Pitfalls of Buying Fireworks In China Yourself

Written by Harry Gilliam

Topics: Consumer Fireworks, Weblogs

I am finally back on the ground at our warehouse in Virginia.  Whirlwind trip:  Virginia to Vancouver to Hong Kong to Shezhen to Changsha to Liuyang to Changsha to Shenzhen to Hong Kong to Vancouver to Virginia in 15 days.  I have learned to do it all out a single carry-on bag, too.

If you’ve been following my trip to China to buy fireworks for Skylighter, you’ve seen me mention Matt Palaszynski.  While I was on the road, Dave, one of Skylighter’s customers, asked me to contact a particular Chinese fireworks company in Liuyang for him.  He had had several phone and email interactions with the Chinese company and was considering ordering some fireworks from them.

I hooked my customer up with Matt.  Here’s a slightly edited copy of Matt’s letter to Dave, my customer.  The important thing is this.  It is VERY HARD for us in the US to deal directly with any Chinese fireworks factory (or sales agent) right now.  I would not advise it, unless you are prepared to have your own translator, make several long and expensive trips to China for each order you place, and have low expectations of delivered product quality.  You simply have no idea what the complexities are, nor how many things have to be handled correctly in order for you to get your order.  Matt’s letter to Dave is right on target.

————————-

Dave,

Don’t know if you care to hear my pitch, but…

I will start by saying that I think [name deleted] is a good company.  They have been around for awhile, have an established customer base, and are legitimate.

However, they are not a factory.  They are a fireworks trading company.  Which is exactly the same thing that my company is–a fireworks trading company.  We take orders from you and we place and manage orders with various China factories.

For the most part, factories do not sell direct.  They sell through trading companies like [name deleted] and my company.  I guess about the only way that I can prove this to you is through our pricing.  I am fairly confident that I can meet or beat any prices that [name deleted] is offering you.  Not that you want to buy from the lowest bidder, however.  My point it that if they were a factory, they should be much cheaper that I am.  I am willing to bet that I can compete pretty much head to head, as I am willing to bet that they are buying from the same factories that I am.

Harry at Skylighter’s point is that you don’t want to deal directly with a factory.  He is correct in that most factories are not set up for sales.  Legally, they do not have government export licenses, and commercially they typically do not employ sales staff.  A good factory is just that, a factory.  It is the trading company that invests the time to understand the customer requirements and transfer them into technical manufacturing documents that the factory uses to produce to your specs.   That service is part of the value that we add to earn our profit.

Finally, I think my company has been successful due to our deep knowledge of fireworks and our professional business structure.   I don’t know Julie at [name deleted], but I know her job profile.  She most likely graduated from the Changsha or Liuyang foreign language institute with a 2 year degree in English.  She is probably anywhere from 18 – 25 years old.  She probably has never shot a Class B display herself.  I can guarantee that she has never shot one in the USA.  She is paid a very low fixed wage and she is given a commission for all new customers that she brings in.   She most likely does not get a whole lot of support from [name deleted].  Because of the desire of the company to quickly grow, she is expected to coordinate most of the details of your order.  Critical details like factory down payments, production schedules, and shipping are often to be dealt with after the customer contact has been signed.  I am certain that she is pleasant, bright, and very hard working.  Most likely, she can spend an inordinate amount of time on you… most likely because you are one of her only potential customers.  Maybe she will get lucky and all the details will fall into place for her.  Maybe not.   She does not have much to lose… as opposed to you.

My company is also a Liuyang Trading Company.  Yes, I am an American, but I am not your competitor.  I only sell full containers direct from China.  I do not wholesale or retail in the USA.  I don’t shoot displays.  Right now almost 50% of my business is manufacturing private label product for some of the USA’s biggest companies.   We have a large account right there in MO.  We manufacture for large US fireworks retailers whose names you know, including Skylighter.   So, if you are looking for your own brand, we can help. 

I have years of first-hand experience in fireworks displays and consumer fireworks design in the US market.  Our staff all have deep experience;  even our equivalent of Julie was the teacher at the Liuyang foreign language institute, not just the student.  None of our staff are paid by commission.  I personally think it just leads to problems in the long run.  I see lots of upfront sales effort and then little follow through for commission based employees.  We stick it out to the gory end with each of our customers. For the most part, I am the main person to interface with the customer to ensure the smoothest communication.

All the best,

Matt

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What Matt didn’t say, and I want to elaborate on, is this.  You need someone to shepherd your order through the whole process.  From specifying what you want to getting it delivered to your doorstep, if you do not have someone like Matt managing the process, you are in for a lot a trouble and disappointment.

Bottom line:  if you want to import Chinese fireworks, and you have never done it before, do not try this at home.   Questions?

Harry Gilliam
Chinese Fireworks Importer Survivor

11 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Gene Corpus says:

    where do the big suppliers of fireworks in the united states get thier fireworks from………and how can I bypass them and buy direct….and which company sells the cheapest…..??

  2. Adam says:

    I don’t know what this website is… I came across this thread because I live in Shenzhen and wanted to buy some fireworks for new years.

    However, after reading the discussion I felt compelled to say that as a westerner who has set up a factory here in China, and live here, that dealing with China direct is like going to the casino. You got money to lose?

    China is like NO OTHER country on the planet (and I’ve lived in many), and for business, the rules of western logic do not apply and you’ll NEVER get what you expect.

    Yeh, you might find a way to source your products direct without a problem, but you’re more likely to get burned. And even if it does work, it’ll only work for a short time, but then it’ll come undone at the seams. I learned the hard way and realised that unless I come over here and spend the money, time and effort myself… I’ll never be able to get consistency out of my Chinese suppliers. However, I ended up just setting up my own factory because even been here trying to get consistency from suppliers is a big task!

    I don’t think anyone is trying to protect their job / industry by suggesting not to try and source on your own… it’s a cold fact. Without someone on the ground checking consistency, quality, prices, shipping, packing, etc… you’re going to get screwed… eventually… just like at the casino… unless you’re REALLY good, the house always wins.

  3. Kenneth says:

    Harry Gilliam:
    If it would be possible, I would love to talk with your friend Matt, and possibly buying from him. I am in the process of planning a trip over to china but I wouldn’t mind hearing my options before I go over and spend the money doing that. Your blog was very informative. thank you.
    Kenneth192@hotmail.com

    Aaron:
    If I can also talk with you that would be great. I am looking for informed guys and trying to gather information if you are willing to share. If you can shoot me an email that would be great. Thank you.

  4. Aaron says:

    So, it’s too hard and I should give up, right? Of course it is difficult…not like ordering from a Sears catalog….you make it sound impossible though. I am willing to bet you are much more likely to be trying to protect your job and industry. I have dealt with representatives from various Chinese and Indian factories. They are not as inept and careless as you make it sound. They are very motivated to sell and the ones I have dealt with are not as you describe. It takes a bit of patience and travel, of course, but the motivated entrepreneur will be well rewarded for their efforts. You obviously do well, and so can they.

  5. Bill says:

    yes harry really – TESTING

  6. Jess says:

    Test, Testing Comments

  7. oswald says:

    yes! I heard it all befoure , in thailand they call it go betweens , tipical in asia , no mather what you want ,sudenly every one is a expert at what you are looking for , and they pay mediaters to get your contract , but no one has product lyability insiorence .

  8. Jake’s RSS List, Installment #07 (Confessions Of A Fireworks Man)

    Feed Title: Confessions of a Fireworks Man – Blog featuring Harry Gilliam of Skylighter, Inc. Get regular INDUSTRY UPDATES and SECRETS OF PROFESSIONAL FIREWORKS MAKERS
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    Content Link (Non RSS

  9. Wyatt says:

    Thanks Tom, you rock.

  10. Tom Coughlin says:

    Wyatt,
    The following explanation was offered by Mike Swisher on another forum January 18th:
    “The latest word on the Firefox case is this:
    No compromise was forthcoming between the government and Firefox’s
    attorneys as of January 16, when Federal offices actually re-opened for
    business. The judge has now asked that each side prepare a draft of
    their preferred resolution to the case, presenting reasons for whatever
    provisions are proposed. These drafts are to be submitted by February
    28. The judge will then render his decision at some as yet un-announced
    future date.”
    Tom C.

  11. Wyatt says:

    I have a question. Has anyone heard anything about the Firefox case yet? The deadline was over a week ago and theres no information about what has happened yet. Did the deadline get extended?

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