The tent in all it's majesty
The Forth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays. Between the backyard BBQ's, time spent with family, excessive amounts of drinking, catching up on some much needed time by the pool, and of course the fireworks - I've found myself looking forward to the Forth of July every year. While on Indeed a few months ago I saw a job posting for a "TNT Fireworks Tent Operator" that peeked my curiosity. Being short on cash and with some openings in my availability, I decided to research the position further.
Two weeks of operating a tent in the Walmart Supercenter parking lot located in Coventry, RI. I could set my own hours, work with whoever I wanted to, and best of all - I got 20% of all profits made. Seemed easy enough, Sign me up! I sent in my application and within 20 minutes I got a call saying I was approved to run my own TNT tent location. I guess the only real requirement was that I could provide my own transportation and my credit was above 550. I decided to run the tent with my girlfriend, Heather. Between the two of us we figured we could handle selling out of a tent for two weeks. Aside from an 8 hour training called "TNT University" which we had to "graduate" from in order to run the tent, we were all set to start this new undertaking.
Something I learned from doing this experience was that it is incredibly important to pay attention during the training. Unless of course, you've had previous retail experience, than this training covers just about every single thing you've ever been taught and you'll have to painfully sit through it while trying not to count the hours. Aside from a few key pieces of information on when the inventory would arrive and how to set up your tent to meet city specifications - this whole training could have been an email. Regardless, we graduated from our TNT University with no student loans (hardy har har) and were now waiting patiently for our start date.
All set up for our first day!
Getting Ready to Sell
Before you're able to sell out of your tent, there are about two full days of prep work that go into setting up your locations. Prior to you arriving at your location, New England Tent Co. sets up your tent in the parking lot. Once you get there it's your job to decorate the tent so it looks less like you're camping in a parking lot and more like you're running a business....in a parking lot.
This part of the process probably would have gone a lot faster with more than two people, but you make due with what you have; and we had two people. 3 accidental cuts with the box cutter and 7 hours later, our tent was set up and ready to go! Only thing missing? The inventory.
The next day we woke up early, drove down to the tent, and awaited the drop off. We knew we were expecting 3 pallets worth of inventory - we just didn't quite know how much that would be. In theory, 3 pallets of fireworks sounds like a small batch; but once you're shipment arrives and you have every box out on your tables, you start to question whether running a fireworks tent was really worth it. For the first few days we definitely had lost a lot of hope in ourselves from looking at all our full boxes of fountain fireworks. After double checking the inventory and recounting every box in order to make sure we were given the right amount of supplies (we weren't - always recount kids) we packed all the boxes up and moved them into our storage unit for over night.
That's not even ~half~ our inventory.
Open for Business
At 6AM on the June 22nd we headed down to the tent, opened the storage unit, and hauled out over 60 boxes of inventory to set up and start selling. Nothing builds muscle faster than hauling around 40 pound boxes every day for 2 weeks. I would definitely recommend this job to anyone looking to build up their arms, legs, and shoulders in a short amount of time because that's exactly what happened to me. #grateful #blesses #thesilverlining
Unboxing and setting up, every day it took us 45 minutes
2 hours and one fire marshal visit later - we were officially open for business! After coming down from the high that comes from putting in a lot of manual labor and finally seeing some rewards for it, there was nothing left to do but sit at our little cash register table and wait for people to come buy our fireworks.
For the first week of being open we spent more time people watching than we did selling fireworks. Don't get me wrong, we'd get a few customers a day but nothing to write home about. We'd get so excited if we hit $200 for the day, but we were definitely starting to worry about the outcome of this undertaking. So far, we seemed to only be attracting the odd balls of society who'd come by the tent, share a little too much about their personal lives with us, successfully creep us out, and leave without spending more than $10 at our tent if that. With the way things were going in the beginning - we didn't know what things were going to look like for us at the end of the two weeks.
Fully set up and stocked
Regardless of the struggles in the beginning, we continued to show up every day, haul out our inventory, and set up the tent for another day of selling to the good people of Coventry. Surely enough more business began floating in with the holiday getting closer and closer. However, more foot traffic didn't always mean more money. If I had a dime for every time someone came into my tent and complained about aerial fireworks being illegal in Rhode Island and asked if we were selling any under the table - I wouldn't have needed to sell anything. You also definitely get your fair share of shady characters. There were numerous times that we had to turn people away because they'd get all excited while buying the little fireworks and tell us how they were going to make make shift bombs with them. Uhhhhmmm, no, kindly get out of my tent please because that's just not happening.
Around June 28th things began turning around and we found ourselves with more business than we were used to. Luckily, having previous retail experience and a father who taught me to sell just about anything to anyone made it easy for Heather and I to work as a team and manage our little store. Sale after sale we watched our numbers grow and our inventory dwindle. What started as a massive mountain of fireworks stuffed into a storage unit turned into a few left over boxes with plenty of breathing room. I was so proud of us for everything we'd accomplished over the two weeks we sold, and admittedly eager to be finished. I will say the one thing I'll miss about spend long days out in that Walmart parking lot are the awesome sunsets.
Very real walmart, unreal sunsets
Closing Down & Returning Home
By the time we closed for good on the night of the 4th, we only had 18 boxes left to return to TNT. That sounds like a lot but when you start out with over 87 boxes, 18 small boxes is nothing. After tearing down all the decorations, packing up the signs, cleaning up the tent, doing inventory on our left over items, and lighting off one celebratory firework - we were ready to get up on the 5th and return our leftovers and get paid.
Remember when I said 18 boxes seemed like a lot but was really nothing? That point was proven even more at the return center when other tent owners showed up with over 30+ boxes to return. Turns out our tent did the best in Rhode Island even though we had the fewest people helping and it was our first time running a tent. I truly believe the more retail experience you have and the more you know how to sell, the easier this job is.
After getting everything squared away at the return center we walked away with a pretty decent chunk of change that we split 50/50. Overall, if I ever had the time to do this job again I would definitely do it. Maybe with a few more people and in a different location, but I'd still do this again. Although this experience was a lot of hard work and demanding physical labor - I enjoyed working for myself. I think this experience taught me a lot about myself and what I'm capable of doing as well as how to make things up as you go if you truly have absolutely no idea what you're doing (which is what it felt like some of the time).
If you're looking into running your own tent next year I'd definitely recommend doing it with a team of people you trust and won't go crazy being around every minute for 2 weeks straight. I'd also recommend dong your research. With retail experience this didn't require much thought on how to do inventory or sell to customers - but other tent operators did complain about those aspects. I also suggest working on your patience. Things are going to test you when you're operating your tent, be it the people, the hard work, or the long hours; but in the end you'll be proud of yourself and it'll all be worth it. Until next year TNT.
The person who made it all worth it