This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Six-Figure Side Hustle series, where people with lucrative side hustles break down the routines and habits they’ve used to make money on top of their full-time jobs. Got a story to tell? Let us know! Email us at AskMakeIt@cnbc.com.
It took Rodney Melton just over a year to build a six-figure side hustle.
In March 2021, Melton started molding, engraving and selling headstones for pet memorials on Etsy. He’d long worked with concrete and stone as a hobby, while working 60 hours per week as a maintenance lead at Mars Pet Care.
He already owned a $15,000 engraver. Plus, he could work in his self-built workshop behind his home in Alma, Arkansas, a town of less than 6,000 people on the edge of the Ozark Mountains.
At first, it took Melton two or three days to set the headstones in molds, then another five hours to engrave them before his wife added epoxy filling. As his side hustle grew, revenue started pouring in — so he used a combination of proceeds and savings to invest another $51,500 in other tools, like a sandblaster, granite saw and chisel, and laser engraver.
Each new piece of equipment minimized Melton’s production time, allowing him to sell more headstones. In May 2022, his Etsy shop brought in nearly $20,000, and Melton left his full-time job. Now he works fewer hours and spends them with his family, after hiring his daughter and daughter-in-law last summer.
Last year, the four-person operation brought in more than $207,000 on Etsy, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. About two-thirds of that is profit, Melton estimates, and he’s on track to make roughly the same amount this year.
Here, he discusses how he built his business, why he likes working with family members and what you might need to replicate his success.
CNBC Make It: Do you think your side hustle is replicable? What do you need to get started?
Melton: Anyone can do this. I’d say you need $10,000 or less to get started. That’s for cement molds and sandblast equipment.
It’s just a matter of having the passion for it. My mom passed at the end of 2020, and my dad and I were taking it really hard. I started making things, like concrete crosses, 3D roses and plaques. Just little memorial pieces that turned out really nice.
Then, my friend Carlos lost his dog Molly. I think those things had a lot to do with the direction I went. My heart has been in it for the people [who lose their pets]. But by result, if you serve more people, you make more money.
Have you had to set any boundaries working with your family?
Not really. If you have an alpha personality and are really assertive, it might clash with some of your family members. But if you let everybody have a part it in, things can run smoothly.
In the beginning, my wife and I would meet my daughter Kristen for lunch, one day a week. We would just sit there and talk about things and brainstorm. She came up with an idea for a concrete mold shaped like a dog bone. We’ve sold thousands of dollars’ worth [of them] since.
Melton’s daughter, Kristen, cutting granite.
Now, Kristen has taken over a lot. She keeps me in line on what needs to be done. I’ll go out [to the workshop] and there’ll be a sticky note that says, “Dad, you need to pour seven beige stones today.”
How has creating pet memorials full-time impacted your work-life balance?
My wife, daughter and daughter-in-law, we all work about five hours per day now. I work 75 feet out my back door — it’s freed up so much time and given me the opportunity to just be with my family a whole lot more.
I like to sleep in and work into the evening a little bit. I’m my own boss, which has its downfalls. But it still isn’t a full-time job. I can mow the yard, clean the house.
It’s helped all of us. My daughter wasn’t happy with where she worked at the time. My daughter-in-law, who helps us design the stencils, was a stay-at-home mom and wanted something to do. She makes a few hundred bucks a week, and instead of paying for daycare, stays at home with her kids.
I can make a good living shipping everything the way we do now. If I were in my 30s, I would probably gear up and do big headstones for cemeteries. But those are much bigger items.
I’m in talks with a local monument company to start updating shared headstones in cemeteries. Maybe we’ll go in that direction next year.
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