FAIRBANKS - A visit with his sister several years ago ignited Ken Soles' business idea - customized burn barrels.
Now, his business has customers wondering why they didn't think of perfecting the burn barrel first.
In the late '90s, Soles was staying with his sister in North Pole when the Florida transplant began to understand why many Alaskans rely on burn barrels. He soon saw how his sister's old incinerator might be improved.
Roughly six years later, the 48-year-old Fairbanks man is running Kenny's Burn Barrels as a one-man operation that seeks to ship the drums nationwide.
A standard-size barrel starts at $88, while shipping Outside costs $68. Soles fits the barrels with a combination of wheels, vents, doors, screen covers and even a sprinkler system or sled runners.
The incinerators range in size from small camping burners to 3,000-gallon units.
Soles is determined to make the business work.
"I've had people tell me they've been here all their life and didn't think of it," said Soles, inside the tidy office section of his trailer.
Outside, a row of black barrels with the black and yellow "Cat" construction logo splashed across the front sat waiting for conversion and a coat of Soles' trademark orange paint.
"People buy them for Christmas presents, people buy them for birthdays. People buy them for wedding presents, believe it or not," Soles said, adding that much of his business is generated by word of mouth.
Soles began the business with $35 in his pocket and salvaged equipment. Barrels are donated by people who'd otherwise throw them out, he said. He'll gladly take empty drums left over when the state finishes a project.
He previously worked as a heavy line mechanic for Chrysler, he said. Those skills and a willingness to do whatever it takes to build the business - he initially delivered some barrels by bicycle - have helped the company build some momentum.
"Not too many people in today's society (are willing) to do what it takes, or more than you got to give it," Soles said. "I will make it successful."
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