Entrepreneurship: The New Retirement
At least that what normal people do. Some individuals (we won’t call them abnormal—although we think it in our heads) choose to live their post-retirement years working harder than they ever have—as entrepreneurs.
Grey entrepreneurs, as those over age 50 have been termed, are on the rise. A study by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation reported that the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity over the last few years is Baby Boomers in the 55-64 year age group.
Longer life expectancy, a turbulent financial landscape and the need for additional income have fueled this emerging trend. However, the primary reason retired individuals are opening businesses is that they seek more fulfilling sources of work. Many of them have worked for someone else their entire working lives and now relish the opportunity to be their own bosses.
Taking a ChanceBrickhouse AntiquesOwners: Tom & Mary Norskov
Entrepreneur Tom Norskov spent the first 20 years of his career doing auto bodywork and painting, and the next 22 as an insurance auditor. His wife, Mary also spent 26 years working in a factory in Nebraska and then in a variety of positions in Kansas.
The couple had put in their time and grown a solid retirement nest egg. So why did they choose to swap out the rocking chairs and cold glasses of lemonade on the porch for the rigors that come with business ownership?
“It all hinges on the fact that we are both collectors,” Tom said. “We have 82 curio cabinets and probably about 15,000 pieces of glass showcased in our house.”
Mary happened to be working part time at Brickhouse Antiques when Tom’s employer offered him early retirement. Upon learning that Tom was retiring, the owners promptly asked if he and Mary would be interested in buying the place. It didn’t take long for them to make that decision.
“I didn’t want to lose my part time job,” Mary said. “So I turned it into a full time one.”
“We’d never been small business owners in our life,” Tom said. “But you never know unless you try.”
May 16, 2012 they took over operations. Mary ran the business from that day until Tom officially retired in August. The problem was they didn’t really know how to run a business. Tom heard about the Washburn Small Business Development Center and took advantage of their resources.
“I don’t know how a person can start a business without their help,” Tom said. “They will hold your hand and walk you through the process.”
Mary says the bookkeeping has been the biggest challenge for her. Knowing when and what to file, how to track vendors and payments—it was like learning a foreign language.
While they jumped into the business with both feet, they didn’t jeopardize their nest egg to do so.
“We would never compromise our investments and retirement,” Tom said. “If that were necessary, this place would be sold.”
Right now, the business is solvent.
“We aren’t going to be millionaires,” Tom said. “But we are in the black.”
It’s just the two of them running the business and they take turns being at the store. When Mary is working, Tom is out meeting with vendors or doing yard work. When Tom is at the store, Mary spends time with her pride and joy, Anya, a 14-year-old West Highland Terrier.
“I couldn’t retire and just sit,” Mary said. “What would I be doing if I didn’t have this?”
The Norskovs plan to keep riding this ride until they physically can’t do it anymore.
“Of course it’s work, Tom said. “But it’s fun work.”
Realizing a DreamYeldarb GalleryOwners: Chuck & Ruby Bradley
For retirees Chuck and Ruby Bradley, the decision to open an art gallery in Topeka was long in the making. They spent many a vacation visiting cities with vibrant art communities, always with the thought in the back of their heads, “Topeka needs something like this.”
After 32 years working for the State of Kansas and the Department of Transportation, Chuck retired in 2007, taking on the role of caregiver for three of Ruby’s elderly family members. Ruby retired four years later.
The couple didn’t want to just sit at home; they wanted to be involved with the arts in Topeka. So when NOTO came to fruition that same year, it was serendipitous. Topeka now had an art district, but no place for artists to display their work. Having grown up in North Topeka, Ruby, a self-proclaimed risk avoider, went against her nature (and business research that indicated the venture would fail) and threw all caution to the wind. In April of 2012, they purchased a building at 909 N. Kansas Ave. and Yeldarb Gallery became a reality.
“We were in a position to invest in this opportunity,” Ruby said. “At the time we felt it was a better investment than the market.”
Coming up with a name was the first obstacle. They couldn’t use Bradley Gallery, because a local eatery, Bradley’s Corner Café, was just across the street. On a whim, they came up with the idea of flipping the name Bradley into Yeldarb.
“Our 30-something kids all hated the name, so therefore we knew it was the right one,” Chuck said with a laugh.
The second obstacle was massive renovation. Wanting to save as much money as they could, the Bradleys chose to do the majority of the labor themselves. Working 12-hour days, they opened the gallery doors in July 2012. About that same time, the Bradleys purchased the building next door and are now in the process of renovating it into studio space.
While both Chuck and Ruby adamantly insist that they would do it all over again if given the chance, they have learned a few things along the way. The most obvious lesson is the sheer amount of work it takes to operate a business
“We are here seven days a week,” Chuck said. “It doesn’t matter if we don’t feel well. If we don’t come in to work, the gallery doesn’t open.”
“You need a good backup plan when it’s just the two of you,” Ruby said. “You need that one person who will run the business if you have an emergency or need a day off.”
With maturity comes a more realistic view of expectations. Chuck and Ruby knew they weren’t going to become rich opening an art gallery in North Topeka.
“If we wanted to make money, this wouldn’t be a gallery,” Chuck said.
But at this point in their lives, they also realize wealth isn’t always measured in dollars.
“When you retire you begin to question your purpose in life,” Ruby said. “This gives us purpose.”
Seizing the MomentLakeside Wine & Spirits and Ice & OlivesOwners: Barry Busch & Sandi Wilber
For a consummate entrepreneur, retirement is hard work. Barry Busch should know—he has tried retiring three times now.
In his first life, Barry was an ad guy. He met co-worker, Sandi Wilber, who managed media sales and buying, and it was a match made in ad heaven. The couple flouted the cardinal rule of workplace relationships and married soon after.
Barry retired the first time (or as he terms it “went on sabbatical”) at age 50. His second attempt at retirement happened in 2004, when he sold his company, Kid Stuff, and went sailing for an extended period of time.
In 2005, looking for something to keep him busy, he started a landscape design firm. As if that wasn’t enough to fill his time, he opened Lakeside Wine & Spirits the following year, originally seeing it more as an investment than a job.
Finding himself spending way more time at the liquor store than he had anticipated, he knew it would be impossible to juggle both businesses, so he retired from the landscape business and focused on the liquor store.
Barry needed a way to distinguish the store from the competition, so he searched for something that would complement the liquor store and find natural synergy. A conversation with some friends gave him the perfect idea: A place where people could get their wine, mixes, ice, a gift bag, card and hostess gift.
When the couple opened Ice and Olives in November 2007, Sandi was still working full time for World Company.
“Somebody had to have a job,” Barry chuckled.
Even though she was happy where she was working, Barry talked Sandi into quitting her job and giving Ice and Olives a chance.
“Barry said ‘Just come work here one year, and then we’ll decide,”’ Sandi said. “That was four years ago.”
The idea was to open the store, turn it over to a manager, and sit back and watch from the sidelines. As luck would have it, they opened their doors right before the economy tanked in 2008. The dream of being outside observers went by the wayside. Being a specialty market offering luxury items, business suffered. So they adapted. They began offering Boar’s Head specialty meats and party trays. That soon expanded into offering sandwiches, but there was no space inside for people to sit down and eat.
“We needed a dining room,” Barry said. “So we bought the coffee shop next door.”
Barry and Sandi felt the big hole in the market at their location was breakfast. They hired John Phillips, former chef at the Kansan Grill, so they could offer a full weekend breakfast service. John began making hors d’oeurves that were out of this world and inspiration struck again.
“I thought, why not offer a gourmet wine dinner every three months?” Barry said.
Those private wine dinners became so popular they decided to make them a regular event. Now, every Friday and Saturday night, Ice and Olives serves a five-course casual gourmet meal.
“We never intended to become a fine dining restaurant,” Sandi said. “It’s because John landed on our doorstep that this is such a success.”
Success often comes with a price. Like most entrepreneurs, Barry and Sandi have put their blood, sweat and tears into the business.
“If I’d have realized how hard it was going to be, I don’t know if I would have done it,” Barry said. “But if you have that entrepreneurial spirit, you are always looking for that next opportunity.”
Barry has now found his latest opportunity—an Ice and Olives food truck will hit Topeka’s streets later this fall.
As for retirement, they simply laugh.
“If we ever get the chance to retire again, we’ll do a better job of it!”
Right now they are too busy to think about it.