von said.

“I may not be able to guarantee color combinations or certain items, but I can always accommodate my customers,” she added. “As long as I remain transparent with them, they should be able to understand that there are things that are just out of our control.”

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