Who: Mike Ingram
Career: Founder and CEO of Ingram Enterprises, parent company of Fireworks Supermarkets, Fireworks Over America, Fireworks World and several investment companies. Fun fact: In 1978, he opened Wet Willy’s Water Slide on South Campbell Avenue.
MSU degree: Bachelor’s in sociology, 1972
Service to the foundation: Ingram has been on the Board of Trustees since 2009. He has served as vice chair (2014-15), chair (2016-17), ex officio past chair (2018-19) and chair of the finance/investment committee (2014-15).
Mike Ingram’s fireworks business lights up the sky across the country
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Just ask Mike Ingram.
As a boy, Ingram loved fireworks. The problem was, he couldn’t afford any. But that didn’t stop him from setting up his own stand one summer when he was 15.
Without asking his parents’ permission, Ingram found a supplier in Arkansas who sold fireworks on consignment.
When a truck showed up to deliver the explosives, his parents were not happy — but let him keep them.
Using scrap lumber, Mike and his brother Danny built a makeshift stand to sell their wares. They netted $150 that summer.
“I considered it a lot of money back then, since I didn’t have any money,” Ingram said. “And that was the start.”
It was the beginning of what is now one of the largest importers and distributors of consumer fireworks in the United States.
Booking bands and growing a booming business
While he was in high school, Ingram built his business a little at a time.
His freshman year at Missouri State, he opened a stand in Springfield. During his senior year, he secured a bank loan, bought out his wholesaler and formed his own company.
But that’s not all. While he was still a student, Ingram had a side gig bringing concerts to Springfield.
During the winter, Ingram booked bands. In the summer, he sold fireworks.
In between, he managed to earn a bachelor’s degree.
After he graduated, he brought in the Eagles and other big-name bands.
“I never imagined that I’d be doing rock ‘n’ roll concerts, especially to the degree I was doing them, at the age I was doing them. But I really enjoyed it. If I had wanted to expand, I was going to have to leave Springfield and take a position with a bigger concert production company and move. But I’ve lived in Springfield all my life. I’m a Springfield boy.”
So, he stayed and grew the fireworks business. Four years after graduation, Ingram started importing. “That was probably the next point where we really expanded out.”
In 1978, he opened his first interstate showroom. Today, that Fireworks Supermarket store is one of 19 outlets his company operates in eight states.
The company’s wholesale and retail divisions have roughly 150 employees. However, the workforce swells to 900 people during high season.
Now the company is poised to expand again. Ingram has more than 200 private label items that are exclusive to his company, and they are starting to sell display items.
“The consumer fireworks have gotten so good in the last 10 years that a lot of the display people, who shoot the big displays, have started using our products for parts of their show.”
That’s because it’s easier to get permits and there are fewer regulations for this type of fireworks as opposed to big-shell displays.
In 2018, Ingram’s business tweaked their product for the display industry in conjunction with a company called Pyro Spectaculars, one of the biggest display companies in the nation. Pyro Spectaculars specializes in choreographed shows that Ingram calls “firework musicals.”
Those fireworks were used in MSU’s spectacular display during Homecoming at the announcement of Onward, Upward: The Campaign for Missouri State University. A firework musical choreographed to the music of Queen and the MSU fight song lit up the sky over campus.
From the Eagles to basketball, he has a long relationship with MSU
Ingram’s support for MSU and involvement with his alma mater is long-standing.
- He received the Alumni Association’s award for Outstanding Young Alumnus in 1991.
- He and his wife Barbara are longtime members of The Founders Club, Missouri State’s most prestigious organization for donors. They hold a Platinum Medallion.
- The couple established the Mike and Barbara Ingram Endowed Scholarship Fund for Parkview High School students.
- They made a gift to support the Davis-Harrington Welcome Center.
- They are huge basketball fans and frequent the games.
And remember how he brought the Eagles to Springfield while in his 20s? Well, with help from his friend Les Garland, the co-founder of MTV and a Springfield native, the men were able to book the Eagles to open JQH Arena in 2008.
“We formed a little company and ended up getting the Eagles. It’s hard to get because even though the arena was considerably bigger than the old concert venue, it was not big enough for the Eagles. Les finally convinced them to do Springfield,” he said.
The show sold out in 1 minute and 18 seconds. It was the last concert he ever helped bring to Springfield — and what a way to go out.
“We could have sold it out twice, easily,” Ingram said. “It was an amazing show.”