Atlas struggles with labor shortage amid renewed demand

  • Atlas Fireworks sales associate Nicholas LaPointe stocks firecrackers ahead of the July 4 holiday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Atlas Fireworks sales associate Nicholas LaPointe stocks firecrackers ahead of the July 4 holiday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Atlas Fireworks sales associate Nicholas LaPointe stocks firecrackers ahead of the July 4 holiday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Atlas Fireworks sales associate Nicholas LaPointe stocks firecrackers ahead of the July 4 holiday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Sales associate Jenna Doubleday rings up a customer purchasing an array of fireworks for the Fourth of July at the Atlas Fireworks storefront in Rindge. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Sales associate Jenna Doubleday rings up a customer purchasing an array of fireworks for the Fourth of July at the Atlas Fireworks storefront in Rindge. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Sales associate Jenna Doubleday rings up a customer purchasing an array of fireworks for the Fourth of July at the Atlas Fireworks storefront in Rindge. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/28/2021 5:11:29 PM

After a devastating year for fireworks displays in 2020, communities are back to putting on shows for the July 4 and other summer holidays, with Jaffrey’s Atlas PyroVision Entertainment Group expecting to be back to about 70 percent of the business it had two years ago.

Steve Pelkey, CEO of Atlas, said while the business has two sides – professional displays, and multiple retail locations, including one in Rindge – the professional displays have always made up the majority of the business. Some are put on during sporting events or festivals, but the vast majority of their business happens on the July 4 holiday, or the days right before and after.

“Fifty percent of our business is conducted in two weeks,” Pelkey said. “When we lose even 30 percent, it’s a big number.”

Last year, COVID-19 hit in March, and many communities canceled their Fourth of July holiday displays, and professional displays were down a whopping 92 percent.

“Last year was pretty abysmal,” said Pelkey.

2021 was also looking thin, Pelkey said, with retail sales decreased by about 35 percent from 2020, as there were more recreation options open to people this year, and July 4 celebrations still uncertain in many communities. Until about mid-May, when surrounding states began lifting COVID-19 gathering restrictions. Then he said, “Our phones started to ring off the hook.”

Within weeks, the Fourth of July holiday had been bolstered to about 70 percent of what business was in 2019, Pelkey said.

Some of that remaining gap are communities that did not have the time to do the complicated logistical planning sometimes involved in a large fireworks display.

However, Pelkey said the communities that are putting on displays this year, are typically signing multi-year contracts for displays in 2022, or 2023.

“That’s getting back to the traditional way we do business,” Pelkey said. “It’s so much more optimistic than it was even two months ago.”

The other obstacle, Pelkey said, is that Atlas, like many businesses, is faced with a labor shortage.

Usually, during the time around the Fourth of July, Atlas employs between 500 and 550 fireworks technicians to put on their shows, plus about 45 seasonal employees for its retail side. This year, they only have about 400 technicians available, and about 30 seasonal employees. This limits the amount of shows they can put on per day, and the seasonal workers they do have are working overtime through the industry’s “busy” season, which is about a month long.

The company experienced a retail boom in 2020, when there were no municipal displays and backyard shows became a regular alternative. Despite the skimpy professional display offerings, Atlas was able to retain all 28 of its full-time regular employees and didn’t have to do any lay offs or furloughs, but some of its professional technicians moved on seeking other work in the meantime. Filling those positions hasn’t been easy, Pelkey said.

“The labor market is tough for everyone, and we’re facing that,” Pelkey said. “At $15 an hour for seasonal work, we can’t get any applications. We’re blessed with the employees that we do have.”

While some fireworks sellers and display professionals are reporting inventory shortages, Pelkey said if they had the employees, that would not be an issue for Atlas, which keeps an 18-month stock on hand.

“We have the inventory. We could do any amount of business, as long as we had the personnel,” Pelkey said.

Pelkey said there has also been more interest this year in other holiday displays, such as for the Labor Day weekend, for communities that weren’t able to pull together a Fourth of July celebration.

“Overall, it’s looking very optimistic,” Pelkey said.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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