I Quit Teaching and Started Selling Tiki Bars, This Is Why and What Happened Next
How I went from broke and disillusioned to making some cash and building something I cared about and how you can too!
I Quit My Teaching Job To Sell Tiki Bars, This is Why and What Happened.
I’m not exactly sure why I thought I was going to become an elementary teacher, I think deep down I viewed teachers’ college as a stepping stone to something else but I did not really know what. At first, it felt good to tell people that I had a “safe” career option but I soon realized that for me “safe” was the same thing as “boring” and the prospect of looking forward to a career in the conventional school system legitimately depressed me and this is before we even get into all the “covid stuff”.
Chesterton has a quote that, “a dead thing can go with the stream but only a living thing can go against it” I felt these words acutely as I pushed through my bachelor of education. I am still passionate about education but I think the conventional school system has succeeded in squeezing out some of the most important lessons that should be learned in life, namely discovering who you are, thinking critically and independently, and cultivating your own unique creative gifts and abilities, something I like to call “real life education”. In hindsight I was clearly destined for other things as I spent most of my free time and much of my class time exploring, trying, and researching a vast array of side hustles and online business opportunities as well as reading the work of counter-cultural education authors like John Taylor Gatto. It was all so exciting and there seemed like so much opportunity outside of the “norm”, and I was hooked.
In another post, I will write about the potential pitfall of the ever-present ever-alluring “hustle porn” which can make you think you are running an online business when in reality you are in a loop of consumption and have not made much money to speak of and certainly do not have a legitimate business. Well, that was me for a few years. To be fair I was learning a lot but I was not really making any real money. I explored affiliate marketing and built Shopify dropshipping stores and scalped tickets online, offered freelance services, and flipped things on eBay and Facebook marketplace from yard sales and thrift stores. I taught myself some marketing and tried to get clients and all kinds of stuff… and some of it worked… ok… I made some money and the flipping was pretty legit for a bit (You can read all about my flipping adventures here) and got me through college. I sold a few items from my online pet store via Facebook ads which felt pretty cool. But, I wasn’t really making any substantial money.
As the end of my program approached and I realized I did not want to enter the workforce, which I had just heavily invested in preparing for, I became a little more desperate and decided to double down on a hustle that I had seen some promise for in the previous summer.
When my best friend got married a couple of years previously he had made a backyard bar out of wooden shipping pallets which were sort of rustic and cool looking for the farm reception. I really liked the idea and have some experience in framing and carpentry so I decided to see if I could build one and maybe rent it out for weddings.
I picked up some free pallets from Home Depot and built this bar, which I did rent out once via the Facebook marketplace for 120 bucks and then later sold it for 250 bucks, not bad. This beautiful prototype is pictured below with yours truly and is now worth millions (haha).
I had to move away for school at that point so I left the idea for the time being and returned to my “online businesses”. The next summer break I built a few more of these bars and raised my prices a little, they sold! I had one lady ask me to build a roof over it so I did that and charged a bit more…. this was some decent money… my ad caught the guy of another gentleman who wanted something similar but a bit more high end, we discussed and I agreed to build it to his specs to the best of my ability, and I have to say I was pretty proud of the result pictured below. This was the first bar that really made me stop and think “I could make a living at this”.
Shout to Mark for being an awesome customer! He later showed me inside his garage which was a dream come true as he had an amazing collection of memorabilia including one of the cars from “Dukes of Hazard”, a Delorean like the one from “Back to the Future” as well as one of the bikes Tom Cruise had ridden in “Top Gun”. It was an epic job and overall and it was pretty solid money as well.
At this point, I had to return again to school for my final year so I once more returned to my other projects and hustles…. When the next spring arrived and I still had not materialized this online passive income I was chasing down, I figured it was time to double down on the bars. I was done school now and I desperately did not want to teach let alone get a “normal job”. I had a taste for the freedom of entrepreneurship and I didn’t want to let it go. So I started building bars, I started posting bars, and wouldn’t you know it I started selling bars!
My timing could not have been better because this was the second spring during Covid and people were literally going all out on home improvement. My tiki bars and cabanas became a pretty hot item and I was doing some serious numbers for the first few months of the Summer season. I kept iterating on my designs and doing more custom requests and then reposting the finished product as another available option.
Over these Spring and Summer months, I made more money in a short period than I had ever done before, this was not just “side hustle money”, this was legit, full-time job money, and pretty good full-time job money at that.
I am terribly unorganized but I did try to keep track of the busy months to track my progress, profits, and expenses. The screenshot below is from my “accounting spreadsheet” where I tracked the orders, you can see from the two weeks in May that this was turning into something pretty substantial.
It was a great summer, things did slow down as the summer went on but even one or two orders a week was still worth it, and kept me confident that I would not need to go job hunting, at least not yet…
It’s funny because sometimes you just need to listen to the feedback in life and do more of what works. I still have other business ideas and projects on the go but this bar business really worked, and it worked well. It is a solid seasonal business with a growing customer base and I already have people wanting to place orders for next year.
Building Tiki bars is not really my “passion” but the thrill of making, building and selling certainly is part of it. It has been super fun to actually get something off the ground and have it be this profitable and it has taught me a lot.
Validation is everything and it’s crazy how much we can kid ourselves about business when we are really just on a hamster wheel of information consumption. I felt somewhat validated and redeemed by this experience of building CrateWorks Rustic Bars and seeing this early success. It’s not the business I necessarily saw myself building but it is the business that worked and that is something.
I mentioned earlier that my timing was good and I think that was a part of the reason I got so busy but I want to highlight another piece of this that I think is of value. One of the reasons I sensed this could work well was because something like a Tiki Bar has a pretty high perceived value. You might remember that I had been flipping used items for the past couple of years and this had given me some sense as to what items had high appeal as well as high perceived value, when I thought about it tiki bars checked both these boxes and I had the skills and creativity to design and build them. The result was a service model with high demand and pretty decent margins. We might read about these things in business books but sometimes (actually most times) it is only in practice that we really learn this and how it plays out in the market. It was certainly the case for me.
I love side hustles, I love making a buck, closing a deal, discovering an opportunity. But my interests don’t stop there, I love creativity, I love exploring creative solutions to problems, but I also deeply love seeing and helping other people do this, sharing the wins, learning from the losses, and hopefully helping them succeed.
People always used to talk about the security of having a job but the times we live in have really turned this whole thing on its head. Even though my business is seasonal I feel far more secure with my income in my own hands than in those of someone else, especially someone who has no ethical qualms about dictating the personal health and life choices of their employees.
At the very least starting a side hustle or low-risk business can diversify your assets so you are not hung out to tdry when your company deems you “nonessential” or a “liability”.
What skills do you have? What would this look like if it was easy? There has never been a better time to start a business as far as I am concerned and chances are you probably have skills or knowledge that you can start making money with today.
Don’t know where to start? That’s ok I wrote a blog post about it titled “You Should Have A Side Hustle”. Some extra income is probably closer than you think and you can have a lot of fun getting to it.
There are way too many people who hate their work and dismiss their true talents, I want to help change that. Right now that looks like telling my story and encouraging others to start theirs and that is exactly what my newsletter is for. Each week I share short stories and actionable tips on how to start a side hustle, be more creative and get just a little bit better each day, if that’s something you want in your life then I would love for you to subscribe right here, it’s totally free and my number one goal is to help you achieve yours.
So take it or leave it but at least do something! Maybe you already have something on the go? Or maybe you are messing around with this online business thing, great! But if you are frustrated and stuck in your head then why not get physical? Flip some things on eBay or make something with your own hands in my experience it’s one of the best ways to get unstuck.
Thanks for reading, don’t settle for less than you know you can be!
Shout out to my family and friends (JP, Pete, Amelia, Patchy, Joel) for helping make some of these awesome projects happen.
Yours in the hustle,
P.S. I made a mini-course all about this stuff walking you through how to start your woodworking sidehustle and it’s only $37 you can find it here if you are interested.
P.P.S. I write a newsletter every single week with actionable tips on side hustles, creativity, and self-development you can get it Absolutely Free Here