With new warehouse, mid-Missouri fireworks wholesaler seeks growth trajectory

John Bechtold, owner of Spirit of ’76 Fireworks, got an early start to his career selling fireworks while in high school. Bechtold — the youngest son of Midway Truck Stop and Travel Plaza’s developers and owners, Bob and Donna Bechtold — took over his parents’ fireworks retailer at their truck stop in 1987 and named it Spirit of ’76 Fireworks.

“I needed a summer job, so my parents and I decided I could do the fireworks out here,” said Bechtold, 45.

Bechtold managed the fireworks store during the summer in high school and college and continued to oversee the retailer after graduating from the University of Missouri in 1994.

Since then, Bechtold has expanded Spirit of ’76 from a retailer serving only mid-Missouri to a wholesaler shipping fireworks to 500 retailers throughout the continental U.S.

His latest move was buying a 150,000-square-foot warehouse near Interstate 70 in Boonville. Bechtold closed on the property, formerly the NORDYNE distribution center, in January. He declined to disclose the dollar amount of the sale.

“We had been storing all of our fireworks in 70 containers at the back of our Midway property,” he said. “The process was very laborious and not so efficient.”

Bechtold began to transform his company from a retailer into a wholesaler in 2000 by importing fireworks directly from suppliers in China. Today, Spirit of ’76 has six Chinese suppliers and puts two private labels, Sky Bacon and ’76 Pro Line, on some of the products it receives from China.

Bechtold said he tries to develop cordial relationships with his suppliers because their work helps his business thrive, too. The winged pig glass figurine in his office stands as a testament to his suppliers’ esteem for him.

“One of my suppliers saw the pig in a glass shop in China, and they asked the shop to put wings on it,” Bechtold said. The supplier, which manufactures Spirit of ’76’s Sky Bacon brand, sent it to him as a gift.

In addition to deciding to import fireworks from China in 2000, Spirit of ’76 cultivated a nationwide presence that same year by launching a website on which customers across the U.S. can order fireworks. As demand for the business’ fireworks surged on the East Coast, the company opened a 35,000-square-foot warehouse in Easton, Pa., in 2011.

Bechtold sees it as another stride toward his dream of Spirit of ’76 becoming one of the leading fireworks distributors in the U.S., with retailers in all 48 continental states. He listed Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Washington, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Tennessee among the states to which his company most frequently ships.

The best-selling firework among Spirit of ’76’s clients across the U.S. is the 500-gram multi-shot from the Sky Bacon private brand.

“It’s like a show in a box,” Bechtold said. “It’s a maximum pyrotechnic composition, and it has long durations after you light the fuse.”

James Rhinehart, marketing director for Spirit of ’76, said Bechtold has displayed his passion for the company each Fourth of July season while working at the fireworks tent the business sets up across the street from the Midway Truck Stop and Travel Plaza.

“John always spends the night at the tent once or twice every year, and he sticks around until the last person is ready to go home,” Rhinehart said. “He does not have to do that because he has plenty of employees, but it shows he is dedicated to the company.”

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