It all started with a $20 purchase of a large quantity of lab glass at the UW-Madison Swap Shop.

"I wanted to start a business selling things on eBay," said Rhett Roeth. He had no idea what types of glassware were in the box, but when he picked up the first item, he realized he was on to something. "I knew the piece would sell for more than $20, so I earned back my investment with one sale."

His last name is pronounced "wraith" and as a child he was called "Rat Race," so he started his business with the whimsical name of "Rat's Glass" in 1999.

The name changed to Discount Vials in 2002 when he started specializing in glass packaging — vials, test tubes, perfume samplers and specialty bottles.

Once he bought out all the Swap Shop had to sell over the course of three to four years, Roeth started looking for suppliers.

One company, Pennsylvania Glass Products, which began in 1905, is now owned by Roeth. "We started talking, and I ended up buying the company."

Roeth, 53, continues to work at the Milwaukee Street post office, where he is an electronics technician. He's worked at the post office since 1984 maintaining and repairing postal equipment.

His knowledge of search engine optimization helps to bring customers to his website. "I spend a lot of time looking at Google analytic reports, which show what customers are searching for."

He buys large lots of glass packaging and sells the material either individually or in smaller lots. His success can be gauged by the fact that he's sold more than 2 million vials, bottles and test tubes since 1999. Annual revenues now exceed $250,000, he said.

Roeth's wife, Laura, quit her job last October and works full time in the business. The first employee Roeth hired, Mary Goldade, is the warehouse manager in charge of shipping.

His company recently shipped a pallet of vials to a pharmaceutical company in Egypt. Discount Vials has some walk-in traffic, but since there isn't a showroom, most of the customers come to pick up an order.

"I'm amazed at the different uses my customers have for vials," he says.

Churches use them for holy oil, Girl Scout troops and hobbyists use them to hold small objects, massage therapists use them for essential oils and aromatherapy, and police departments keep evidence in them. Some customers use them for family and pet cremains.

"I have an unbelievably diverse clientele," he says.

Big Career Moves features people who are doing something different from their original job or who left a career to follow their dream job. To suggest someone to feature, contact Jill Carlson at jillcarlson1957@gmail.com.

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