We love the story of Tiny Wood Stove. To find out how a blog post about wood-burning stoves in small spaces became a successful online business, we spoke with Nick Peterson, a Kansas native of 38 years.
Q. How did you end up deciding to live in a tiny space?
Shae, my wife, was a teacher. I was an outdoor education teacher. Paisley was our first child. This forced us to reevaluate what we were doing and how much time we were spending. We were clear in our focus on helping others’ children even though we had just added our little life to the world.
We conducted a lifestyle audit to determine what our ideal life looked like. We created a list of obstacles to spending time as a family, including housing, debt, and health insurance.
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I had been following a lot of blogs written by nomads, and was always intrigued by small spaces. I was aware that any vehicle could be converted into a bedroom.
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So, we decided to “Get something mobile”, travel more and spend more time together with our families, while also getting rid of our housing costs.
We purchased a 1966 Airstream travel trailer, but we didn’t know much about it. We did the remodeling ourselves. My wife quit her job and we paid off our debt.
We didn’t want camping, which can be just as costly as a mortgage, so we decided to go off-grid. We purchased solar power and a wood stove to heat the home.
There were only a few options at the time. The majority of stoves in the United States were designed for older wooden boats.
livinlightly.com was our blog that documented our journey. One of our posts covered why we decided to use a wood-powered stove over propane. We noticed that 70% to 80 percent of our traffic came from that one post when we looked at the analytics and tried to figure out how to make it a monetized blog. We were being found through searches such as “wood stove small space” and “wood stove tiny home.” I purchased tinywoodstove.com.
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Yes, Drupal had a site that offered a meal-planning and vegetarian service. It was going to be our meal ticket. It was my meal ticket for five years, and I spent way more money on it than I earned. It was a difficult lesson.
The Lean Startup taught me about adapting quickly and testing assumptions as quickly as you can. Initialy, I thought about an affiliate arrangement for wood stoves. Because we are nomadic, we couldn’t afford a warehouse full stoves. We envisioned ourselves as a resource for information, and a passive source of income selling other people’s goods.
From 2013 to 2015, we hustled and made more content. I reached out to stove manufacturers in the U.S.A. and UK. They didn’t get it when I asked about an affiliate arrangement.
We noticed that many people were looking for a Pipsqueak stove which is made in the UK. It was our intention to sell it on our website, but we needed to buy a whole pallet in order to make it work. We started a crowdfunding campaign with WooCommerce and created a landing page. The stove was $95 off for who pre-ordered. We also promised that if there weren’t enough orders, we would refund the money. We sold more than enough stoves in seven days and were now in business.
The stove was sold and we continued to make sales, but it became apparent that the right pipe was not available to connect the stove to it. Six inches was the maximum size pipe that you could find in the U.S. We started to sell a line three- and four inch pipes.
The Pipsqueak was a toy stove. Although it was adorable, it wasn’t practical.
We wanted a stronger stove so we made our own. We didn’t know anything when we started, so we just did it and learned as we went.
Although we were fortunate to find a manufacturer for the Dwarf Line, it was a difficult learning curve in international trade. Our order sat in the middle the ocean for three months after the first shipping company went under. We were able to deliver our pre-sale orders. We only had to issue two refunds, and people were very understanding. This was my testimony to the fact that the market is still very underserved.
We don’t just sell products, we are passionate about small living and the freedom that it offers. We communicate every day with people who are looking to quit their jobs, start businesses, or downsize. This is only a small part of the story. They are our helpers in that process. We wouldn’t be able to help them if we just sold a product.
Five members of our support team work remotely and live off the grid. Every member of our support team is living this lifestyle so they can relate to customers and share their experiences. We post job opportunities on Instagram, as well as the places we can reach the community.
It can be hazardous to place any flaming object in a structure. A wood stove is not as dangerous as a propane appliance. Propane can leak, it is volatile, and you must buy it regularly. It is a finite resource. Water also enters your space for every pound you burn. In a small space, mold and moisture can cause serious problems. Wood stoves produce dry heat.
My wood stove allows me to roll up anywhere, break some sticks on my knees, and then throw them in the stove. The stove heats up the space. It is more work.
I am not a techie and built the site. I was familiar with the basics of WordPress and knew how to use plugins to make it easy. WooCommerce and WordPress are very easy to use and can be used as a bootstrap or DIY site. It’s easy to see how it all works.
The site is currently a “B” for me. But, you don’t need to have the best site if you’re just starting out. It has to work. Now we are working on polishing the website. We now have the income to hire a professional to make it even better. But it has always worked.
We set up WooCommerce our first pre-sale. It was easy and simple.
The initial theme was slow so we switched to Astra. Astra is a great theme. This theme was designed to optimize. It was very fast to install. Performance is everything.
Beaver Builder is used to create content that’s very simple for someone like me. To create custom forms for our call-to-action page, we use Gravity Formulas. We will email you the details that people fill out. This is how we begin conversations about their needs.
To offer options, we use variable product. This works well since we have a set of twenty components. There are many ways to customize your kit. It would be difficult to offer each one individually. Customers can choose their options much more easily — four-inch pipe and this type vent, or another type of clamp, for example.
It makes it easier for us to track stock. Each four-inch pipe is taken out of our inventory when a customer selects their pipe.
Cart Notices is a great tool. It is great for adding additional products directly to the cart page.
WooCommerce Backorder Manager Pro is also used to manage backorders, and check inventory levels.
There are a few options. One is the stove size calculation. It allows users to input their measurements and calculates the stove size and parts that they require.
WordPress’s deep community is what makes it so great. You can create a plugin that is tailored to your needs relatively cheaply if there aren’t any. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time we solve a problem. You can look at the work of others by diving into the library. It can be modified to fit your needs, even if it isn’t perfect.
PayPal, Stripe. Now, we’re discussing a transition from PayPal to WooCommerce. This has lower rates and offers a simpler checkout experience since you can accept credit card directly on your website.
One of the hidden benefits of using Stripe and PayPal is that we have been able access credit lines. We were a new company and didn’t have any credit scores so the local bank wouldn’t lend us money. Our payment providers had proof of sales and were able, however, to grant us a loan. This has been a great help to our growth.
It is more difficult to compete with more players. We still rank quite well. SEO, Instagram, and Facebook are all important feeders. This is how we get connected to the community. We also use Google AdWords.
Streak CRM is used for email marketing and Gravity Formulas are used on our contact page.
It’s difficult to decide how small you want your space to be. It’s important to determine if you should install a stove and poke a hole in your roof. This sales process can take up to three months or a few weeks.
Q. Q. Do you still produce lots of content?
Our website has tons of content. Because WooCommerce is so important, we use it instead of Shopify. There are many articles, guides, videos, and case studies. These are really important to us, and Shopify is a bit slow. WordPress and Woo allow us to customize our website to suit what we are doing. They are very flexible.
We are currently diversifying the company into other areas, such as composting toilets. Tiny Supply Co. will be the long game — they offer the entire gamut.
Tiny Wood Stove is a great example of a business that was driven by their community. Nick and Shae had an audience — those wanting to live tiny — that they were familiar with and passionate about.
They then listened to the audience. They identified a problem that they could solve, and customers were ready to pay for their product.