How I retired early in Ohio for $1.3 million at age 49

Recycle the propane tank to the fire pit

With inflation on the rise, Tim Riggle wanted an extra income item — so in September 2021, he bought seven $90 cans of propane from Facebook Marketplace.

The 59-year-old intends to reuse the end of the gas tank as a fire pit — a free-standing, open metal container used to start a fire, often in a backyard or patio — and use it for each in his hometown of Lamar, Missouri. Sold for $400. The fire pits proved popular: they sold out in just 10 days, and Riegel was asked for more.

Riegel started his business by buying seven oil cans from Facebook Marketplace for $90 each. He sold it locally for $400 a piece within 10 days.

Tim Rigel

In March, he moved his side business online, opening an Esty store. He brought in $50,000 over the next five months, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. In June, his highest-earning month so far, he made $16,000 selling fire pits, most of which were between $600 and $1,700.

“It’s hard for everyone right now, and I’m like, ‘I can make some extra money and have fun with it,'” Riegel told CNBC Make It. “The fun is the magic of the whole deal. My hometown is almost full of fire pits from September to December.”

Here’s how Riegel started his unlikely business, and his plans to make it more financially sustainable:

Trained welder and perfectionist

Riegel, who oversees domestic suppliers for a furniture company by day, says his full-time job taught him the art of navigating e-commerce platforms. He has previously used Etsy to find new designers and inspiration.

“At first I thought [Etsy] Just a bunch of old women quilting,” he said. “And then I realized I could use it to see what’s out there and who’s creative.This [small] company going bankrupt [into industries] Usually start with one of these platforms. “

Riegel, who is also a welder — he used to fix cars as a side hustle and took a professional welding course in 2006 — says working creatively is cathartic, even though his side hustle adds 40 hours a week .

Riegel, a trained welder, says making a fire pit can take anywhere from three to eight hours, depending on the customization.

Tim Rigel

The idea came from a friend who made a similar fire pit out of the end of a propane tank. The bronzers and custom versions that Riegel now sells took trial and error to perfect, he said. He wants his fire pits to last longer than those sold by big box retailers, which he says are “fragile” and “probably last two years.”

So he bought some scrap metal from a nearby seller and started experimenting with different legs and feet to make the fire pit. “The first pair sucks, but the nice thing about metal is that you can cut it off and redo it,” he said.

Heavy freight is expensive

Riegel said he spends about seven hours a month sourcing metal, which is getting more expensive. His profit margins are usually around 35% to 40%, but he only keeps about half of his earnings and reinvests the rest in his side business, he said.

Currently, Riegel has only one employee: He pays his 79-year-old father, Terry, $15 an hour to help recycle cans and coordinate shipping schedules. The 250-pound fire pit couldn’t be easily shipped by FedEx or UPS, and Riegel’s father helped maintain constant contact with the trucking company that shipped the product across the United States and Canada.

Riegel said he wanted to expand the business to offer new customizations such as designed lids, sizes and handles. Eventually, he also wanted to make gas fire pits.

Tim Rigel

The size of the products limited Riegel’s ability to ship them: From March to July, he installed only 60 fire pits on the road.The farther away the customer is, the more expensive the shipping will be — Riegel estimates the average shipping cost per order to be $375 — so he only sends out a few fire pits in the cargo truck once.

Etsy’s shipping partners are costly for small business owners who sell small quantities, he said. So he relies on other sellers who tell him which carriers work best for small businesses like his. He said he works with several private carriers to meet his shipping needs, mainly Estes and Unishippers.

However, Etsy did help Riegel with advertising and SEO, he said. He pays about $200 extra a month to advertise on Etsy — which he says is lower than comparable prices on Wayfair and Amazon Seller Central.

He said he also doesn’t mind reinvesting that much profit into a side business — at least for now. The money is currently being used to research how to add gas lines, shorten production times and experiment with new products such as chimineas, a freestanding fireplace.

As for the money Riegel left behind, he spent part of it on another important job: his daughter’s wedding.

“Have [extra money] It definitely helps,” he said. “But most importantly, I’m really just looking at what I can do with this business and moving it forward.

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