It's Independence Day weekend and for fireworks shops across the U.S., that means business is booming. But just two years removed from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which gave rise to supply chain issues and labor shortages, the business looks a bit different in 2022.
With the rate of inflation impacting nearly all consumer goods, the fireworks industry has also been impacted, and, as a result, customers are paying more for their holiday explosives this time around.
For Joe VanOudenhove III, the co-owner of the Sky King Fireworks chain, the major problem this year wasn't the cost of the fireworks themselves but the skyrocketing transportation fees.
"The freight costs have gone up by about 300 percent, and we have no control over that. If we want our fireworks, we have to pay, or we don't get them because they all come from China," VanOudenhove told Cheddar. "It's gotten to the point where the stuff inside the container is less expensive than the price to ship a container."
The chain has locations in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, and it has absorbed some of the increased shipping costs. But customers still are feeling it in their wallets. VanOudenhove said the price of fireworks across his stores is about 15 percent more compared to 2021. Logistics company Freightos attributed some of the increased shipping costs to shutdowns in places like Shanghai, China, where 45 percent of its trucking industry was halted as COVID-19 cases ticked up. Consequently, Shanghai is looking to make up for the 20 to 30 percent drop in export revenue.
Employees ring up customer purchases at the Hee Haw Fireworks store in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, U.S., on Wednesday, June 30, 2020. With widespread cancellations of community Independence Day celebrations nationwide due to social distancing mandates related to Covid-19, backyard fireworks use is expected to hit an all-time high this year. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Despite inflated costs, VanOudenhove and Sky King Fireworks bet on the eagerness of Americans to get back to typical Independence Day celebrations and upped the volume on store shelves. In 2020 and 2021, Sky King and many other fireworks shops were caught off guard by the demand and did not have enough product to satisfy it. This year, VanOudenhove claimed that even with the higher in-store prices, the company is managing to offer goods at more reasonable prices than the competition.
"We do have tremendous sales," he said. "We have more inventory at this time of year than we've had for probably the last two or three years."
In 2022, the American Pyrotechnics Association estimates that U.S. consumers will spend about $2.3 billion on at-home firework displays. But as more people purchase explosives to celebrate the holiday, the higher the odds are for fireworks-related injuries to occur. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, injuries involving fireworks have risen by 25 percent between 2006 and 2021.
There were at least nine reported deaths linked to fireworks last year, and more than 11,500 people were taken to the emergency room. The most impacted group was young people between the ages of 20 and 24. And bodily injury isn't the only threat when using consumer fireworks — they might spark about 18,500 structure and vehicle fires annually.
For VanOudenhove, prioritizing safety and being mindful of your surroundings is the key to a great at-home firework experience.
"The main things are: follow the directions, maintain a safe distance, make sure you're following the rules of your local municipality where you're using the fireworks. Never discard fireworks that haven't properly discharged. If something doesn't properly discharge, be sure to soak it with water," he said.
The National Safety Council recommends leaving the firework displays to the professionals altogether, but if you are planning your own, they also have a few pertinent tips: never allow young children to handle fireworks, never use fireworks under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and never light them indoors. A comprehensive list of safety guidelines can be found here.