A fixture on the Maine pyrotechnics scene for over 30 years, Steve Marson says he was surprised when he heard the state would legalize the sale of fireworks as of Jan. 1. "I never expected the state to allow consumer fireworks," he says.
As the owner of Hallowell fireworks display company Central Maine Pyrotechnics, Marson has orchestrated municipal and private fireworks displays for decades. The law change meant consumers could buy their own bottle rockets and firecrackers, and it created an opportunity for Marson who imports and stores a wide variety of fireworks. He quickly opened up his first Pyro City Maine retail location in Manchester in February. That was followed with stores opening in Winslow, Edgecomb and Ellsworth. A Presque Isle location is set to open by June 15.
While some larger municipalities have banned fireworks, Marson is hoping to serve the northern, central and eastern reaches of the state, provide jobs for over 40 previously unemployed workers and, eventually, introduce his own line of consumer fireworks. Mainebiz sat down with Marson to discuss his booming business venture. The following is an edited transcript.
Mainebiz: How has your background in display pyrotechnics prepared you for this foray into consumer fireworks?
Marson: It was easier for me than for someone starting from scratch. I've got contacts overseas — I've been going to China for the last six years and buying direct from the manufacturer — and I know the rules and regulations inside and out, so it was a pretty easy process once we were able to clarify what the rules were going to be.
How did you decide where to locate your fireworks stores?
I looked at southern Maine as being fairly close to New Hampshire where people could drive and buy fireworks and not pay sales tax. So I picked a line that runs through Lewiston-Auburn and Bath-Brunswick and just went north. There are 600,000 people who live from that line north. I looked at high volume traffic areas and the spending habits of the people within those areas.
Do you think your retail fireworks venture has the potential to outperform your display business?
In a couple of years it possibly could. The average commercial display runs between $4,000 and $5,000 and the average sale in our stores runs between $45 and $75. Right now we're on target to do 250 shows this year — we have 150 people working 40 shows in three states on July 4 alone. But where the stores are focused, there are 440,000 people who fit into [our target market of] that 21-to-62 age bracket, so we have the potential for 440,000 people to come and buy something versus the display business of 250 shows.
Are you worried about some communities banning commercial fireworks?
Fireworks have been banned for 40 years and Mainers have still been spending around $2.5 to $3 million a year on illegal fireworks from out of state. They have been using them in cities and will still be using them in cities because people have always done it. I think what you'll see in time is some of the municipalities that have banned them may [reconsider] commercial fireworks to see if there are places where people can safely do it. But there are 465 municipalities in Maine and only 33 have some type of ban, so that's still over 400 communities that are saying 'let's see what happens and regulate it if we need to.'