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Business Q&A | Business is booming for fireworks sellers

Henry and Joyce Knepp own Kneppy's Fireworks in Winburne, Pa. July 1, 2015.
Henry and Joyce Knepp own Kneppy's Fireworks in Winburne, Pa. July 1, 2015. CDT photo

There aren’t too many things that can hold your attention for long, but fireworks fit the bill.

“I enjoy the people even more than the fireworks themselves,” Kneppy’s Fireworks co-owner Joyce Knepp said. “My joy comes from hearing the crowd’s ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs.’ That just thrills me beyond comparison. That’s what I live for.”

Joyce Knepp was introduced to the fireworks industry by her husband, Henry Knepp, who has worked in the industry for about 50 years.

They founded Knepp’s Fireworks at 204 Limb Road 18 years ago.

“It’s ended up being bigger than what I really thought it’d be, and I have to give Joyce a lot of thanks for that,” Henry Knepp said. “She holds things together here.”

The Fourth of July, they said, is their busiest week, one that they believe some people look forward to as much as Christmas.

“Think about artwork,” Henry Knepp said. “How much more beautiful does art get when fireworks paint the sky? This weekend is like one of those things like Christmas. Everyone is looking forward to that day to buy their own fireworks or see a fireworks show with their families.”

Q: Is it at all difficult to sell fireworks?

JK: Generally they sell themselves, especially when you have someone that knows what they’re looking for. There are always products we try to introduce people to, especially when they’re looking for something with effects that they haven’t tried before.

Q: Where does most of your business come from?

HK: It really varies a lot. We have our full-time store here that we sell all kinds of fireworks whether it be sparklers, fountains, firecrackers, rockets, but we also have the seasonal two-week stand setups you see at your local malls and shopping centers. We have five of those ourselves throughout the tri-county area.

JK: This is the busiest week for us by far, and it’s mostly regular people like you and I buying it for the backyard. We have Pa. residents, but we also have a lot of people that come in from out of state.

Q: Are there restrictions on what you can sell?

JK: There is. The stands you see at the shopping centers and malls sell the fireworks legal in Pennsylvania. Brick and mortar stores, like ours here and probably about 70 other ones in Pennsylvania, are allowed to sell other fireworks to Pennsylvania customers and out of state customers if they have a permit to purchase and display their fireworks in their local municipality.

Q: Where do you get your fireworks from?

JK: We import most of our products from China, and that’s probably 75 percent of what we get. The other 25 percent we pick up from different companies that we can buy products in larger amounts for better rates.

Q: Has the manufacturing of fireworks changed since the business started?

HK: We have more items now than we did then. There was nothing like they have today. They didn’t have 500 grams. What you did have was your firecrackers and small 200 grams. A lot of people in Pennsylvania didn’t know some of this stuff was legal until we started this business. We set our stands up the first year, and some people would only want to buy sparklers and tried to say they couldn’t buy anything but sparklers. When some people found out they could buy more than sparklers they did.

JK: In the 18 years we’ve done this as an industry leader in our community we have seen changes in the products we’re allowed here. You see these big units of 500 gram boxes, but 18 years ago we didn’t have such a thing. Now 500 grams means 500 grams of pyrotechnic materials is the maximum allowed by law, and you can’t go over that because you’d be breaking the law.

Q: What are some fireworks you can’t sell to anyone?

HK: You’ll always have people looking for fireworks that we don’t have and that we have nothing to do with. Maybe they’re bootlegged fireworks like M80s. People are always in here looking for M80s and cherry bombs.

JK: They’ve been federally illegal since 1966.

HK: They’re bad. We have a poster here that pushes people to stay away from them.

Q: What are the most popular fireworks you sell?

JK: That’s a very subjective question. The fountains are very popular. They do a better show, but people still buy traditional sparklers even though we’ve seen a decline in the sales of those. They’re still popular, but not as much as 20 years ago. Fountains have gotten more popular and do a very nice backyard display.

When we first started people just wanted firecrackers, bottle rockets and roman candles, because that’s all they thought fireworks were. We have sold a lot less of those, because people now want things that give a nicer, more colorful show. I’ve gotten more selective in my product purchasing to provide those better, bigger, more colorful shows. I like to have bottle rockets and roman candles that actually do something, because consumers are getting more critical of what they buy even with the smaller stuff.

Q: What are your favorite fireworks?

HK: I really like the fountains. We’ve got fountains over there that’ll go 30 feet high and put on a nice show.

JK: I also really like the fountains and even the smaller ones give you a nice bang for your buck and a nice show, but I don’t have any particular favorite ones. I think we love them all.

HK: Yeah, we really have learned to love them all.