Dynamic Fireworks Revisited
Another look around the Colchester fireworks shop.
Dynamic Fireworks is a company with many facets. There is the retail fireworks shop which I am visiting today, plus a busy professional display arm. They also supply fireworks mail order, wholesale to other retailers, offer an ashes-into-fireworks service and even indoor pyrotechnics.
In this article I’m having a look mostly over the shop, but in the following interview with owner Nigel Claydon I’ll also explore their other services to find out more about Colchester’s number one firework retailer.
As you will have gathered from the title of this article, this isn’t my first visit to Dynamic. But it has been a long time since I was last there; when I commented to Nigel about the change from blue carpet to vinyl flooring and the swanky new cabinets, there was some laughter as it turned out these were upgraded many years ago. I’ll put a link to my original visit at the end of this article for those who’d like to go back in time to 2004. Yes, that long ago!
In addition to looking much cleaner and clearer, the showroom has been upgraded behind the scenes too. Nigel showed me the side extension which replaced the older store. This gives much more room and direct access to the road helps getting mail order cartons out no end, Nigel explained, very proud of all the upgrades to make life easier for staff.
I am, along with a lot of my Forum members, interested in how companies like Dynamic were formed and why their owners got into fireworks. I think this curiosity is partly fuelled by the pandemic-related troubles fireworks has had to navigate in the last few years; who would be mad enough to start a fireworks company?
I put this exact question to Nigel. “The origins of Dynamic go back to our family’s ownership of several newsagents in Colchester,” Nigel explained. “My father, Bob, owned a number of newsagents in the 1970s and 80s and sold a lot of fireworks through these. Because of his buying power he could also wholesale to other newsagents and went on to set up Anglia Fireworks to help facilitate this.
“I bought the first of several newsagents in 1984 and also sold fireworks through these, putting me in direct competition with my dad! In the end we decided it made better sense to team up, so I bought into Anglia Fireworks and we made it into a separate business.
“The fireworks side actually had quite humble beginnings, back in those days my dad was able to keep fireworks in what was known as a “Mode A” store at home.”
This isn’t as crazy as it sounds, I know of many firework retailers and display companies who started in the garden shed. Though present-day regulations would make that a lot harder now.
I asked Nigel how they went from a Mode A store to their present retail premises. “We changed the name from Anglia Fireworks to Dynamic Fireworks and created a limited company in 1994. We wanted a company name that wasn’t geographically restricted and just sounded a little better. Retail and wholesale was expanding and we’d also started to do professional displays and mail order too, so we moved in to Unit 17 here on the retail park. Eventually we outgrew that too and moved next door to Unit 18 which is bigger!”
The office was a hive of activity when I visited. To call Dynamic a family business is somewhat of an understatement as Nigel introduced his staff. Pictured below, the team includes Jake (Nigel’s son), Lee (nephew), Sophie (daughter) and Colin who “is like a family member”.
Staff at Dynamic have to cover multiple skills to cope with the diverse nature of an all-year fireworks business as large as Dynamic. For example, today Lee was behind his Mac designing the 2022 brochure but at the weekend could be knee-deep in mud firing a wedding show. And Colin, a carpenter previously, was busy designing a professional fireworks show today but next week would be up a ladder assessing damage to a store from Storm Eunice.
With the introductions done, I sat down with Nigel to ask about the various parts of his business and how these had fared during the pandemic.
I started with the professional side of the business. That’s where a Dynamic team design, set up and fire a show for you, usually for bigger or public events. Knowing how many shows they do a year but also that in the summer of 2020 the country was locked-down, I asked how badly this had affected the business. The answer was a tale of two halves, as Nigel explains:
“We normally do around 350 professional shows a year,” Nigel said and readers familiar with fireworks will probably need a few moments for this huge figure to sink in. “There was a period during the original lockdown when events were cancelled, but we found in the case of weddings for example, these were temporarily put back rather than shelved completely.”
I asked if this meant a mad rush once restrictions were lifted. “Yes, demand was incredible,” Nigel replied, smiling. “In late June 2021 weddings could resume. We had both the events planned for 2021 and those put back from 2020. At one point we had over 80 shows going out in August alone. People were also getting married during the week on any day they could, rather than just at weekends. After lockdown we did more shows in six months than in the whole previous year, bringing things overall, back to normal.
What does a normal year typically include? “A good proportion of our shows are for weddings,” Nigel said.”We are also very busy over the Guy Fawkes and New Year periods. We’re proud to have provided the fireworks for Colchester Castle Park for 25 years, Southend seafront for 20 years and RAF Lakenheath’s Independence Day celebrations for 5 years.”
I asked Nigel what his biggest shows have been. “Some of our corporate shows have been huge,” he replied. “A millennium event at Lowestoft Pier was one of our largest. An added bonus was the pier was the most easterly point of the UK so our team also fired a daylight display as the sun rose and were the first in the country to see in the new millennia. We’ve displayed at events such as Catton Hall and the British Firework Championships too, they were big shows.”
The Dynamic shop in Colchester is an all-year retail outlet which means it’s open to the public. You can walk in and buy fireworks at any time of year. Whilst the shop has remained open throughout the pandemic – going to click-and-collect when required – behind the scenes pressures on fireworks continue to make things problematic for retailers like Dynamic.
This is because another major part of Nigel’s operation is the importation of fireworks directly from China. With shipping costs rising astronomically (take $35,000 per container shipping costs, up from under $10,000 as one example) and shortages of fireworks conspiring to push up retail prices, it has been a rough ride.
The importation of fireworks, under Nigel’s Zeus Fireworks brand, is a fascinating subject and I have an article delving just into that side of things if you are interested: Zeus Fireworks.
As for Dynamic, the good news is that stock is now arriving from China, albeit a little late. On show in the cabinets were a number of fantastic new compound cakes and some new selection boxes. My Zeus article linked to above has more on these.
There are quite a lot of non-Zeus fireworks still on Dynamic’s shelves. This is a legacy of 2021 where fireworks were in such short supply that Nigel and many others in the trade had to bring in vast numbers of fireworks from the EU instead.
I asked Nigel how the situation was now in 2022. “Bringing in fireworks from Europe in 2021 served a purpose to help with our shortages,” Nigel explained, “but we’re not planning on getting any more fireworks by this route this year. Our own fireworks are now arriving from China and whilst the shipping situation is still difficult and expensive, we hope that stock shortages are behind us.”
I enquired about the rises in retail prices for fireworks. Whilst it’s fair to say that most goods rise slightly in price each year, the pandemic and it’s subsequent effects have caused many goods to rise significantly in the last few years, fireworks included. It’s not immediately obvious to a member of the public buying fireworks that in addition to the chemicals used to make the effects, a substantial proportion of the firework is made of paper and card (which has risen in price), the firework is shipped from China (shipping has trebled in price) and even a weaker exchange rate has made it more expensive to buy pyro from abroad.
“Prices are still going up,” Nigel explained, “2021 saw some big rises but production costs have risen 15-20% in 2022 so some of that will have to be passed on to the end-customer.”
We also discussed the general effects of increased operating costs in 2022. Costs have risen across the board from fuel for the vans to electricity for heating the shop, Nigel told me, adding extra pressures to the business.
Mail order fireworks is big business these days but it’s also one of the most frustrating ways to service customers. The problem is largely down to fireworks, unsurprisingly, being explosive and therefore a hazardous item requiring specialised packing and a courier capable of transporting explosives.
In a world accustomed to next day Prime delivery from Amazon, having fireworks delivered can seem frustratingly slow and expensive for a customer in comparison, but believe me it’s even worse for the retailer. The extra-strong packaging and the legal documentation of the hazardous cargo required plus a very small number of couriers willing to take explosives all means higher costs.
I asked Nigel to put a figure on this. Whilst for obvious reasons specific data is commercially confidential, I can tell you that the costs to Nigel for a typical £200 order of fireworks could be up to £50 to deliver. “There’s a base charge we have to pay,” Nigel said, “plus surcharges on top if the delivery is in a remote area. We’re also charged by weight, which can be significant for larger orders.”
I asked if the rises in fuel costs have been passed on to retailers. “Yes, substantially,” Nigel replied. “Particularly to areas such as Scotland.”
And it’s not just the delivery cost that has been affected, as Nigel explained: “We have to pack fireworks in specialised UN cartons. Even these have risen a lot in cost, driven by the rise in paper and raw material costs.”
In my Zeus article I asked Nigel why he imports, given the hassles. So it seemed logical to ask why firework companies bother with mail order either. Nigel did concede it can be stressful in peak season: “When it’s busy it can be a struggle to get everything packed, deal with the couriers and also sort out any items they lose in transit. But, as with importing, it’s an integral part of the business and it is still profitable.”
So if you wondered why many firework companies have a minimum order for deliveries, now you know why. At the time of writing, Dynamic’s minimum order for delivery is £75, with it costing £14.95 for orders up to £299, then becoming free for orders larger than this. When I say “free” I mean to the customer; the actual costs are subsidised by Dynamic.
At the time of my visiting Nigel and other retailers (early 2022), the fireworks trade is holding its breath because of proposed law changes in Scotland. In simple terms the proposals are that members of the public in Scotland will have to take – and pay for – an online course before they are issued with a licence to buy and use fireworks. It would be illegal otherwise under these proposals, which also seek to limit sales periods for consumer fireworks, all but wiping out the all-year retail industry up there.
I asked Nigel if he was worried by these developments. “Yes, massively worried,” he replied. “The industry and the British Fireworks Association (BFA) have worked hard behind the scenes to give a balanced response to these proposals and suggest why they won’t be effective. However they seem to be pressing on regardless.”
One of the problems, I suggested to Nigel, was that social media blows things out of all proportion. Nigel agreed: “I’ve seen stories appear in the press about some issue with fireworks that originated on social media. These stories are impossible to verify and are often isolated.”
A long-held concern amongst my Forum members for example is how a small but vocal anti-fireworks group is lobbying MPs and even local councils with distorted and in some cases factually incorrect data to massively overplay the impact of fireworks or public opinion on the matter. Nigel is a member of the BFA and says they are well aware of this. “The BFA is very active here, fighting to stop any legislation like this and informing politicians and law makers with relevant facts to counter claims made by groups like this. Most of this work is behind the scenes, however.”
It isn’t actual law yet and I asked Nigel wether he thinks it’s a done deal. “I hope not but the Scottish government seems to have a different agenda,” he replied. “Because we already have other recent legislation in Scotland now in place, such as the 5kg NEC limit per sale to consumers and restricted on sale times.”
As for his views on how this could affect fireworks in the rest of the UK, Nigel said: “Westminster seems keen to keep the status quo however there is always a worry that a change of government might cause problems. I hope a future government doesn’t react to hysteria on social media created by a minority.”
After covering somewhat negative issues such as price rises, shortages and law changes, it was nice to move on to something a lot more cheerful in comparison: death. Specifically, having one’s ashes placed into a firework so you can be sent on your way with a bang. This is a growing side of the business which Nigel does through his sister company, Heavenly Stars Fireworks.
“We were first asked if we can put someone’s ashes into a firework several decades ago,” Nigel said, relieved to have moved on from talking about fireworks legislation. “So it’s a service we have provided for a long time, though we only started marketing it around a decade ago when we created Heavenly Stars Fireworks.”
I asked him if it was just people’s ashes that went into fireworks or whether they also did pets. “Yes, we can and do put pets’ ashes into fireworks,” he confirmed. “In fact, we’ve incorporated a horse, a few dogs, cats, a parrot and a couple of budgies.”
It was clear that Nigel and his team took great pride in their ashes service, helping loved ones see off their relatives in a firework. “We’ve even incorporated a person and their pet together, in the same firework,” Nigel added.
The service, which incorporates ashes into fireworks which the client can fire themselves, is available all year round. Fireworks available for incorporation of ashes include large display rockets – the traditional “going out with a bang” – and longer lasting barrages which have a mixture of colours, effects and sounds.
Adding ashes to fireworks isn’t something a member of the public should attempt themselves. “We have a special process for incorporating the ashes into the rockets and cakes,” Nigel explained. “It has to be done in our licensed fusing shed as it’s classed as an act of manufacture.
“Initially we had to do extensive testing to ensure the performance of the fireworks would not be hindered by the addition of the ashes and subsequently we test each new batch with the correct amount of ashes incorporated to ensure the safety of the products.
“In addition we have also had the products classified and authorised, including the ashes, to comply with regulations.”
A full professionally-fired service is also available for those who don’t want to set up and let off their own fireworks.
“We first saw this in China 6 or 7 years ago,” Nigel explained, “and we were very impressed. Indoor pyrotechnics were a good addition to our services. Although the effect itself is limited to sparks, it’s spectacular. It’s completely non-explosive and great for stage work, weddings and so on. We’ve fired it at the Giants Live Britain’s Strongest Man event, at ‘An Evening With Anthony Joshua’ at the 02, the Essex cricket ground and more.”
Display Manager Colin added some technical info: “The system is a series of pods and you can control the burn time, intensity and height,” he said. “The effect is created by burning non-explosive titanium granules over an element that reaches over 600 degrees celsius and which are then blown out with a fan. However the key thing is that when the sparks come out they are cold – you can even put your hand in the jet – making it safe for indoor use.”
I was struck by how, despite everything, Nigel and his team are incredibly positive. The hope is that the pandemic will be an increasingly distant memory and 2022 and beyond will see society return to normal. Of course, there will always be challenges when you’re importing goods from China, but Dynamic is clearly in good hands.
With thanks to Nigel and his team for their time and hospitality.
Click on the image below to open up a 360 degree view of the Dynamic Fireworks shop which you can explore at your leisure: