Lessons from Seasoned Fireworks Retailers
January 8, 2019
Want to run your own fireworks retail business? Learn from the mistakes of experienced sellers.
So, you want to sell fireworks, huh? Maybe you’re considering setting up and running your own fireworks retail location in your area, or you’ve already done so and want to compare notes on how to run a successful operation.
We at Spirit of ‘76 are fortunate to work with independent fireworks retailers on a daily basis, each with unique stories and experiences of how they run their business. The following are lessons that seasoned retailers have learned from the mistakes they made when they began selling fireworks.
#1: Do Your Research
Possibly the most common mistakes that retailers have told us they’ve made right off the bat was in the selection of products they supplied. The key to having a smart product selection is to supply items that the buyer likes and wants, not necessarily what you like.
Bill Poisso had this issue. He runs Blazing 7 Fireworks in Converse, Texas and he admits that early on, he was purchasing a lot of the wrong products. He says that as you prepare for the 4th of July, you NEED to do your research to see what buyers want in your area.
Josh Bradley who operates Midnight Madness Fireworks in Irvington, Kentucky also ran into this issue and admits to purchasing what he liked rather than considering what his customers wanted. He’d stock up on big 500 and 350 gram cakes and 60 gram shells, which appealed to large scale customers who spend $300+, but he neglected a lot of the smaller items like novelties, fountains and rockets that the “little guy” who comes in to spend under $100 gravitates towards. While it is good to cater to the larger scale customers, Josh notes that you’re likely to get a lot more of “little guys” in your store so your product selection has to keep them in consideration.
Understanding what your buyers want and can afford will help you determine the majority of your stock. Also, if you can offer items that are unique to your local competitors, this can give you a leg up in promotions and sales.
Research on the reality of how much running a firework business costs is also incredibly important. Evan Simpson runs Simpson Fireworks in Mexia, Texas and he said he didn’t really understand the expenses of running a firework business when he started out. Without considering the costs of things like leases, stands, advertisements, taxes, utilities, labor, insurance and the products themselves, he had a false reality of how much money he was actually making or losing.
Evan’s advice is simply to reach out to seasoned retailers and wholesalers for advice and notes on what expenses to expect when opening up a firework business.
When it comes to actually making sales, the location of your retail business is key. Customers are naturally more attracted to stores that are convenient to find and enter.
Chris Sander who runs Powder Monkey Fireworks in Bridgeton, MO said he had the issue of having retail locations that offered limited access to customers. He later found that staking claim on locations at stop light intersections was the way to go for attracting more customers.
The location of your firework business can have a giant impact on your sales and ultimate success as a retailer. Josh from Midnight Madness Fireworks mentioned that during their first year, their stand was on the side road about 350 feet from the main road. Because of the way they were situated, their angle of view for drivers passing by only lasted a couple of seconds, so they were difficult to spot unless there was traffic. They made around $3.5k in sales that year. When they moved about 200 feet closer to the main road in their second year of operation, they had a better angle so they could be seen by drivers for closer to 8 or 9 seconds. That year, they made around $12k. Improving their location no doubt had a part in almost quadrupling their sales.
#3: Know your product
This one seems like a no-brainer. If you walk into a car dealership, you’re going to expect the salespeople to have answers to your questions about each vehicle.
The same should go for your local firework store. Even though purchasing fireworks typically doesn’t require nearly as much consideration as purchasing a car, it’s still pretty embarrassing and unprofessional if you or your staff don’t know how to answer simple questions about a product.
Bill from Blazing 7 Fireworks said he found this issue at one of his competitor’s stands, where he asked what a certain item did and the sales people had no clue. There’s no way you can effectively sell product like that!
So, educate yourself and your staff about your own products. Watch performance videos, read the descriptions and warnings from the supplier, understand the differences and uses for each firework category. Having a knowledgeable sales staff will automatically give your retail location a professional edge and likely set you apart from your competitors.
#4: Efficient Checkout
Another piece of advice from Bill at Blazing 7 is to invest in a POS system. The mistake made here was not moving from the nail pouch, invoice slips, and calculator to an electronic POS system sooner. Doing math by hand and making people wait, especially with multiple customers at one time, will cost you big.
Moving to a POS system drastically improved the efficiency and overall sales at Blazing 7. Bill said they could ring up four customers in the time it used to take them to process an order for one.
Plus, POS systems really do a lot of the heavy lifting for you (analytically, NOT literally!) The POS software can analyze your sales for you so you can determine things like your best and worst selling items.
A good POS system and software will cost you around $300-400. We at Spirit of ‘76 use the Clover system for our own retail and tent location, and it’s been working really well for us for the past couple years.
Having the proper support and staffing is another piece to the puzzle of an efficient checkout. We heard from Matt Fortner who operates Whiz-Bang Fireworks Emporium in Republic, MO. His biggest mistake in the beginning of his retail career was underestimating the support he would need.
Having plenty of time to prep and set up also comes in to play. Matt says he felt as if he was “playing catch-up” the first week or so his retail location was in operation, which sometimes resulted in staff having to rifle through product lists for items while people are waiting around to check out.
Operations ran much smoother at Whiz-Bang Fireworks Emporium when Matt did much of the preparation in the weeks and months beforehand, asking for and locating the proper support as well as sorting out the details. He says that although it’s difficult to ask for help, it’s often necessary and will ultimately make success at your retail location much easier.
#5: Affordable and Effective Marketing
It’s crucial to identify early on where you want to advertise and how you can best stretch your marketing dollars.
Effective marketing strategies will differ with every retail location. In Josh’s situation, radio ads weren’t cutting it for Midnight Madness, but physical materials like mail outs and brochures along with posting on Facebook was successful.
The past year, Josh and his family went door to door with brochures containing coupons to nearly 1K homes and it actually set him apart from his local competition, giving Midnight Madness an advantage to dominate sales in that area.
Having an online presence is also incredibly helpful, and social media can be the easiest and cheapest way to reach local buyers online.
There are dozens of ways to promote your retail operation. The goal here is to find the most affordable avenues that work for you to get your name and product availability noticed by as many people in your area.
Bonus tip: Use resources from Spirit of ‘76!
As Josh from Midnight Madness can attest, we at ‘76 really are dedicated to your success as an independent dealer. Not only do we sell the product, we offer resources including insurance, promotional materials, and general help and advice on running a retail location.
If you are looking for help, reach out! We will provide you with the resources you need for starting or operating an independent retail business selling fireworks.