Higher prices, limited services effect small businesses

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

“People are starting to host events again, so we’re coming into contact with our clients again,” said Rye Von, owner. “They’re throwing these massive celebrations to make up for the fact that they were not able to for two years.”

Von opened her shop, inside downtown’s Circle Center Mall, a little earlier than usual on Friday to get a head start on a busy weekend of clients.

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

Being in business since 2019, she’s navigated her share of challenges into the present day, including the ongoing inflation of materials and supplies. As costs fluctuate, Von said she’s temporarily ditched her set price list to accommodate the changes.

“It just goes based on how much it’s going to cost me to get it in the first place to be able to supply it to another client,” she said.

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

Supply shortages have also limited Von, forcing her to seek different distributors for items that usually come easy, like basic colors of balloons to helium.

The series of challenges continue to change how small business owners, like Von, do business. So much, it’s raising concerns for the future.

According to the National Federation of Independent Business, small business owners surveyed across the US reported feeling less optimistic now than nearly 50 years ago.

“Three primary things are inflation, supply shortages and labor shortages,” said Sarah MacInnis, vice-president of small business development with the Indy Chamber of Commerce. “We’re doing our best to be responsive to helping them with those issues.”

MacInnis says the pandemic highlighted many disparities within historically marginalized and underrepresented communities and business owners.

“Through COVID, thankfully, one of the silver linings of that was many programs were started to support those communities,” she added.

MacInnis points to the success of the chamber’s Business Ownership Initiative, which is the lead small business agency within the chamber’s entrepreneur services division.

MacInnis says BOI has been around for more than 25 years and is built to provide resources and support, primarily and historically, for 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 that we do, in terms of technical assistance, small business coaching, training and lending is focused on those populations.”

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

As small businesses look ahead to the future, MacInnis says access to resources and support are vital.

“They’re going to continue to need the funding help,” she said. “The Business Ownership Initiative, BOI, is a designated community development financial institution, or CDFI.”

“With that designation, it allows us to be a little bit more flexible than perhaps traditional financial institutions. It allows us to be more flexible in our underwriting, our requirements for underwriting, and so on. That capital infusion is usually a critical piece of keeping those businesses open,” MacInnis added.

If you are a small business owner in need of help, MacInnis says the chamber is here with open arms to see if BOI or other services are a good fit for you.

As a customer, how can you help small businesses in your community? MacInnis recommends to always consider shopping local wherever and however you can.

“Whether it’s a caterer, or an event space, or something like that. If you’ve got lawn care, landscaping needs. If you got procurement opportunities for consultants and so forth, do your part to think broadly about not only your home environment, and how you can use your local entrepreneurs there, but also in your business environment,” she suggested.

Von, who is trying to stay optimistic as the hardships continue, urges customers to be understanding if services are more expensive or certain requests are harder to fulfill.

“We are feeling the heat with them. We are not raising our prices to be greedy. We’re raising our prices to make sure that we can stay in business to be able to service them,” said Von.

“I might not be able to guarantee color schemes or certain items, but I still will still be able to accommodate my clients,” she added. “As long as I remain transparent with them, they should be able to understand that there are some things that are just simply out of our control.”

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