FROM WIND SPRINTS TO WINDFALLS: ORGANIZED RUNNING MEANS BUSINESS
With entrance fees ranging anywhere from $35 to $145, race events have transformed what was once a primarily solo activity into a lucrative production.
We like to think of family businesses being passed down from generation to generation, but the fact is, only 3 percent of family-run businesses make it to the fourth generation. New York-based Fireworks by Grucci is one of them.
What began 165 years ago as a tiny business has today become a multi-million dollar pyrotechnics company. Over that period, Fireworks by Grucci has been run by five—and soon to be six—generations of Gruccis; the children of Phil Grucci, the fifth-generation president of the company, are already working in the business.
“Our family is the key and core of our successes because of our unity and through thick and thin—the good times and bad times—we’ve been able to endure,” Phil Grucci said.
Angelo Lanzetta launched the family on its pryotechnic path after emigrating from Italy to the United States in 1870. But it wasn’t until Felix Grucci, the third-generation owner, took over in the 1920s that the business went from being a side job to a full-time moneymaking enterprise.
The company took off like a rocket from there. Today, Fireworks by Grucci is a global business that employs 160 factory workers, 30 office workers and 400 part-time pyrotechnicians across the world. Every year, the company produces 200 fireworks programs in the U.S., and this Independence Day it will run 85 shows across the country, including those in New York City, Las Vegas and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Grucci’s list of accomplishments also include nighttime displays at presidential inaugurations and Olympic Games, and two broken Guinness Book of World records.
On New Year’s Eve in 2014, the company created the world’s “largest firework display” in the skies above Dubai, firing nearly 480,000 shells in six minutes (for context, that’s about 10 times the number of shells used during the annual Macy’s July 4th fireworks show in New York City). Later that year, Grucci fired off the world’s “largest pyrotechnic show” for the 200th anniversary of the star-spangled banner, with a 600-foot high, 900-foot wide display of an American flag.
“When you watch a show unfold, the audience’s reaction and the accolades became addictive,” Grucci explained. “I knew from [when I was young] that I wanted to participate in the business.”
In recent years, Grucci has looked to diversify his company’s revenue streams—a move that was triggered by the period of mourning following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“When 9/11 came along there were no fireworks, there was no reason to celebrate anything,” he said. “I had to diversify the company.”
Instead of celebratory displays, Grucci partnered with the Department of Defense to create fake grenades and fake military bombs for training exercises. The military devices are nearly identical—down to the whistling sound a mortar makes on the battlefield or the loud boom of a grenade hitting the ground—to what soldiers might experience in war. What started off as small side business now generates a little more than half of the company’s revenue.
Like many companies, Grucci has also had to adapt to changing technology. Computer automation, for example, now allows technicians to determine to the exact millisecond when a firework will deploy.
“We’ve developed a small microchip that we include inside our aerial shells” to program the explosion, Grucci explained. The technology enables a handful of employees to deploy thousands of fireworks all at once, making possible displays that cover hundreds of acres, such as the record-setting extravaganza in Dubai.
So how does a 165-year-old company maintain its entrepreneurial spark and stay on the cutting edge of innovation? By mixing hard work and an unwavering commitment to family, Grucci says.
“We put our heart into every program, because we’re putting our brand—our family name and our heritage—on every single performance,” Grucci said. “We have to treat each one of them like it’s the first one.”