Some retailers might be alarmed to hear that this year's Guy Fawkes and Diwali celebrations are going to be a bit quieter than usual.
Don't worry, though - it's sound volume rather than sales volume that's going to be down. A change in European legislation means that all fireworks will be limited to 120 dB(A), so window-rattling bangs and booms will no longer punctuate the autumn skies.
"Legislation is clamping down on how loud bangs can be and so manufacturers have developed more defined colour visuals to provide something new," says Richard Brittle, purchasing director at Hancocks Cash & Carry. "Effects such as orange and lemon stars, strobe effects, bee effects and purple stars will be seen for the first time."
Barry Hill, sales director at Cosmic Fireworks, says that the market is static and likely to remain so unless there is a significant change in the birth rate, as firework parties are generally organised around children. What is changing, however, is the nature of the items people are buying.
"There's been a move in recent years towards 'exaggerated' fireworks which are bigger and louder, but cost a lot more," he says. "This has been driven by demand from the supermarkets, which have moved in and taken business which has traditionally been left to the independents. The multiples demand discounts from the manufacturers, which is unreasonable for a product with such a short buying window and fixed distribution costs, and the result has been that performance and value for money have both suffered in trying to please the big buyers. At Cosmic we've decided that we won't let that happen."
Hill says that he believes the public will not put up with paying more for less, and will choose Cosmic's brands - many of which, such as Golden Lion and Jumping Jack Flash, are available through independents "because they know if they buy from us they'll get quality".
He also points out that the brands are set at price points which will go some way towards allowing the retailer to compete with the multiples on margin. You will need to hold your nerve, too. "November 5 is a Monday this year, so you are allowed to sell fireworks up to the following Saturday, November 10. Don't think that once the 5th is over you should start discounting - you should get sales right up to the following weekend."
Hancocks' Brittle believes that smaller retailers can outdo the supermarkets by offering an extended range. "Multiple stores tend to offer a narrow range and this really is an opportunity for independents," he says. Hancocks has introduced party packs for 2007, in three sizes retailing from £50 to £150, and several bogof and multisave deals.
Government advice for firework retailers
You must register or obtain a licence to store fireworks. The periods where selling fireworks without a sales licence is permitted are: around Diwali (November 6-9, 2007) around Bonfire Night (October 15-November 10); New Year (December 26-31); and around Chinese New Year (February 4-7, 2008).
Fireworks should be sold in manufacturers' packed sets.
You must store fireworks safely. Best practice includes excluding sources of ignition and keeping them in their closed transport packaging.
You must not sell adult fireworks to anyone who is under 18. Caps, cracker snaps, novelty matches, party poppers, serpents and throwdowns cannot be sold to anyone under 16.
You must display a large notice reminding customers about the law with regard to underage sales and possession. These can be downloaded atwww.dti.gov.uk/fireworks If you don't comply with these rules you could be fined £5,000 or imprisoned for six months.