Q & A with the Management of Phantom Fireworks
As it draws closer to the 'Christmas' of the fireworks business, Patch took some time to get inside the heads of the people who make your celebrations sparkle.
For many, fireworks only come around once or a few times a year.
Although, a certain breed of individuals live and breath for colorful, gunpowder-packed explosions: the fireworks retailers.
Patch took some time to speak with managers and employees at Phantom Fireworks, located at 3 Chevy Chase Road in Seabrook, to learn about their busy season and find out about some of the quirks of the business.
The following is a transcript of part of an interview with Store Manager April Walton and Phantom's corporate Director of Development Patrick Carlon. Click here for an interview with a Phantom employee.
How did you get into the fireworks business?
Carlon: I worked one summer in '83 for my boss, who owns the company now. It started as a summer job as I was going to college [for business]. There was one store at the time in Youngstown, Ohio, and now we're the first- or second-largest fireworks company in the country.
It started as a college job, then I left for another retail job for 12 years, and came back to [the Phantom owner] 16 years ago and worked my way through managing and wholesale.
What do you do in the offseason?
Walton: April is here on site as the manager, and we have good sales. You'd be surprised. Memorial Day through the Fourth of July is our main season, although we get steady business through Labor Day through Christmas and New Years. Things are pretty steady throughout the year thanks to our location (near Route 95 and minutes from Massachusetts and Maine).
I'm in charge of trying to open new stores throughout the year, and I travel around about 11 months of the year. We have 54 stores and about 2,000 stands across the country, so that's about 180 to 200 nights of travel a year.
Editor's note: The Seabrook location employs roughly four full-time managers throughout the year, and through the busiest portions of the year can also have an additional 60 employees of staff, all of which must be 18 years old. The business receives about 100 to 125 applications a year, although most of the seasonal employees return each summer, which cuts down turnover.
What's the further people drive to get to this store?
Walton: People drive from the very tip of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts -- everywhere, really. We have people come down from Canada.
Carlon: It's nothing to see people drive three hours or more. About 75 to 80 percent of our business is from out of state, but we still get a good group from [throughout the Granite State].
Walton: We've had people leave their spare tires or coolers here just to fit more fireworks. One guy did that yesterday. He said, "Do you mind if I leave this here while I bring these home?" He came back and bought more fireworks, and almost had to leave it here again in order to make it home.
I'm sure you've seen plenty of interesting characters over the years, then. What the craziest thing for which someone has bought fireworks?
Walton: There was a man who ran Rockingham Fireworks -- he was real, real character, and passed away years ago. His son does a big fireworks shoot every year now, and [his father's] wish was to be cremated and have his ashes put in one and shot in a big, big fireworks display. He wanted go out with a bang.
What the strangest question you've been asked while working in the store, or one of the strangest encounters you've had?
Walton: It's not really strange because it's kind of common, but a lot of people say they're afraid to leave the fireworks in their car, like if they're going to the beach, because they fear they'll catch on fire and blow up the car.
There's a 5,000-degree flashpoint for a match head, although there are a lot of people who ask, "Is my car going to blow up?" They won't blow up sitting in your car or truck while you're sitting at the beach. You need a spark to do it.
What would be your dream fireworks display?
Carlon: I'd almost start off with something small to get the audience going -- fountains and things like that that really don’t leave the ground. It gets the crowd going and let's them know a big show is on the way. Then, I'd use a repeater, which go 50 to 75 feet in the air and go off multiple times. Then I'd use aerial tubes, which are both single and multiple shots and go 150 and 200 feet in the air. I'd finish with five to 10 minutes of those.
There are 100 different flavors of those. It's just like ice cream: it's hard to tell you what kind is best, although mine's chocolate. There are lots of sound and visual effects to use and it's all about picking ones you like and having a big finishing piece. You have to go out with bang.