When your business is seasonal, there are a whole new set of challenges. For Chuck and Deb Decker, owners of Decker's Uncle Sam Fireworks and former SCORE clients, they accept long hours, new competition and other issues with a smile.
"This business is a blast!" the couple said.
Established in 1976 by Mel Decker, Chuck joined his father in the business shortly thereafter. Together, they grew the business and soon had a constructed stand in Angelica and a trailer in Abrams. In 1996, Chuck and his wife, Deb, took the next step and built a mega-store just off of Highway 41 on Deerfield Avenue in the village of Howard.
The smaller locations were closed so the couple could devote time to making the new store the best in the area. They developed strong relationships with vendors, and traveled the country to find the best products.
"Through trade shows and demonstrations, we pick and choose the best products," Chuck said. "We test everything we sell or have seen it work, and pass along this knowledge to our staff."
Customers are treated to video kiosks with product demonstrations or can work directly with an iPad-carrying staff member. Deb programs the iPads, and their son, Keith, programs the kiosks, keeps the website current and works on social media. Another son, Brock, also helps. Both boys have other jobs, but when it gets busy, everyone pitches in.
That includes cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and other family and friends. The staff swells from six to 10 part-timers to about 40. The store opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 10 or 11 p.m. As the holiday nears, the store hours increase until it is open almost 24 hours a day.
The Deckers work 80 to 100 hours a week, and say that they are either working or sleeping. Chuck said he'll grab three hours of sleep and get right back at it. Deb is quick to explain that it doesn't mean they get to take it easy the rest of the year.
"It's like cooking," she said. "More than half the work is in the prep. There is a perception that we work a few weeks a year, but obviously that's not the case. Ordering for the next year starts in August."
About 75 percent of business is done during the few weeks before and after the Fourth of July, with the Christmas season being the next busiest. They're also seeing more buying for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and funerals. That helps with budgeting because, unlike temporary stands, the Deckers have year-round costs.
However, being open year-round means complete devotion to the business, and has allowed them to fine-tune the operation. The offseason is spent ordering, shopping large expense items like insurance, visiting shows and lobbying to protect people's rights to use fireworks in Wisconsin.
They are on a continuous quest to make their business better, and consider new competition as an opportunity to prove they can do things better. They store inventory in a climate-controlled warehouse, and guarantee against duds, a problem caused by improper storage.
"We have an awesome crew, and really appreciate our loyal customers who come back year after year," Deb said. "We are all pyros at heart."