Firework BS

Learn to avoid the marketing and the firework B.S. so you can get the most for your money and become the Pyro you were born to be! If the person selling you your fireworks comes across like a used car salesman, that may be what he does for a living the other 48 weeks out of the year.

Every year, I visit more than two dozen firework retailers, including seasonal tents and permanent year-round fireworks stores. The best way to make sure that you’re doing it better than your competition is to know what your competition is doing. I have around 20 questions that I try and ask the salespeople at each store. The answers I get help me to get a general idea about the competency of the salespeople in each location. Sadly, most of the help I run into aren’t very helpful at all. That’s not always the salesperson’s fault.

It can be hard to find dependable, competent people to help run a seasonal fireworks tent or to work in a store. Most people who have fulltime jobs aren’t willing to use up their vacation sitting in a parking lot or a field selling fireworks. Even worse, most of the companies that hire the temporary help are just looking for warm bodies, and don’t really care about training or product knowledge.

Here are the questions that a fireworks retailer should be asking you when you show up to buy fireworks.

Have you used these types of fireworks before?

What’s the area like where you’re going to set off the fireworks?

Is the ground paved or just grass?

How much clearance do you have between the fireworks and the spectators, buildings, or trees?

Is noise an issue?

Do you prefer big and colorful, loud, or a mix of both?

Do you have any favorite fireworks?

Are you going to have adults, children, or a mix of both there?

How many people will be setting off the fireworks?

Do you like to take your time setting off stuff, or are you looking for something a little more fast paced?

What’s your budget?

Lesson learned

If you’re not being asked at least some of these questions, then they’re not really interested in helping you. Find somewhere else to shop.

The most common “Marketing Methods” (also known as B.S.) you’ll come across when shopping for fireworks.

Marketing B.S. #1 Buy One Get One Free

Marketing is what you do when your product is no good.

— Edwin Land

In Fireworks, “Buy One Get One FREE” is always a scam. If you double the normal price of an item, and then say it’s on sale “Buy One Get One FREE”, then there’s nothing free about it. What you have done is to force people to pay for two of every item, even if they only wanted one.

The sad part is, free is a powerful word in marketing, and can make otherwise intelligent people turn their brain off.

For years, I refused to participate in the “Buy One Get One FREE” scam. Instead, I priced my inventory at less than half of what my competitors were selling their items for.

Here’s the conversation I had with otherwise intelligent people 10 times a day.

Them: Are your Fireworks “Buy One Get One FREE”?

Me: No, but our prices are less than half of what you would pay for the same item if it was “Buy One Get One FREE”.

Them: I want to buy the “Big Boom” artillery pack, but Sky Phantom gives you a free one when you buy one.

Me: They sell “Big Boom” artillery pack “Buy One Get One FREE” for $199.99, so you get two of them for $199.99. I sell the same “Big Boom” artillery pack for $89.95. If you buy two of them from me, it would only cost you $180. You actually save $20 if you buy them from me.

Them: But yours aren’t “Buy One Get One FREE”.

Me: Even though they say that they’re “Buy One Get One FREE”, it actually costs you MORE money to get them from Sky Phantom.

Them: But theirs are “Buy One Get One FREE”!

They would then leave my store to go and pay more money for the exact same items somewhere else. I would get agitated, briefly rant about the educational system and “New Math”, and then make myself a cocktail so I could forget what just happened.

After a few years, in order to save my sanity and my liver, I gave up and priced everything in my store “Buy One Get One FREE”. I make sure that my prices are still lower than my competitors, and we NEVER force you to pay for two items if you only wanted one. We let you Mix and Match any items priced the same or we offer half off on any item if you only want one, with no limits or “coupons” required. I still feel dirty, but I don’t have as many hangovers.

Lesson learned

Buy One Get One Free is a scam. If you don’t need or want two of an item, you shouldn’t have to buy two of them.

Marketing B.S. #2 May Contain Up To…

Half a truth is often a great lie.

— Benjamin Franklin

The most popular fireworks sold today are “Cakes” or “Multi-Shot Aerials”. They are generally labeled and sold in two different classes:

200 gram cakes – containing up to 200 grams of chemical composition

500 gram cakes – containing more than 200 grams and up to 500 grams (legal limit) of chemical composition

The important parts about those definitions are the words “up to”. The term “500 gram” is a class, not an ACTUAL measurement of the amount of chemical composition found inside. This is something that most firework manufactures and retails DO NOT want you to know. They happily slap a big “500 GRAM MAX LOAD” label on every cake they make, no matter how much chemical composition it actually contains. Sadly, because it’s a class, it’s not considered false advertising.

Would you expect a 140 horsepower Honda Civic to perform the same as a 420 horsepower Ford Mustang? Would you expect them to be priced the same? What if they were both labeled “500 horsepower” because they could both have UP TO 500 horsepower?

When you see cheap 500 gram cakes for sale, it’s because they don’t actually contain 500 grams of chemicals. Now there are some great inexpensive cakes available that contain less than 500 grams of chemical, and I highly recommend all of the inexpensive cakes that we carry. The difference is, I’ve hand picked these cakes based on the SHOW that they deliver for the price, not because they’re cheap. More importantly, we WANT you to know why they’re less expensive. I don’t want to sell you a Civic, and have you think that it’s the same as a Mustang.

Lesson learned

Don’t believe the marketing. There’s nothing wrong with a Civic, as long as you know that’s what you’re getting.

Marketing B.S. #3 Maximum Load, Barely Legal Load, Load of B.S.

The money’s the same, whether you earn it or scam it.

— Bobby Henna

Mortars / Reloadables / Artillery Shells

A mortar shells can contain a maximum of 60 grams (g) of chemical composition. Just like with the cakes, the 60 gram label is a class. Most mortar packages say something like “Maximum Load”, “60 gram”, “Barely Legal Load” or “Heaviest legal load”. It’s all bullshit. Most of the mortar shells on the market today do not contain 60 grams of chemical, no matter what the box or the salesman says. In fact, it’s impossible to manufacture a 1 ¾” diameter ball shell (largest legal size) with more than 40 grams of chemical composition. Most check in around 32 grams of chemicals. I always laugh out loud when a salesman GUARANTEES me that HIS ball shells are 60 gram shells.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to tell how much chemical the mortars that you’re buying actually have. Festival balls and artillery shells, which are on the low end of the mortar scale, can contain anywhere from a low of 12 to a high of 25 g of chemical composition, depending on the manufacturer. For years, I didn’t bother to sell either of them because they were such a disappointment. It was only recently that I found a manufacture that impressed me with their festival balls and artillery shells, and I now carry them as a lower-cost option for mortars in my tent. In general, I would pay a little more for some mid range mortars and skip the festival balls. A mid range mortar can contain between 2 and 3 times the amount of chemical as a basic festival ball, giving it twice the height and a much bigger break with better effects.

The signature mortar shells from the two largest fireworks chain stores in the US contain between 50 and 52 g of chemical composition, no matter what the box says or what they tell you in the store. That’s not saying it’s a bad mortar shell, it’s just not as good as it could be or what they make it out to be.

This isn’t wild speculation on my part. For a firework to be approved for sale and transportation in the U.S., it needs an approval number from the US Dept of Transportation. This number is called an E.X. number.

To obtain this number, an importer usually has to follow the guidelines of a document called APA Standard 87-1. 87-1 was produced by the American Pyrotechnics Association and incorporated by reference into the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

Every case of Fireworks imported into the US has a series of numbers printed on it that include the E.X. Number, a factory code (what factory made it), and the manufacture date. The E.X. Number can be used to find out all of the details about a particular item, including the chemical composition and weight.

In general, I find it better to stick with mortars made and marketed by one of the large well-known fireworks manufacturers. Too often, mortars labeled with a specific store or firework chains name tend to be less impressive than those manufactured and imported by one of the big manufacturers. Like everything, there are exceptions.

For my money, I recommend Excalibur shells made by World Class Fireworks. They’re widely available and have been the number one selling mortar shell in the U.S. for more than a dozen years, with good reason. They’re much closer to a 60 g shell, with great height out of the launch tube and LOUD spectacular breaks containing professional grade effects. There are some mortars that are louder, and some mortars that may go higher, but for overall satisfaction you can’t go wrong with the Excalibur shells. Just my two cents worth.

Lesson learned

Don’t believe the marketing. If you want good mortars, do your research and avoid the cheapest ones.