CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Bart Benton just expanded his party supply business Blue Phoenix Entertainment, which includes helium tanks and balloons.
“I’m just getting into it,” he says. “Then all of a sudden, everybody’s backing away, or moving away, or changing their focus on something else.”
That is because the price of helium is inflating.
“It’s just getting really out there, outrageous,” he says.
Because of the helium shortage, his suppliers have doubled their price.
“You’re getting your supply for the week, or month, and you’re writing that $800 check, or that $1,200 check, just to make an extra 150 bucks,” he says.
It causes him to mark his prices up, too – without much of a profit. His smallest tank will run a customer $70.
The U.S. is the largest supplier of helium. It is also used in MRI machines, welding and making computer hard drives and chips.
Helium is harvested from deep in the earth during natural gas processing – but reserves are down..
For Benton, it is an unpredictable arm of his newly-expanded business.
“There’s times I call, and my customers are calling, and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m out,’” he says. “There’s nothing I can do because if my supplier’s out, I’m out.”
He is hoping things level out soon, before he is edged out of helium supply, too.
“I guess I’ll just go back to twisting balloon animals or something,” he says.
Benton says there is already talk from suppliers, that they may have to go up in price again, some time in June.
Some experts say the helium shortage will continue, and so will price increases, through this year and next.
There are new sources being developed, they say, that are expected to turn things around after that.