Some fireworks sellers face tight supply amid trade disruptions

As people head in large numbers to buy fireworks for the July Fourth holiday, some retailers in Missouri are facing a shortage of product as a result of disruption to the global supply chain.

For the first time in nine years of operation, Allycat Fireworks in Kirksville has struggled to meet demand, owner Larry Logston said.

With just one out of three ports in China exporting fireworks since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Logston said, his family-run fireworks retailer received only two-thirds of the amount of fireworks it ordered.

“I had to order fireworks a month earlier than I usually do to guarantee that I receive products,” he said.

The transportation costs of importing fireworks from China have increased 30% while the price of fireworks has risen by roughly 8%, according to Logston.

Last year, 96% of all U.S. fireworks imports came from China, according to personal finance website ValuePenguin. Missouri imported more than $51 million worth of fireworks in 2019, the most of any state.

In other words, complications for the biggest supplier of a product for which Missouri is a major buyer are being felt by vendors in the state.

Manufacturing of fireworks in China decreased significantly when three Chinese factories caught fire, said Rick Towe, owner of Crazy Cheap Fireworks in St. Charles. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, supply came to a complete halt.

“A lot of the importers are running out of a lot of items,” Towe said.

Many fireworks suppliers in the state who did not place their orders in August or September are having trouble procuring them, said Bob Gerau, owner of Bob’s Fireworks in Columbia.

“If (suppliers) would have waited until January or February, they wouldn’t have gotten what they ordered,” Gerau said. “The factories weren’t working, and nothing was being shipped out.”

Last year, the Trump administration proposed a 25% tariff on imports from China that would have impacted the fireworks industry. However, the administration eventually delayed tariffs on some items, including fireworks, according to CNBC.

“We were waiting with bated breath when the tariffs were being placed,”said Ben Muzzey, sales manager at Spirit of ‘76 Fireworks in Columbia.“We’re hypersensitive to anything that is going to impact relations with China specifically because we import all of our goods from them.”

Spirit of ‘76 Fireworks, which also supplies fireworks to other independent retailers in Missouri, was expecting a shortage of supply this year but managed to have required supplies shipped in from China in time.

American demand for fireworks has been shooting up every year, according to data from the American Pyrotechnics Association, a fireworks industry group. The use of consumer fireworks has more than doubled over the last two decades, to roughly 249 million pounds last year from 102 million pounds in 2000.

This year, Missouri fireworks retailers are seeing significant spikes in demand days before the Fourth of July.

“All of our faculties are being stretched to try and keep up with that demand,” Muzzey said.

A number of fireworks shows across the state have been canceled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has encouraged some people to buy fireworks for their own displays.

With people confined to their homes over the past few months, many are looking for ways to socialize, according to Clayton Maus, a marketing manager at Crazy Cheap Fireworks.

“Our sales have more than doubled because people don’t have much to do as they are not being able to go out in big groups,” Maus said. “But it seems they want to host small gatherings kind of on their own.”

Towe said most retailers cut it close this year. They were prepared for the shortage and got their fireworks shipped in time.

“Probably the supplies will last this season, but there might not be any by the evening of the Fourth,” he said. “Things might be really slammed. But most of the sales are done at that point anyway.”

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