Atlas grapples with a labor shortage amid renewed demand
After a devastating year for fireworks in 2020, communities are back to hosting shows for July 4 and other summer vacations, with Jaffrey’s entertainment group Atlas PyroVision expecting to return to around 70% of the activity it had two years ago.
Steve Pelkey, CEO of Atlas, said that while the company has two sides – professional displays and multiple outlets, including one in Rindge – professional displays have always made up the majority of the business. Some are featured at sporting events or festivals, but the vast majority of their activity takes place on the July 4th public holiday, or the days just before and after.
“Fifty percent of our business is done in two weeks,” Pelkey said. “When you lose even 30%, that’s a big number. ”
Last year, COVID-19 hit in March, and many communities canceled their July 4 holiday postings, and business postings were down 92%.
“The past year has been pretty appalling,” Pelkey said.
2021 also looked slim, Pelkey said, with retail sales declining by around 35% from 2020 as there were more leisure options open to people this year, and the July 4th celebrations were still uncertain. in many communities. Until about mid-May, when surrounding states began to lift COVID-19 collection restrictions. Then he said, “Our phones started ringing without picking up.”
In a matter of weeks, the July 4 vacation was brought to about 70% of what business was in 2019, Pelkey said.
Some of these remaining gaps are communities that did not have time to do the complicated logistical planning sometimes involved in a big fireworks display.
However, Pelkey said communities that install displays this year typically sign multi-year contracts for displays in 2022 or 2023.
“It goes back to our traditional way of doing business,” Pelkey said. “It’s so much more optimistic than it was just two months ago.”
The other hurdle, Pelkey said, is that Atlas, like many companies, is facing a labor shortage.
Usually, during the period around July 4, 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 around 400 technicians and around 30 seasonal employees. This limits the number of shows they can perform per day, and the seasonal workers they have to work overtime during the industry’s “busy” season, which lasts about a month.
The business experienced a retail boom in 2020, when there were no municipal exhibits and backyard shows became a regular alternative. Despite the skimpy professional posting offers, Atlas was able to retain its 28 regular full-time employees and did not have to lay off or put on leave, but some of its professional technicians continued to look for other work in the meantime. . Filling those positions was not easy, Pelkey said.
“The job market is tough for everyone, and we are facing it,” Pelkey said. “At $ 15 an hour for seasonal work, we can’t get any requests. We are blessed with the employees we have.
While some fireworks vendors and display professionals report inventory shortages, Pelkey said if they had the employees it wouldn’t be a problem for Atlas, which keeps 18 months of inventory. at hand.
“We have the inventory. We could do any amount of business, as long as we had the staff, ”Pelkey said.
Pelkey said there has also been more interest this year in other holiday exhibits, such as Labor Day weekend, for communities that have not been able to ‘organize a 4th of July celebration.
“Overall this sounds very optimistic,” Pelkey said.