Talking Shop with Rick Hoffman of Hoffman Family Fireworks

Monday, June 21, 2010
Rick Hoffman is the owner of Hoffman Family Fireworks in Cape Girardeau. (Kristin Eberts)

Rick Hoffman of Hoffman Family Fireworks in Cape Girardeau helps local families celebrate Independence Day with fireworks he imports directly from China. Hoffman recently retired as superintendent of Altenburg School District 48 after 28 years and now devotes himself year-round to his fireworks business.

Q: Tell me about your new Patriotic Light Show.

A: The Patriotic Light Show is our way of reminding people of why we celebrate the Fourth of July. We do have a freedom in this country that is the envy of all the world. It is our veterans who have secured our freedom and we need to periodically recognize them for what they have given each of us. The title of the light show is "Freedom is the Reason for the Season." This is a computerized light show consisting of 20,000-plus lights. There are electronic fireworks, [an] electronic flag, multiple colored stars and light columns that all light up to patriotic music. It is similar to the Christmas shows where the lights are computerized to music. The show plays every evening from 9 to 11 p.m. until the Fourth of July. We will be accepting donations for the Honor Tour, the group that takes Heartland veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the sights and see the war memorials.

Q: Why do you think people enjoy fireworks so much?

A: Fireworks have become increasingly popular and more people are having their own shows because it is much easier and safer to use fireworks than ever before. There are many varieties of effects, and the overall performance of fireworks has greatly improved over the past 15 years. People are also using fireworks to celebrate other occasions and special events. We have begun supplying a number of wedding venues with fireworks to be used at the receptions. A small display lends itself to some great picture-taking and is always enjoyed by all.

Q: Tell me about growing up in the fireworks business. Does your family help with the business today?

A: I grew up selling fireworks in a make shift fireworks stand next to my father's service station. We would take a dozen pieces of plywood and haphazardly nail them together for a very temporary stand. We never sold too much but it was fun and it taught me a lot about retail sales and how to make change but I stopped selling fireworks during my teen years. It would be 10 years and after getting married and moving to Cape and having four children that my wife and I decided it might be fun to get back into the business. Our children were old enough to help and so it became a very family oriented effort. We started small and each year tried to improve the business in some way. We always wanted to have the best quality of fireworks available. We were obviously concerned about the issue of safety especially with children involved. Three of our four children still come back every year to help in the stands. It has always been a special time for our family and we love to tell stories about what we all remember about different seasons.

Q: How has the fireworks industry changed through the years?

A: The biggest change in fireworks has been the improvement of the quality and safety of most fireworks. It still takes a great deal of effort to find the best items available for consumer use. We work with five major importers and I go to China every other year to visit factories and check out what is happening in the industry.

For the most part, all fireworks are made in China. They are made by hand in more than 400 different factories located mainly in the Hunan Province. My trips to China have been very enjoyable. It is a huge country with very friendly people and great food.

Q: Your business has a very short season. How do you balance out the rest of the year?

A: The fireworks season is short, but, as often is the case, what goes on behind the scenes is much more involved. We order most of our fireworks from China in October and start receiving shipments as early as February. We attend many firework shoots to see new products and I usually spend time with all of our importers talking shop and preparing for the upcoming season. We unload truck and warehouse products in the spring and get all items ready for the Fourth of July.

Since we are licensed to sell year-round we continue to supply fireworks for special occasions throughout the year.

Q: Can you offer any fireworks safety tips?

A: We only handle Class C or consumer fireworks. These are the type you see in all the fireworks stands and they have become very safe if they are properly used. Overall, the injury level from the use of fireworks has been dropping significantly every year. My main message is to use fireworks as they are intended to be used.

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