This article explores your options for buying fireworks. If you are unsure whether you need consumer or professional fireworks then read the DIY or Professional? article for more help first.
Buying consumer fireworks – find a specialist
It is perfectly legal to buy consumer fireworks and let them off any time of year, although many people think you can only do this around Guy Fawkes. This is largely because most non-specialist firework outlets (supermarkets and corner shops) only apply for a temporary licence to sell them for a few weeks and cash in on seasonal business.
It often surprises members of the public to find there are a large number of specialist fireworks shops around the UK open all year. Plus, a thriving mail order industry so you can have fireworks delivered direct to your door.
So where possible, you should always try and find a specialist fireworks retailer rather than buy from a seasonal outlet who only stock fireworks as a sideline.
Here’s some good reasons why:
- Specialist fireworks retailers know their products. Most seasonal outlets such as supermarkets can only tell you what is written on the firework’s label. It is a sad fact (proven year after year by UKFR members mystery shopping in supermarkets) that most supermarket staff struggle to even understand the difference between a rocket and a roman candle let alone what each product does.
- Specialist retailers who are open all year will be there to help afterwards in case of any problems. Seasonal fireworks suppliers generally speaking are only in it for the money.
- Specialist retailers usually have an extensive range of fireworks, often from different brands. A seasonal supplier usually limits their range to a few profitable lines they want you to be buying from.
- Specialist suppliers are much, much better for buying ancillary fireworks items such as portfires (professional lighters), remote firing systems and safety gear.
- Specialist retailers these days normally have video clips available to show what each product does.
Finding a fireworks supplier – Use UKFR advertisers
Your first port of call when buying fireworks should be to one of the advertisers on UKFR. You can find their banners on the sides of the pages on the main site and on the Buy Fireworks page.
UKFR does not earn commission on firework sales from advertisers and does not even track your clicks. But it is a little fussy about who it accepts as an advertiser and knows many of the companies listed here. Some advertisers go back for years and have an active involvement in UKFR member events or the busy UKFR forum (where advertisers are tagged as “UKFR Sponsor”). You can read more reasons why you should be buying your fireworks from them here.
Buying from fireworks shops
Most large towns or cities have at least one all year fireworks shop. These offer an opportunity to go and look at the fireworks, see them in action on in-store video and chat to an expert before buying. If you are planning a Guy Fawkes display do visit well in advance – shops can be hectic on and around November 5th.
Most shops keep a very good stock of items and you can usually walk away with your items there and then.
Never buy fireworks from the back of a “white van” or the “bloke down the pub”, from unlicenced outlets such as car boot sales or market stalls, or from anyone who knocks on your door! No matter how much of a bargain they look, they could be illegal imports which have not even had the most basic safety testing. You won’t be quite so enthusiastic if they blow your fingers off or blind a child in your audience.
Buying mail order fireworks
If you don’t live near a shop or simply want the convenience of ordering on-line then you have a huge choice of retailers who can ship fireworks to you by courier. Again, start with UKFR advertisers as detailed above.
You will normally have to pay a shipping charge to have your fireworks delivered. Most retailers charge between £15 and £30. It is worth pointing out that fireworks are classed as explosives and a specialist courier has to be used. The actual cost of shipping the fireworks by courier can in some cases exceed £50 or even £100 for big display packs shipped to remote areas. Do bear that in mind before you berate your supplier for charging £20 delivery – most are making a loss on the delivery charge.
Firework orders nearly always require a signature on delivery by someone who is over 18 years old. They will come packed either in their original boxes (called “cartons”) or in specialist heavy duty boxes. All firework cartons have to be clearly marked, by law, as containing explosives.
There are some restrictions on what you can buy mail order and this is dictated by packing and shipping costs. A minimum fireworks buying order usually applies as a result. It is simply not viable for a retailer to pack and ship a few packets of sparklers by courier, for example.
Buying consumer fireworks – what to look for
Regardless of whether you buy fireworks in person or by mail order there are some important things to look out for:
- Only buy fireworks which are classified to British Standards BS7114 or its EU equivalent. These have been tested for safety, debris fall out and safety fuse delays amongst other things.
- Check your fireworks are intact and undamaged.
- Don’t forget to buy some firework lighters such as portfires, especially with mail orders as they cannot be sent afterwards on their own.
- It is recommended to watch the fireworks in-store or on-line before you buy so you can make an informed buying decision on what fireworks best suit your display.
Fireworks and the law
Be mindful that laws apply to the storage of fireworks. You can read more about storage in the Safe Fireworks Storage article and more about general laws that apply to fireworks and letting them off in the Firework Laws and Regulations guide.
Buying professional fireworks displays
If you have decided that a professional display is appropriate for you then you won’t get involved at any point with physically buying or handling fireworks. You should look for a firework company that offers professional or operator-fired displays as a service.
Many fireworks companies offer both retail and professional fireworks, some even have retail shops too. However many companies specialise only in professional displays. These specialists often don’t have a physical office because they are based in licenced explosives stores and for legal and safety reasons these are not open to public access. So this is one industry where lack of physical premises should not put you off.
Things to look for with a professional display company:
- They must be insured for public liability. £1million as a minimum is perfectly adequate although £5million is becoming the normal level with an increasing number moving up to £10million. Bear in mind the level of insurance cover is just that – a level of cover. A fireworks company insured to £10million is not necessarily better than one insured to £1million. You should ask to see proof of their insurance and do check it is current. A bonafide company will be more than happy to show you a copy of their cover or a covering letter from their insurance company. Don’t be afraid to call a company’s insurers to check the policy is genuine and never employ the services of a fireworks company who is not fully insured.
- Ask about staff training. Although it is not a legal requirement and there is no substitute for experience, it is generally accepted in the business that operators should be trained to a minimum standard. There are several training courses used within the industry. One is known as “BPA Level 1″ and “BPA Level 2″. This BPA course instructs operators in the minimum skills expected when firing a professional show with the more advanced “BPA Level 2″ course covering more in-depth skills. Another course used within the industry is the Illuminate Consult course. It is also generally accepted that firework displays should be crewed by at least two operators in case of an accident.
- Don’t be afraid to ask about the company’s safety record.
Many larger companies are members of an organisation called the BPA and will usually advertise this fact. They pay to become members and the BPA acts in the interests of the fireworks trade and its members. You can read more about the BPA on their website. It should be noted that there is no legal requirement for a display company to be in the BPA and a non-member will not necessarily provide any less safe or less quality display than a member.
Professional displays are often sold on the basis of duration. Please note that duration has no bearing whatsoever on the quality of the fireworks. It is perfectly possible for two displays to last for 10 minutes but one has a quarter of the fireworks the other has. So with that in mind be cautious of any displays sold to you solely on the basis they offer more duration for a given budget than a competitor.
Professional displays usually start from around £500 but with increasing insurance and material costs £800-£1000 is becoming the norm. Remember, higher costs are reflective of the company investing in insurance, staff training and better products. If you seek to cut costs with a professional display you could end up picking a company with inadequate insurance. You do get what you pay for, as the saying goes.
For an intense display with a “Wow!” factor, budget for around £100 per minute. So for a good 10 minute show expect to pay in the region of £1000. For an even better show, you could fire the same budget in less time. So, a £1000 show fired in 5 minutes would look even more spectacular. The reverse also applies: A firework company offering a 20 minute display for £500 is unlikely to be using spectacular or cutting edge fireworks!
Once you have covered the starting budget for a company then you have in effect covered the costs not just of fireworks but also crew, transport and insurance. Any extra money you can spend therefore goes directly to buying the fireworks. In other words a £1500 show would be significantly better than a £1000 show because the extra budget goes directly into buying more fireworks.
The fly in the ointment is Guy Fawkes. Because of the huge demand for displays it is not uncommon for a starting budget of £800 to increase to several thousands from the same company. You need to book very early and if your budget is limited consider a display outside of Guy Fawkes week.
To source a professional display start with the Buy Fireworks page for a listing of fireworks companies that includes those offering professional services. Distance is usually a factor in the sense that site survey and travelling costs would be more to a company on the other side of the UK to you. So it can sometimes (but not always) be cheaper buying a display from a more local company. The Fireworks Forum is also a good place to ask for help.
Further information about buying fireworks
As stated above, always start with UKFR advertisers such as those on the Buy Fireworks page when you are looking for a supplier.
If you are unsure whether you need consumer or professional fireworks then read the DIY or Professional? article for more help.
If you are a beginner and are working through the Start Here! guide, you can return to it here or choose another topic from the Beginner’s Guides menu option.