Shortages…..what do you mean? We are not in the middle of a bloody war !

National archives (Note: Fires not Fries)

Toilet rolls …No. Sanitisers ….No. Pasta….No. Chips….Yes.

Now before you start calling your local chippy and Pre-Ordering your month’s requirements or buying a new freezer to keep a years worth of frozen chips, it is not the tasty sort we are talking about.

Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Volkswagen, Tesla to name but a few are cutting back on production because there is a shortage of semi conductor chips that are used in modern day vehicles. This has come about because during the pandemic there was a huge drop in demand from the automotive industry so chip makers switched to chips for laptops, electronic gadgets, and mobile devices etc as the demand spiralled .

Yet this is just the tip of a veritable iceberg. Just go into your local supermarkets, and look carefully at the shelves, you will start to see a lot of stuff missing . Construction materials , medicines, bikes, and many food products are just a growing list of products that are going to be hard to get over the next six months .

The construction materials shortage has impacted self builders, renovators and DIYers, and further problems are expected

Jack Woodfield Homebuilding & Renovating

There is currently a global shortage of raw material shortages, stemming from global demand and other external factors (including the slowdown and in some instances, factory closures, outside the UK), which continues to constrain production of certain products, such as insulation, paints and adhesives, as well as packaging for products.

Jack Woodfield Homebuilding & Renovating

Samsung warns chip crisis could lead to shortage in TVs and home gadgets

Samsung’s chip division saw profits drop after it had to close vital US factories in February James Cook ,Telegraph April 2021

A combination of covid, major supply chain disruption , demand changes , cost and organisational issues within world shipping have created that oft used phrase a perfect storm.

What may come as a little bit of a surprise to some (but not perhaps those within our own industry ) is that you may not be able to not be able to pop into your local Party store , or your favourite party web site and buy the latex balloon of your dream. The worlds latex balloon manufactures are being faced with exactly the same problems as that of rest of worlds supply chain.

  • Extraordinary demand (throughout Covid)
  • Shortages of raw materials
  • Manufacturing limitations due to covid restrictions
  • Shipping disruptions

The following is an an extract from a statement put out by the Balloon Council of America (Organisation representing major Latex Balloon Manufacturers in the Americas.)

Industry Update: Growth and Supply Chain Impact
It has been over a year since the pandemic began impacting our lives and business. As leaders in the balloon
community, it is important that we address the disruptions in the supply chain that the industry continues to
experience.
Although we are shipping large quantities of balloons, we have seen a marked increase in demand and the reality
is COVID-19 continues to impact all segments of our industry. Some of the challenges that we faced early on
continue to cause disruptions and impact the overall business.
• COVID-19 has continued to impact employees. Safety is essential. In many companies, new work rules,
social distancing, and physical barriers have been necessary to ensure a safe work environment and these
changes usually mean a reduction of efficiency and output. We have also faced challenges in finding and
retaining employees during these challenging times.
• Balloons are an element of a global supply chain, and many suppliers, both here in the U.S. and overseas
that we don’t control, have been similarly hit, impacting their ability to deliver raw materials or services.
This has been an ongoing issue in the past year.
• The whole supply chain, including freight companies, continues to struggle to operate efficiently and has
not been as predictable pre-COVID-19.
We know this is frustrating for balloon buyers at all levels. Manufacturers, related products suppliers, and
distributors are doing everything in our power to ramp up volume and responsiveness. TBC members are trying
hard to control the things we can, such as increasing production capacity, asking our employees to work overtime
and recruiting additional workers.
It will take more time for the supply chain to reset but we are tirelessly working to achieve our goal to return to
pre-COVID-19 service levels as quickly as we are able.
The global vaccination effort currently underway offers a beacon of hope that a return to normality is a possibility
in the not-so-distant future. That said, every day we are hearing stories about new variants that may or may not
respond to the existing vaccines. Few expected the pandemic would be this severe for this long, and none of us can
really project when its impact to industry will be over.
Balloons have brought joy to many people throughout the pandemic. As an industry, we are committed to doing
everything possible to get business back to pre-COVID-19 service levels. We are all working to make that day come
soon, and our teams won’t be satisfied until we achieve that.
Thank you on behalf of all the manufacturers and distributors who are TBC members for your patience and
understanding during these challenging times.

I make no apologies about the length of this specific extract as hopefully it will be of interest to the odd reader who is involved within the party industry and it would be remiss of me if I did not highlight these problems, particular as this product has put food on the plates in our household for many years.

Moreover, these issues are the very same (or similar) facing the entire supply chain in many product areas.

Most consumers wont even notice , or rather they may have difficulty in getting their brand , but there will be an alternative. Yet higher up the supply chain, the pain will be greater. Because of the way the supply chain operates in most markets, it is just not that straightforward in finding another supplier.

What does of course happen when supply dips , and demand remains constant or increases then so do prices.

Yet we are not at war. Well maybe we are in a sense, of all trying to fight a virus, which is complex enough but then putting into the mix the complexities of world trade, there is a inevitably about the impact of the supply of goods and services. Despite this ‘inevitability’ , none of us actually know what is going to happen from day to day . So if you cant get exactly what you want today, but you want exactly what you want, hang on a bit and you will probably get it. If you don’t want to wait buy something else.

The Resilience of the Humble Toy Balloon….

Lord and Lady Latex, are titles that have not been bequeathed by Political benefactors, or an obsequious senior Civil Servant but by a friend who has also spent much of their working life within the same industry, and felt that for most of the time he had known Julia and I, we were flogging the odd latex balloon or two. The emphasis being on latex , which is also relevant to the context of this post.

I need to indulge a little and talk briefly about my working past as it will , hopefully, help to illustrate what I am going to say.

Travel back a long way, to a time when Mylar (foil) balloons did not exist , before Balloon Decorating started , pre huge colour ranges, and multiple sizes, to a time when the humble Toy Balloon was considered thus… Just a Toy. I was brought up with them. I was surrounded by them , not literally as I rarely saw one in my youth,almost certainly never in the house, but metaphorically. My parents lived and died Latex Balloons. Sounds quite odd and dark, but it is a lot simpler than that. They were involved in the manufacturing and selling of ‘Toy Balloons’. They was wat put bread on plate , wood in fire and roof over ‘ead…as Dickens may have said but didn’t, unless he had spent a lot of time in Yorkshire and didn’t tell anyone.

Even before working in the business I was often taken to trade fairs (oh yes that was a proper holiday). I participated in the Nuremberg Toy Fair before I left school. What I am trying to say is that I have experienced many an economic cycle and a myriad of unfortunate events that would have otherwise destroyed the market for lesser product.

From the miners strike in the early seventies, the oil crisis mid seventies, and rampant inflation(edging to 26%)recession in the early eighties, recession in the nineties, to the banking crisis and finally our present covid conditions, nothing has dampened the demand for the humble latex balloon. During the Oil crisis in the mid seventies in the UK , there was a three day working week. I can very clearly remember at the years first trade show everyone doubling their orders. During massive inflation , having to increase our prices by over 20% being told by customers they wanted a bigger increase(not really anything to do with the demand for balloons , a rather nuanced commercial input. However, the customer was not concerned that it would stop the consumer buying). The vicious nasty little bug that cowers all before it cannot dampen the enthusiasm for the The Toy Balloon. I would go as far as to say it has only increased it. During this crisis, it would not be out of order to add it to the list(at least in the UK) of toilet rolls, pasta, bicycles, and puppies . Once again it defies all expectations.

In The early Nineties this crept back up to 15%…

Now , I must wave a red flag to any Lockdown Entrepreneurs who are thinking …aah hah There’s a few bob to be made here ….the market is not short of supply . There are plenty of manufacturers and the market is very aggressive. By dint of the product’s durability, it has already gone the distance of attracting entrepreneurs . So back off!

The latex balloon is no longer just a Toy. It is a product with many homes, backgrounds to corporate events , decorating major sporting occasions , weddings, key celebrations, lifestyle enhancer…..the list goes on. Take a peek on Instagram and Pinterest to see how balloons are used now. Consequently, especially in the UK you would rarely find Latex balloons on sale in a Toy Shop. This differs to a degree in the rest of Europe. Twenty five years ago, the go to retail outlet for the humble balloon was a toy shop, but ironically it got too complicated for the toy industry . Ranges grew like Topsy and I think they took the view that to do it properly took too much space. And they were probably right . Yet I still maintain that whilst a single sku of bog standard toy balloons ,may not return as much cash, it will take return far more % profit per square inch than nearly anything else in a toy store.

So what is the allure of this simple object ? It is not without its opponents. Over the years it has had confrontations with the farming lobby, and environmentalists. Even today many think that latex balloons are made of plastic. Clue in title, please err ‘….Latex. There are those that are Balloon Phobic. I have encountered customers who would not step onto an exhibition stand as they are frightened of balloons. Not many, I hasten to add, I can only remember two . But there again I suppose I would not meet them all as they wouldn’t have come anywhere near me .

There are few that would walk into a room full of balloons, and not raise a smile. After a short while that same person, child or adult, would defer to childhood, and want to play with them, even if it is a sophisticated decoration. Maybe because they float or have a life of their own they subconsciously imbue a feeling hope, happiness and maybe even a touch of freedom. I have a sneaky feeling this is a peculiarly UK thing (and North America) . I am not sure this has translated to such a degree into mainland Europe, though I don’t see why it wont. Balloonwise , we are ahead of the game. A customer of mine (who is very close to the action on this one ) said he saw this coming sometime ago. He saw a movement to people playing (in a craft way) but suspected it would take another couple years to go mainstream. In his opinion , Covid has only hastened the timeline.

A toy it may no longer just be. Its development into adulthood has only just fortified its resilience and maintained its humility .