THERE cant be many businesses where clients are delighted to see their hard-earned cash go up in smoke but its a daily occurrence for Steve Illidge.
Tucked away on a trading estate next to Runcorns Weston Point Expressway is his Highlight Pyrotechnics, a fireworks firm that gives you more bang for your buck.
Mr Illidge, 42, said he was smitten as a youngster: I used to do sound and lighting work. Someone asked me to do some fireworks as well and I fell in love with the whole concept of it and thought, this is more fun than pressing buttons.
He set up a fireworks business and was Shell Livewire North West Young Business Person of the Year and national runner-up. But the collapse of a key client in 1993 took his firm with it, three weeks after getting married.
He said: I do a lot of charity work now, including debt counselling, because I have been there. I am fairly passionate about that.
But in 1998 he and two partners launched Highlight and, after buying out his co-founders, he now runs the business which quadrupled capacity in a relocation to bigger premises this year.
Mr Illidge said: We were stagnating where we were. Now were ready for the next stage, which is bigger growth and taking on sales personnel in the next 12 months.
In common with most UK companies Highlight imports all its fireworks from China.
Mr Illidge said there are more than 1,000 firework factories in China, most the size of the nearby Halewood car plant, employing many thousands.
However, while most churn out standard product, Highlights are made to order as Mr Illidge designs all his own fireworks. And because he has had a relationship with the same factory for 13 years, he said Highlights ooh and aah factor is a given.
We design a connoisseurs firework, whatever the price range, he said.
The days of rockets in milk bottles and lighting the blue touch paper are gone, but he said: Nothing is, pardon the pun, rocket science, but it is a highly complex job.
Highlights work ranges from wedding displays to huge public and corporate events, as well as working with bands such as Elbow, Status Quo and Westlife, and creating controlled special effects for film and television.
Their offices are used to prepare fireworks for shows stock is stored in a separate, secure facility but they also act as a public sales counter for their wares, including their new Magnum range which can offer anything from a selection box to large single ignition fireworks.
Unsurprisingly, their busiest period is the first week of November which accounts for 75% of turnover. Sales hit £400,000 last year and are tipped to top £500,000 in the current year.
Mr Illidge said: We are doing 28 big shows in the first week of November, from Dumbarton to Gravesend.
The firm employs five full-time staff, which Mr Illidge hopes to double as part of his expansion plans, but has 30 crew members working on displays.
Another area of growth for Highlight is a change in European regulations for the industry in 2017, mainly in labelling, testing and competency training. Mr Illidge said the firm is already up to speed
That could lead to new opportunities because, as part of its relocation, the business created on-site training facilities. Mr Illidge said: 2017 will sort out the businesses that are prepared and those who are not.
We are five years ahead of the game, so we can train other people, like Trading Standards and the Police, what to look for.
More immediately, though, he said Highlight is preparing for its next big event, the Southport Firework Competition on September 29, where it will reveal a new innovations with its special fire sculpture.