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Bonfire Night: What retailers must do to prepare for selling fireworks

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The most explosive and joyous night of the year is almost upon us: Bonfire Night. What was once a festival dedicated to foiling a plot to blow up Parliament has since turned into a celebration of bright lights, loud bangs and the bringing together of local communities for a common purpose: to have a good time.

Many retailers – both online and offline, big and small – can take advantage of the selling opportunities that this period of the year brings. Fireworks are big business for a very short stretch of the year and if you can sell them legally and responsibly, it might be worth taking up the opportunity to sell them.

Dealing with licensing and age of sale

First things first: fireworks are a restricted item. This means there is very strict legislation surrounding their sale and who they can be sold to, and sold by. For general sale throughout the year, you’ll need to apply for a licence from your local council.

However, there are certain periods throughout the year where retailers can sell less than 2,000kg of fireworks without a licence. These windows of opportunity are also close together, running through from October until the new year.

However, smaller businesses can take advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to bring in extra customers and boost sales in the windows of opportunity as highlighted here:

  • 15 October to 10 November
  • 26 December to 31 December
  • The first day of Diwali (27 October for 2019) and the three days before it
  • The first day of Chinese New Year (25 January for 2020) and the three days before it.

It’s important to understand that fireworks are age-restricted products. ‘Adult’ fireworks cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 18.

As a retailer, you have an obligation to ensure you are selling fireworks responsibly and conducting necessary identity checks.

There are severe implications for the sale of controlled goods, such as fireworks, to underage customers, including a fine of up to £5,000 or a prison sentence of up to six months. So if you want to sell fireworks, it’s imperative you are conducting business legally.

Operate a Challenge 25 policy to deal with age-restricted purchases

Sometimes it can be difficult to make the judgement on whether or not to ask someone for ID – and when it comes to buying fireworks, getting it right is vital.

Asking for ID may disgruntle certain customers and could lead to a loss of sales if the individual does not have their ID upon their person. Despite this, a disgruntled customer is a better than facing the prospect of a hefty fine or a prison sentence.

Train your staff under the principle of ‘Challenge 25’ and you will minimise the risk of underage sale of fireworks and any other restricted goods. Challenge 25 dictates that staff should always ID a customer if they look younger than the age of 25.

Carry out a risk assessment

Fireworks are one of the most awe inspiring things on the planet. However, they can be dangerous if handled incorrectly and irresponsibly. If you’re going to sell fireworks, you need to store them in the right way. The Health and Safety Executive has thorough guidelines on this. The core activity you must carry out is a risk assessment.

As fireworks are technically explosives, the way they should be stored is highly regulated and all risks must be calculated and accounted for. Your risk assessment should also be carried out on a formal risk assessment sheet and archived thereafter.

Although you do not need a licence to sell fireworks during the specified dates, you will need one to store fireworks.

Make sure you’re keeping fireworks away from any potential sources of ignition, and that they are kept in cool dry conditions to minimise any possibility of them becoming damp.

When selling any kind of age-restricted goods, it’s important that you also display appropriate notices about the nature of what you are selling, and the restrictions on who can and cannot purchase the items.

Three more things to consider when selling fireworks

Aside from health and safety checks and standards that you need to abide to by law, there are a number of other actions worth taking to help you make the most of the year’s most explosive night.

1. Research the market

Market research is important for any business decision that you make, especially when it comes to making an addition to your product mix.

However, there’s no need to carry out a full situational analysis for the entire firework period. A simple delve into your local competition, to determine the likelihood of you being able to sell fireworks at a profitable but still competitive price, is all you’ll need to do.

Look at the variety of fireworks, the price and the quantity that they are selling. If you see a gap in the product mix of your local competition, you should jump to fill it as soon as possible.

2. Provide a slick customer experience

The last thing you want at any peak period of the year is a bad purchasing experience for your customers. By the time they get to pay, the heavy lifting has been done. They simply want to make the payment and leave with their purchase – be it online or from a shop on the local high street.

However, you don’t want your payments system to go down when you’re trying to make a sale – of fireworks or anything, really.

In order to fully maximise efficiency in this key selling period (what with the likes of Black Friday and the winter sales season starting to kick in), it’s important that you have a reliable payment gateway, with little to no downtime and 24/7 customer service should anything go wrong.

By nailing down the final part of your customer experience, you will be able to ensure each sale is finalised and your customers are as happy as can be.

What is a payment gateway?

If you aren’t already accepting card and contactless payments, it’s worth making a move to offering them as payment solutions. To accept card payments, all you need is a payment gateway and a card terminal.

A payment gateway is a service that settles transactions between merchants and banks; all card payments will go through a payment gateway one way or another. There are a number of payment service providers (PSPs) on the market who provide a range of payment solutions for every size of business.

What should you be looking for from your payment gateway?

In peak selling periods, there are two features you should be looking for from your payment gateway: speed and reliability. If you are already taking card payments, consider these three questions:

  • How reliable is your system?
  • How much downtime do you experience?
  • How quickly are your payment problems resolved?

If the answers are less than satisfactory, you should look to switch to a PSP that offers little to no downtime and has excellent customer service scores on sites such as Trustpilot.

If you aren’t yet accepting card payments, look for a PSP who can provide as much value for money as possible. Reliability, fraud screening tools and excellent customer service are all features you should expect as standard.

3. Safely return unsold fireworks

In an ideal world, you wouldn’t ever need to return unsold fireworks as you would have sold them all. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.

Depending on your licence to store fireworks, you may wish to keep them on site securely and safely to sell during the following year. However, fireworks can be big and bulky and they can take up valuable storage space.

At the end of the firework period, it may be better to return any unsold fireworks to your supplier. This removes the burden of storage from your premises and will also allow you to recoup a portion of your initial investment.

Conclusion on selling fireworks

Ultimately, fireworks sales can create an explosion in revenue for your small business, and it isn’t an opportunity that you should pass up lightly. Of course, there is a degree of responsibility that comes with the nature of the product – and this needs to be considered with due diligence.

Make sure your payments system is up to date (and up to speed) regardless of the selling period, so no matter whether it’s fireworks or Christmas trees, you won’t miss out on any vital retail opportunities.