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by John M. Drewes Editor, American Fireworks News

I broke the tail lamp on my Grand Cherokee. Actually, it was a few years ago and I was backing out of my parking space at the local Walmart when I bumped into the cart that some idiot had left behind my Jeep. A sharp edge cracked the gigantic red and white plastic housing over the tail lamps, and thus began my lesson in Economics 101.

This is a big piece of plastic. When I called the Jeep dealer he quoted a price of $159.00 plus $60 installation. That’s over $200 and my insurance agent declined to discuss a claim. What to do?

That afternoon my favorite waitress at the Milford Diner heard me complaining and offered the suggestion that her boyfriend, the “crackerjack mechanic”, would be able to do it cheaper than that. Now the stage was set for the lesson.

Tony, the part-time crackerjack, knew a guy, etc. and first thing you know, I’m bringing the year-old car to Tony. Two days later I got the car back. It looked OK, except that the new plastic was full of greasy fingerprints, and one of the screws that holds it in was missing. So was my common sense.

The assembly leaked. It leaked badly because it was on the rear of this flat-backed vehicle. It allowed rain, salt, grime and assorted chemical concoctions to get into the housing. The backup light failed, then the directional signal and finally the tail lamp corroded into uselessness.

I had paid Tony $50, thus saving over $150. I don’t know where Tony got the assembly from, but I didn’t care at that time. All I wanted was something less expensive. In the long run, it was a mistake.

Fireworks displays are exactly like that.

The average display buyer is like me: I know what I want and I want to pay less for it. I don’t want to be taken advantage of by a vendor who seems to have exorbitant markups. But I expect quality too. I don't want a messy job done by inexperienced people who leave me open for problems down the road, like no insurance to pay those claims.

There are some display operators who don’t have physical plants, who don’t have inventory to pay for, who don’t have standing insurance. Without all the expenses of running an established business, these “shadetree mechanics” believe that they can underbid everybody else and still present a good show. But can they?

These are the people we call “The Spoilers”. They come into the fireworks trade for a year or so, ruin the market for everybody else by underbidding on displays, and then one day they find they can’t pay their bills and they are gone. Meantime, the regular operators, the established businesses with the employees, real estate, inventory, insurance and taxes, have been made to look like the new car service department with the 1,000% markups.

Here’s the lesson I learned in Fireworks Economics 101: Shell count and shell sizes mean little when it comes to picking a display operator. Experience, stability and responsibility are the important points to look for.

When deciding on an operator to shoot your next display, you need somebody who has been around for a while, has a reliable staff of experienced fireworks people, and who can give you a show that will make you want to bring them back next year. Selecting an operator by price alone is a mistake.

So the next time you plan to do a display, watch for those telltale greasy fingerprints. If you spot them, say NO THANKS, and go find yourself an established operator.

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