By JAMISON COCKLIN
In a first for the consumer fireworks industry, Youngstown-based Phantom Fireworks is using Barnes & Noble Nook Color Tablets to show customers strolling its showrooms just how impressive some of its products are.
The tablets were modified during a three-month period by information-technology experts Ray Detwiler and Joel Kendall, who work within the company’s digital-media division.
The technicians modified the software to accommodate specialized secure digital cards to store product demo videos and a calculator application that allow sales representatives to give demonstrations and quickly add product costs for consumers.
“For the majority of Phantom’s history, our product has sold based on the artwork on the box, which can
diminish each product’s actual effect,” Kendall said. “Now, for those without a smartphone or our application, salesmen can approach customers and ask ‘Have you seen this yet?’ It’s very helpful to do a demo for the customers.”
For Phantom Fireworks, which rolled out one of the industry’s first mobile applications last year, its latest innovation is yet another notch on the belt for a company started in 1970 by Bruce J. Zoldan, who at the time was selling food and small-time fireworks to anyone interested on his sales route.
Since then, Zoldan has guided the company to become an industry leader with 60 showrooms in 16 states,
including 12 showrooms in Ohio. The company has about 1,200 locations nationwide, which include temporary outlets and retail partners.
In its conventional-retail format, the Nook is used as an e-reader and entertainment device. Popular applications include downloading novels, web-browsing and watching movies on Netflix.
Detwiler and Kendall chose the Nook for several reasons. They initially had considered the Apple iPad, but after discovering the tech giant did not allow software modifications and figuring on a sales price of $500 for each individual tablet, they decided on the Nook.
“We were able to get Nooks for a lower price than an iPad; $100 versus $500,” Kendall said. “Nooks have a better functionality. We also didn’t want sales associates to have full-access tablets with games and everything on them.”
“You can strip a Nook down easier,” he added.
What’s more, the 140 videos included on each device were shot by an Ohio company and then edited by Detwiler. In all, more than 300 tablets were modified. Since January, when a trial run was completed at three stores in Florida, anywhere from four to six tablets are used at Phantom’s showrooms across the country.
“After the trials in Florida, all the Nooks we had purchased and modified practically paid for themselves,” Kendall said.
Bart Logan, a spokesman for Phantom Fireworks, declined to provide specific figures on any boost in profits that have resulted from the company’s latest sales tool, but he did say that, “without a doubt it’s [Nook] been an immense success.”
Kendall described his excitement when last October he first got the idea for a modified-sales tablet.
“Ray and I were going to a tech conference in Indianapolis when I looked over and saw him playing a game on his tablet in the car,” he said, “I looked at it and thought it was interesting. Then it hit me; we should 100 percent use these in stores.”
From that point, Kendall pitched the idea to Detwiler who made the technology work. The technicians said the corporate office quickly got on board, and all the Nooks were distributed shortly after the January trials.
If anything, Detwiler and Kendall envisioned the tablets as giving an edge-up on the competition. One of Phantom’s primary competitors,
Alabama-based TNT Fireworks, has more than 5,000 TNT showrooms and stands across the country.
Despite Phantom’s innovation, TNT spokeswoman Sherri Fallin said the company will stick to its game plan. Sales tools at TNT include flat-screen displays that help customers visualize the products and QR codes, which are scannable bar codes that allow customers to view multimedia on their mobile devices.
Phantom has similar features in its stores, said Brian Brindle, showroom manager at the Meridian Road location in Youngstown.
Brindle said the tablets have been a great asset for his sales staff. He estimated that some customers spend more than 30 minutes with sales associates going through various product demos that might interest them.
Detwiler and Kendall jokingly acknowledged that the only downside to the new tablets will be the flood of customers in stores on the Fourth of July who want to see a demo on the tablets and make purchases for their neighborhood gatherings.
The technicians said they expect to roll out similar innovations in the coming year.
“This industry is very competitive,” Detwiler said. “We work with a very small team, but we’re always working and always thinking about the future. We’re already looking at 2013.”