Morning Sun
  • First fireworks season in new building for Jake's Fireworks

  • There’s a joke that has been making its way around Jake’s Fireworks lately. When it rains, workers say that they have to go close the trailer doors.

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  • There’s a joke that has been making its way around Jake’s Fireworks lately. When it rains, workers say that they have to go close the trailer doors.
    Not very funny? Let Mick Marietta, Jake’s Fireworks wholesale sales manager, explain:
    “It’s a joke, because we’ve had years of having to close trailer doors in the rain. And now, we don’t have to worry about that,” Marietta said.
    That’s just part of the “night and day” difference that Jake’s Fireworks has seen since purchasing and moving into the former Superior Industries building.
    In the late 1920s/early 1930s, the first Jake’s Fireworks store was located at Fourth and Lone Star Road (200th St.), about a mile west of the Pittsburg city limits.
    Over the years, Jake’s Fireworks slowly expanded, moving portions of its business all over the city, including an expanded presence near their original location, a company headquarters near 20th St. and the U.S. Highway 69 bypass, and a retail store on North Broadway in Pittsburg.
    But these sites had their problems. The “pick” area, where product was picked up and delivered to waiting trailers, was not very large.
    For example, Marietta said that if two trucks came out of scheduled order, there was not enough room for the orders for both trucks to be set aside for pick-up. The previous warehouse, he said, was a constant shuffle of products.
    “We didn’t have enough room to store more than two skids of something. We were constantly moving,” Marietta said. “In the past, there was no room. We were always on top of each other. We’d just use whatever space was available.”
    Last summer, Jake’s was already looking into the Superior building, which had been empty for several years, when an incident provided a strong example of why the move was needed.
    Shiping containers full of fireworks surrounded a storage building near the company’s original location at 4th and Lone Star. A fire on June 19, 2012, reached four of the containers just a dozen or so feet from the building. Three only had cardboard inside, but the third had product inside, causing the sounds and sights of fireworks to blast during the efforts to put out the blaze.
    The added difficulty was that there was not a fire hydrant at or near the site. Fire engines had to go in rotations a mile or more away to fill up with water before returning to help put the fire out.
    “It’s because of this that we want them in Superior,” said then-Pittsburg Fire Chief Scott Crain at the time. “There’s good water, good sprinklers, they’re going to have aisles between products, and they won’t have stuff stacked on top of stuff like this.”
    Page 2 of 4 - Front end
    If it seems as if there is no trace left of Superior Industries, it’s because the place has been wiped of practically every symbol of the former occupant.
    “Every inch of the floor has been scrubbed,” Marietta said, noting the company bought a Hyflo pressure washer to help in the process.
    A walk inside the front door shows a cinder-block wall that has been covered in a timeline of Jake’s history, with pictures of the first fireworks stand and a map showing all the company’s warehouses across the country. For a while, there was a World Class Fireworks flag out front.
    One particular difference is the showroom. The walls of this room are stacked high with merchandise, ranging from the “Pyro Playhouse” to “Bombchickabombomb,” “One Bad Mother” to “The Big Hombre.” The walls are painted the colors of the company, three tabletops have the World Class Fireworks logo affixed to them, and even the plastic covers over the fluorescent lights have been emblazoned with the company logos.
    “Our old showroom was like a coat closet we’d added onto. We didn’t have room to sit down, and have our customers fill out their orders. Here, from an iPad, I can run all three of the TVs in the room,” Marietta said. “It’s state-of-the-art ordering, and multiple customers can be here at the same time.”
    An April demonstration of their products brought customers from Alaska to Maine to the site, and a 35-40 percent increase on the number of attendees for the annual shoot-off.
    “It’s just because we could fit people. Other places are great, but they can only fit so many people,” Marietta said.
    Back end
    As part of the deal to purchase the Superior building, Jake’s Fireworks brought in a nationally recognized fire code expert, Rick Thornberry, to help work with fire officials and Jake’s to bring the building up to the proper safety standards.
    Thornberry’s influence — and the amount of investment by Jake’s — can be seen on a tour of the facility.
    Support beams are covered in a thick coating that will help delay a collapse in the case of a fire. Fire doors and “fire curtains” help separate the building into “pods” that could be isolated in case of a fire. Existing fire prevention systems were upgraded and overhauled. There are standpipes — for lack of a better description, indoor hydrants — that would allow fire crews to hook into the water system from inside the building rather than pulling hoses from outside.
    But while the safety has been a priority of the new building, the biggest improvement for Jake’s has been its efficiency, Marietta said.
    Page 3 of 4 - “We can do ten times more than what we used to. It’s so much different,” Marietta said. “There’s no way to describe how much more capabilities we have compared to what we had.”
    It starts with a staging area large enough to fit dozens of orders. Loading docks are covered and plentiful. There are two “mirrored” pick areas that are each larger than their old building. In addition to the pick areas, there is an area just for storage, so that if products in the pick area get low, additional product in boxes with Chinese-to-English sounding names (like “Perfect Silence Fountain” and “Mordern [sic] Outlaw”) can be moved in from just feet away. The retail and wholesale portions of the business can operate out of almost entirely different sides of the building.
    “From a standpoint of growth, it’s opened up so many doors and possibilities,” Marietta said. “There were things that we couldn’t have dreamed of, and now we can take them on.”
    That includes one particular area in the back of the new building, where a state-of-the-art machine created in conjunction with Pittsburg State and Phillips Petroleum churns out high-density polyethylene tubes, a patented product for Jake’s that they say helps separate them from competitors.
    “The day we knew the Superior building was going to happen, this was, ‘OK, go.’ We couldn’t even have dreamed about it until we got the space. It runs 24/7,” Marietta said.
    The building was also made more green, with the addition of LED lights and skylights to help reduce the energy costs in the building. Pallets are reused at the location.
    But the massive size of the location caused a few... interesting problems.
    “One of our secretaries said that to walk to the back bathroom and back was a quarter of a mile,” Marietta said, noting that additional plumbing and bathroom facilities have been added.
    The company’s had to buy golf carts to help move around from one side of the building to the other.
    It’s all added up to a rapid expansion. Marietta counted off close to 40-45 jobs, including some seasonal positions, that have been added just since the move to the new building.
    Marietta thanked the city and community for helping make the project happen. The city pitched in for a $700,000 forgivable loan to help Jake’s with the transition.
    “I can’t say enough about the community. Jake’s hasn’t grown because of any one thing or person. It’s the community support,” Marietta said. “Mark Turnbull, Scott Crain, Mike Simons, the city council themselves, the [Economic Development Advisory Committee], the Planning and Zoning Board... they all stepped up to the plate to make sure we could do what we do.”
    Page 4 of 4 - With a building of nearly a half-million square feet, one might think this would be all the room Jake’s Fireworks would ever need. But that’s not necessarily true.
    “Some day, we will outgrow this. It will happen someday. Right now, we can only stack 10 foot high in here,” Marietta said.
    “Even though we have the distribution center and warehouses across the country, it’s still a family business. There’s a larger footprint, but the family atmosphere, and small-town feeling is still here.”
    Andrew Nash can be reached at anash@morningsun.net or by calling 620-231-2600 ext. 140.

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