Business Monday: Big Island family has booming side gig selling fireworks for Fourth of July
July 3, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
* Updated July 3, 10:40 AM
In 1999, Ken Polido said yes when his sister’s friend asked if he wanted to take over merchandising for TNT Fireworks in Big Island stores during the New Year’s holiday.
At the time, he was working for Hawai‘i Paper Products and knew merchandising well. With a young family and mounting bills, the extra money from the fireworks gig would be helpful.
The family did the merchandising for more than a decade before taking TNT products directly to the customers 11 years ago with pop-up TNT Fireworks tent in Hilo during the New Year’s season.
The booming side business has become a family affair, with his children and grandchildren helping during the busy New Yearʻs season — and now for the Fourth of July, too.
On June 29, TNT Fireworks opened up a pop-up fireworks tent in the Hilo Safeway parking lot. Itʻs the only one in Hilo. It’s open 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday and 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, before shutting down until New Year’s Eve rolls around.
Heather Preus from Hawaiian Paradise Park in Puna was part of the steady flow of customers early Saturday afternoon.
Preus and her family usually spend the Fourth of July visiting family on the mainland, or their neighbors put on light shows. But this year, with her grandchildren on the Big Island, the family wants to celebrate with their own fireworks. It was the first time they had shopped at the TNT tent in Hilo.
TNT Fireworks offers a wide range of products to make Independence Day celebrations booming and colorful. It also sells the $25 firecracker permits that allow a holder to purchase up to 5,000 individual “red paper” string firecrackers. Paperless firecrackers and novelties do not require a permit.
The Preus family was happy the tent had their favorite fireworks — Red Snappers.
“It’s a pretty good selection,” Preus said as the kids browsed. She also was happy there were more quiet options, since some of the kids enjoy the lights more than the loud booms.
The tent has favorites such as Morning Glory giant sparklers and Pop-Its, those fun trick noise makers, as well as adult best-sellers like Crackling String firecrackers and those Red Snappers that pack a boom like thunder.
Customers also can find specialties such as Sir Dumps A Lot sparklers, Large Mouth with its crackling colorful flowers, and the Ground Bloom Flower with its fantastic ground spinner dances, swirls and changing colors.
For the backyard fireworks enthusiast looking for more, the tent also has fountains such as the Atomic Salsa, a finale fountain that seems to last all night with it’s dancing sparks of color and ti-crackle finish, and the Brain Buster that fires colorful sprays from all sides.
You can also buy assortments full of different types of fireworks, including Launch Pad Heroes, that offers the ability to be a force for good with wholesome family fun, and The Big Deluxe. And who could forget the smoke bombs? There’s even the TNT Poker Chip if you want to try your luck with a ground spinner that emits sparks creating silver circles with sparkles.
But while many people ask for aerials, they don’t sell them. They are illegal in Hawai‘i.
Prices depend on how much bang you want for your buck, starting as low as $3 for Pop-Its that glow in the dark and going as high as $399.99 for the Launch Pad Heroes assortment pack. The largest fountain available, Allegiance, is a 21-shot salute to America with its maximum load of comets and colorful stars and sells for about $120.
The tent also offers buy one, get one free deals on several products. The Polidos always keep the customer in mind, too, pointing them in the right direction to find the most for the best price.
It’s always been TNT Fireworks for the family. Kay-Leigh Polido, Ken Polido’s daughter who mans the register at the tent, said TNT products simply outmatch the competition with better and stronger quality. Ken Polido added that the family also has always had a good relationship with the company.
The tent’s customers, who mostly come from the Hilo, Puna and Hāmākua areas and also include tourists and newcomers to the island, seem to agree as they turn out in the hundreds.
Kay-Leigh Polido estimated the tent has seen an average of about 200 people per day coming through since it opened last week. That’s a good pace, but slower than last year. Joann Polido said the tent was hopping last year, with between 300 and 400 people an hour coming through.
Last year everything was opening back up following the COVID-19 pandemic and people were again getting out of the house and wanting to spend a little more on their Fourth of July celebrations. This year, inflation and other economic stresses are weighing more on people’s pocketbooks.
Sales are sure to pick up on the final days, as they do every year. Kay-Leigh Polido said the last day is always one of the busiest because of all the last-minute shoppers. But they may have less of a selection, with some of the best-sellers expected to be sold out by Monday afternoon.
After the tent closes for good on Tuesday, the Polidos could enjoy their own fireworks, after all it is a perk of operating the tent. But Kay-Leigh Polido said that by the time everything is all said and done the night of July 4th, rest and sleep normally win out over celebration.
Ken Polido said one of his favorite parts of the job is talking story with his customers, many of whom return year after year.
“I think it’s meeting different people and talking to them,” said his wife Joann Polido, adding those conversations aren’t about fireworks necessarily, but more about their lives. “Building those relationships is key.”
The tent averages about $10,000 in sales during the week of sales for the Fourth.
“If it makes money, it makes money,” Ken Polido said. “I pretty much leave it all up to God and he provides.”
At least 20% of the proceeds from the tent’s sales each year also go back to the community. Ken Polido said some profits are used for lawn and maintenances projects at the church his family attends: St. Theresa Catholic Church in Mountain View.
The fireworks tent also provides the family with time together. They work the tent together and stay there overnight to make sure the merchandise is secure. The fireworks business has even been a learning experience for Ken and Joann Polido’s children — and now grandchildren.
Ken Polido, whose regular job now is working for Hawai‘i Earth Recycling in Hilo, said none of it would be possible without the support the family has received through the years from his employers, the community, TNT Fireworks and even higher.
“I really thank God for everything He has provided for me and my family,” he said.
Editor’s Note: Big Island Now is starting a Business Monday series. If you have a business story idea, please send it to [email protected].