Matt, Annie, and I head out into the cold and damp. We need lunch in a hurry, so we stop at a familiar place and see a familar face. You know you’re in Liuyang, when even Ronald McDonald is a fireworks man!
My agent over here, Matt Palaszynski, lives in Wisconsin with his wife and kids. He commutes to Liuyang for weeks at a time, and manages the process well from either place. His job is to get the fireworks made that companies like Skylighter order, get them packed into containers and shipped to us in the US. Part of what that entails is testing the fireworks.
And testing fireworks every night. Basically, you load the car with people and fireworks and drive around ’til you find a place where you want to shoot. Then, everybody piles out, and we start watching how each firework item performs. Videos are made of each particular firework fountain, cake, rocket, or whatever. Notes are taken, critiques given, and instructions for Matt’s people to pass along to the various factories.
"Change the elapsed time of this cake from 17 seconds to 14. Make the last shots all green, not red."
"We told them we wanted a silver-tailed star, not the orange one."
You and I mostly take all this for granted. But you cannot begin to imagine the number of details that have to be handled. And if you don’t, you get a mess. My favorite was the shipping carton whose contents were clearly labeled in big, bold letters: "20 Inch Sparkler — Needs Better Performance."
Matt patiently goes over it all. Annie takes notes in Chinese and translates for the guys who have to interface with the factories. So it goes, every night. Working in Liuyang is a 14-16 hour day. Everybody, including yr. hmbl. svt., works 7 days a week like this. Except I get to go home.
This process goes on for hundreds of 40-foot container-loads of fireworks, each containing about a thousand cases of many different kinds of fireworks. And for the US consumer fireworks market, most of that fireworks production crammed intensely into the time slot between September and April. After April, it’s almost too late to get any fireworks made and shipped to the US in time for the Mighty Fourth of July.
The Coming Fireworks Shipping Crisis
This year, the window is even tighter. This year, there’s a major fireworks shipping problem. A series of shipboard accidents have resulted in there being fewer ship companies who will carry fireworks any more. That reduction in carrying capacity is quickly looming ahead of us.
Matt says the real squeeze has started. Some shipments are being delayed a couple of weeks. By March, he expects the delay to be perhaps, fatally long. The Fourth of July fireworks containers are going to be piling up, waiting for a ship, which will take them.
His prediction is that as much as 30% of the product which has been ordered for this year’s July Fourth season may not make it to the US in time. Supply and demand being what it is, that, of course will mean higher prices at the fireworks stand.
But the snowballing shipments jammed up at the ports will also create a supply and demand situation for shipping. The few remaining ocean shippers willing to handle fireworks product will start to charge more. Much more.
Matt thinks you’re really gonna feel it in your pocketbook this year. My advice: Whether you’re a dealer or a fireworks user/addict, if you know what you want, get it as soon as you can from dealers who already have it stock. If you snooze, you lose.
Last Day in Liuyang: The Confetti Cannon Factory
I have decided to try selling confetti cannons. They’ve been around for a few years. But I have resisted selling them.
I took a bunch of them to my friend, Christopher’s house on New Year’s Eve, and they were the hit of the party. Bright red, white, and blue Mylar confetti was everywhere within minutes. And people were REALLY having a ball shooting them. That’s when I got sold on confetti cannons. I really had no idea that confetti shooters could be so much fun for people.
I think they are a natural for just about any festivity, and in particular indoor weddings. We already sell a lotta sparklers to pyrotechnically inclined brides who want to have a sparkling exit from their receptions. Confetti cannons look to me like a natural complement to wedding sparklers. Clearly people love ‘em, so you add some fun and excitement during the indoor part of a wedding reception, where the confetti and streamers can easily be vacuumed up. You can put confetti cannons on all the tables for the guests, and at the appointed time, if the in-laws are all still controllable, everybody blasts them up into the air at the same time.
There’s nothing pyrotechnic or hazardous in them, so they can be shipped anywhere as fast as you need them. That’s a good thing: customers are forever calling on Friday to get stuff for a wedding on Saturday.
Matt had a couple of prototype confetti cannons at the office. I had requested red Mylar hearts and silver streamers. But, they weren’t quite right. So, we ask the confetti cannon factory owner if he can do smaller hearts, and thinner, shorter silver streamers. I can tell he thinks we don’t know what we’re talking about. Sure enough, through Annie, he says that doing what we ask will make a shorter blasting effect.
I explain that I want these made for indoors, with shorter distances to cover and lower ceilings.
"Ahhhh so," says the owner in Chinese. I ask for 4-mm wide, silver Mylar streamers; he can do 6 mm. We agree. He asks how long. I guestimate (how the hell do I know?) one meter long streamers.
"Okay, okay, okay. How many," asks he. 24 in a box. 4 boxes per case. 40 cases.
"Okay, okay, okay. Which label?" Too late to get a wedding label designed. We pick a label he already has, conveniently written in Engrish. Don’t laugh; the best looking one was in Russian.
"Okay, okay, okay. When you need?" January 31st.
"Ohhhhhhh…," he says in Chinese. His expression goes south. Only two weeks. He confers with his wife. They jibber-jabber some. We poker-face and wait patiently. This goes on for a few moments. The trick, we know, is to get everything completed and shipped to us before the 10-day Chinese New Year starts early in February. At that point, everything Chinese stops. Nothing gets made and nothing gets shipped until afterward, as much as two weeks later. And with fireworks carriers being scarcer and scarcer, we don’t wanna risk that.
"Okay, okay, okay." And that deal is done.
Pop-quiz question; let’s see who’s really paying attention. The building behind me in the picture has a slanted, lower wall. It’s an old warehouse, now recylced by our (new) fiberglass mortar manufacturer and the confetti cannon guy. But in its former life it was used to store something else, that needed those slanty lower walls. What?
Chief Cook & Confetti Shooter