|(Above) Manufacturing operator Shawn Gaddy presses three-inch comets.
(Right) A three-inch pearl glitter comet is ready for packaging.
(Below) Aaron Mayfield, company owner and CEO, holds a four-inch salute that is ready for the pasting process.
All kids are fascinated by Fourth of July fireworks displays. About 30 years ago a certain young farm boy in Polk County was no exception to that rule.
Since then that farm boy has proved it is an exceptional individual who knows at an early age what he wants to be when he grows up ... and then follows through and becomes exactly that.
"I absolutely loved fireworks as I was growing up on my folks' farm," says Aaron Mayfield. "But it wasn't just the noise and bright lights that fascinated me ... it was the artistry of the whole experience. I knew early on I wanted to make this my life's work."
Growing up as an only child on the 200-acre farm near Pleasant Hope, Aaron was relentless in his fascination with pyrotechnics. His parents didn't quite understand his single-minded determination, but as the years passed they helped mold it in an entrepreneurial direction.
Today Aaron is the owner and operator of A.M. Pyrotechnics LLC a few miles south of Buffalo, Mo. The company, which Aaron started in 1996 as a designer and developer of professional pyrotechnic displays, was created to meet local demand.
He began selling consumer fireworks in 1995 to help fund a large display he was creating for his church. The show drew more than 300 people. Word soon spread that Aaron produced a dazzling display. Other local groups asked him to produce shows for them. That led him to research the industry and his local market.
"I proceeded to acquire all the information I needed to meet legal requirements and then I began with three small displays ... for a local baseball team, a local church and a small private show."
After producing and performing those displays he realized this was the business for him. So he created a marketing plan, approached several large display coordinators and started A.M. Pyrotechnics.
"I achieved about $120,000 in sales that first year," he recalls. "From that point on it's been nothing but increases. I still have my first dollar framed. The rest is now history."
That history over the past 14 years has been anchored by Aaron's philosophy of providing nothing but high-quality displays with top-quality material for the viewing public. While many pyrotechnic practitioners in the U.S. emphasize audible salutes and "loud boomers" in their displays, Aaron has always been most concerned with the artistic choreography of pyrotechnics.
"For the displays I design to music, I take the sound track and I match the musical notes to within one-tenth of a second with the fireworks explosions," says Aaron. "When a client completely turns control over to me on a musical fireworks display, I can evoke emotions in the crowd to the point of tears one minute, and laughter another."
He believes some of the best expressions of his work have appeared at international firework conventions and competitions. Among his peers, Aaron is considered one of the top pyro-musical choreographers in the world. He's been repeatedly asked to produce the display finales for several international conventions in the U.S.
It is this uncompromising emphasis on high-quality displays that recently led Aaron to make a significant change is his business. Last year he decided to move into manufacturing commercial-level pyrotechnics. To achieve the quality product he needed, Aaron enticed long-time friend and industry legend Bill Page from California.
Aaron and Bill met 10 years ago at an international competition: "I saw two particular shells that appeared to be a considerable notch above all the others I had seen at the convention. I set out to find the man who produced those shells and it was Bill Page."
The pair maintained contact through the years and Page now works for Aaron, producing "some of the highest quality fireworks in the world."
With quality production standards assured, Aaron proceeded to assemble a facility and gather a well-trained manufacturing staff.
"I wanted to bring manufacturing back to the good old USA. We can do it better, much better, and I could provide jobs to a lot of locals," boasts Aaron. "Our technology is a cut above the Chinese, and I always strive to have the highest quality fireworks, not the cheapest."
However, as he stretched the business, Aaron encountered challenges. A local bank pointed him to the Small Business and Technology Development Center experts at Missouri State University in nearby Springfield for advice. There he worked with Isabel Eisenhauer, SBTDC business specialist. She helped Aaron address some of the challenges of growth, such as managing more people.
"It is difficult to manage a lot of personalities, and keep everyone super safe. The SBTDC has helped me through a lot of the structuring," says Aaron.
"But I would say the #1 helping factor was detailed training in creating a business plan for the growth. Few people know how large a task creating a business plan is. Isabel also helped with accounting issues and banking needs. It's tough in today's banking market, and Isabel is helping through many issues with this."
So by using his natural inclinations, the talents of professionals like Bill Page and Isabel Eisenhauer, and the eager and disciplined workforce in his native southwest Missouri, Aaron Mayfield is tackling the explosive growth of A.M. Pyrotechnics.
"I have entered into a new world of success with Isabel's help."
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This story was featured in the June 2009 newsletter.
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