Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Kevin Bertrand, the marketing coordinator for Guelph, Ont.’s Iron Embers.
What is Iron Embers?
Iron Embers is a manufacturer of premium outdoor fire pits and accessories for a variety of outdoor spaces, ranging from domestic residences to commercial settings. We have six different lines with about three to four sizes per line that are constructed with high-end materials, including the signature use of ¼” carbon steel. All of our products are handcrafted here, in Guelph, by local talent that we hire from the community.
How did the business get started?
It started as a summer project back in 2006 for the Tamminga brothers, Adrian, Eric, and Ken. They made their dad a fire pit out of scrap steel from their parent’s business. Their parents manufacture large-scale farming equipment, so they had access to very high gauge, thick steel. They took some of that scrap and turned it into what is now known as Iron Embers’ octagonal cottager. That was 15 years ago and the parents still have that fire pit in use at their property today. It’s really withstood the test of time.
The brothers went on to found Iron Embers in 2011. It’s Eric and Adrian who run the business now. But Eric and Adrian are both engineers.
Over the past couple of years, they’ve grown the team from one full-time employee to roughly 30 people. Originally, they were working out of their parent’s farm, but they’ve moved to a full-scale manufacturing location in Guelph.
What inspired the name?
It’s a pretty straightforward angle. They sat down for a couple of days to figure out a name that worked and one of the brothers designed the logo the next day. It is a strong name.
What’s your most popular product?
I’d say the most popular product is the octagonal cottager. It’s a unique fire pit in the sense that the fire bowl is raised off the ground. They’ve also incorporated these rod rings that can be used in a few different ways. They were originally put on there for cast iron pans to include a cooking aspect. That ring also has an attachment adapter that can be used with our signature BBQ grills. We’re really trying to push live-fire cooking. The three-foot size is the most popular for the octagonal cottager. It’s a nice fit for the average backyard or camp setting.
We also have our pyramid design. It’s our eye-catching model. It can be anywhere from three feet tall to six feet tall. It has really great backyard applications, but it also does really well in commercial settings, like golf courses or ski hills.
How do you make your fire pits?
It’s all done here in Guelph. We hire everyone in-house from seamstresses for tarp covers to welders, buffers, painting, and shipping. How the actual fire pits are made is we order steel from local suppliers in Hamilton.
Once the fire pit’s finished, it’s a 400-pound piece of steel. It’s not going to blow away on you. And if it does blow away on you, you’ve got bigger problems.
We do have a 10-year guarantee. We are confident that these products will last you much longer than 10 years, but we do 10 years to be realistic. If you put it out and leave it in the snow year over year, that thing will not rust through. We don’t say that it won’t rust period, because it is steel, and you’re using it outside and burning in it.
How do your custom designs work?
Most of our custom projects are based on amplifying or modifying the existing product line to suit a customer’s needs. We do from-scratch projects from time to time, but the most common and easiest way for someone to personalize their fire pit is through custom logo cutouts or graphic texts. We’ll see people getting bears, ducks, loons, family names, significant dates, initials. That’s the most entry-level customization.
The second stage is taking an existing design and modifying it in some way. Really good examples of that are people who want gas-burning fire pits. We get that a lot because we are wood-burning primarily.
So, if you come through for a custom project, you might get a custom drawing as well. It’s a much more personalized way to purchase with us because you get exactly what you’re looking for.
How do I know what kind of fire pit I should buy?
The interesting thing about selling fire pits is that different regions have different burning restrictions. In some places, you have to sell everything with a screen to contain the fire, and in other places you need a chimney. So, we have different products that fit each of those situations.
Our pyramid model kind of ranges. The larger ones are used more for corporate or estate properties and the smaller ones are used more in the backyard. Blue Mountain Village has six of our six-foot pyramids. They use them as outdoor warming stations in the winter. We also work with golf courses and people that have outdoor spaces and want to extend the use case of it.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
We’re doing 10 times what we were before the pandemic. I think it was really beneficial for our business because people were at home and were investing in amenities that make it comfortable to be at home. Backyards became a bit of a safe haven for some people.
We had to scale up the business to meet demand. January to April alone was unbelievably busy. The phones were ringing all day. We couldn’t build the fire pits fast enough. There was a point where we had a 10-week lead time and we were telling people they might not get their fire pit this summer. Thankfully we’ve caught up.
What does the future look like for Iron Embers?
We want to continue doing fire pits. We’re seeing a lot of traction, and we see the potential for it to be a profitable business for many years to come. But most importantly, we’re looking to build on our reputation as a high-quality product that’s reliable and makes a difference in people’s lives.
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