Name: Steven Marson

Age: 62

Titles: Chief executive officer, Martin and Ware Corp.

Companies: Central Maine Pyrotechnics and Pyrocity Maine Fireworks, Farmingdale

About: A fireworks production company and retail fireworks chain.



What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Finding people that want to work.

The second thing is the bureaucracy that’s out there. Look at what’s going on in the world today, with taxes and all this stuff. Being in business, you don’t know how to plan.

(The United States is currently imposing tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese goods, which raises the price to U.S. buyers of those goods. China has responded in kind, levying tariffs on a range of U.S. products. While more tariffs on Chinese-made products reportedly are being considered, as of Friday, fireworks — the bulk of which are produced in China — were not subject to the additional tax.)

I import product into this country every day. I don’t know if there’s going to be an increased tariff price, trying to prepare for something and we don’t know what to prepare for. It’s concerning to me in my business.

When we buy containers of fireworks, they cost $150,000 a container. We import between 15 to 20 containers a year.


It depends on the business we do, but if we start getting an increase in the tariff tax, it’s a huge amount of money. If it just happens, how do you recoup that money? Because you already have a product you can’t change the price on. We have 300 contracts this year already. That’s a huge hit.

There’s uncertainty at the federal level as it relates to taxes and imports.

We have seen increases in shipping costs and our goods costs sitting at the dock. We have containers of fireworks come in, and they stay there for a week and it cost me $5,000 for two containers sitting there, that normally wouldn’t have had to sit there because of issues going on.

I’m concerned about that every day. I’m getting ready now to start planning for next year’s projects. We just finished with the Fourth of July this week. I’ll start calling all my customers — we did 100 contracts this week — and say we need to look at next year to secure the date, and if they say, “We want the same show as last year,” and sign a contract, if all of a sudden we have tariff prices go up 10 percent, 15 percent, how do I capture that? I don’t. I have 68 three-year contracts out of the 300, that guarantee the price for this year and the next two years.

In my business, we try to secure business for multi-years because the banks that lend us money like to see we have income coming years out. I have contracts through 2021.

It’s frustrating as a business owner.


When I know there’s a price increase going on in China, I’ll know this year about pricing next year. I already know prices are going up 12 to 13 percent this year from all the changes they are making. Instead of them dinging us for a 40 percent increase, they spread it out. It’s clever on the part of the Chinese. However, for the consumers who buy our product, I am trying to give them the best price; but it doesn’t matter if it’s me or they buy from someone else. We’ll all have the same prices. We all are fighting the same battle.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

I think I have to look back when I was just a young kid growing up.

My grandparents (Berton Marson Sr. and Harriet Marson) taught us to do a day’s work for a day’s pay. You don’t go home until the job is done.

Today is such a different environment from what it was 50 years ago, 40 years ago.

As you grow old in life and get in business, the most important thing, I find, is that your honesty and integrity is what people want. They want you to be truthful and honest in business. I learned that growing up, and I believe today that it’s not about getting rich. It’s about providing a product to the public that’s of the best price possible and best quality possible.


Be honest up front. If you can’t do something, don’t (try to do) it. Or if you can do something, tell them there’s other additional things that will be required.

I can only speak for my industry. My business is growing because of our integrity. The business that I’m getting from out of state is from my competition. People are doing business with us because we provide the best showmanship and value and the best quality. When we tell you we’re going to do something, we follow through and do it.

Some of my competitors out of state in New England used to be like that but started cutting corners. That’s going to come back and catch up with you in life as you do business. As a result of that, I don’t have to say anything but be the type of business that we are. We have to go the extra mile every day so our customers feel confident in us, in who we are and what we do.

I learned that from my parents (Berton Marson Jr. and Frances Marson), too. They both worked two jobs when us kids were growing up, to provide for us. It was a large family.

How do you foster creativity in yourself or your staff?

Collectively, I’m the head of the company and I’m the one making the decisions, but I have sons working here now. Anthony, 33, is the chief operating officer. Brian, 30, is the consumer division manager. It’s all new to them, working in the company in the last couple years. To realize the significance of how the business is changing globally every day is hard. It’s a focus. They’re millennials, and I’m old school. The creativity is they come up with ideas that I wouldn’t because I am old school. We sit down and talk about it. I give them the flexibility to be able to think it through and try to put that creativity in place.


Then we monitor and see how it works. They get it right sometimes and sometimes they don’t. Then we sit back and brainstorm some more.

I don’t have all the answers. The people that work for me have the answers. It’s important for me that I treat my employees like I want to be treated. I listen to them. I hold meetings and listen to their suggestions and allow them to be creative to try to make our work easier for them.

Over the last five years, we’re doing things so much different now, because of thinking through motion and time studies on all the stuff we do, loading fireworks, loading racks, loading equipment and packing shows.

The thing is less steps when you are younger means the longer you can work. I didn’t understand that until I went to college when I was 34, being able to look at the motions of every process we do and being able to analyze it to make it work smart for us. We work so much smarter today than we did five years, definitely more than 10 years ago.

What’s your biggest fear?

You always have the fear in the back of your head of what can go wrong.


We’re an explosives company. We all work at it safely and diligently in everything we do, but things can go wrong. I train my guys to expect the unexpected. We preach that every day in every show we do. It’s a constant reminder to my guys, to work safely and don’t cut corners, because I want you to come back the same way you went out.

You have the fear, but you don’t dwell on it.

In the last 10 days, we’ve had 135 shows in five states. That’s a lot of moving pieces.

That’s the fear I have — that something catastrophic going wrong.

Where do you see your company in five years?

I love working. I tell my children and the people that work for me that I’ll never get out of the business, but I don’t want to work 80 to 90 hours a week. I want to work 20 to 30 hours a week. I want our business to continue to grow and be as successful as it’s been for 31 years. That depends on the people that work for me. They’ve got to have the initiative and drive to continually develop and grow the business.

I feel very fortunate that I have two children that will continue to carry on Central Maine Pyrotechnics, hopefully for another 30 years. They’ll carry on and want to do what I’ve done and continue to develop and get creative. We’re into electronic firing, pyro-digital firing and music and things. Thinking outside the box and creativity is what that generation will do going forward.

I have 55 licensed crews working for me, with an age range of 21 to 70. The kids that are 21 through 35 are fully creativity. When we build shows and we video it, and I see the videos, I see what was me, 46 years ago, staring out and building shows. They are making shows more creative and unique. Every show is different because these technicians use the fireworks. It wasn’t me. I only provided the fireworks. They built and created the shows.

I am very fortunate to have them.

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