IN YOUR PRIME: Owning a Business in Retirement

Older adults approaching retirement often have capital, experience to start or buy a business

Dean Wright spent more than three decades in the corporate world, with titles like general manager and senior director of global sales and operations. During part of his career, he would drive to the airport on Monday morning and return to his New Lebanon home on Friday night.

“I just didn’t want to do that anymore,” said Wright, 60.

Instead of counting down the days until he could retire, Wright wanted a change. So he bought a business.

Wright had been a customer of New Lebanon Body, Frame and Tech for years and had heard that the long-time owner and founder was looking for a buyer. Wright purchased the shop and Red Baron Towing in 2019.

Mark Lankford, an adviser with the Miami Valley Small Business Development Center’s Entrepreneurs’ Center, said that the number of older adults around Wright’s age who either start or buy a business is growing.

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Many workers reach the “limit of the corporate ladder” in their late 50s, he said, and they now have the capital, knowledge and experience to own a business.

“Entrepreneurship is just one portion of their career. Having it be the last one is probably the way to go,” he said.

Wright was referred to the Entrepreneurs’ Center by a local bank, and Lankford was matched to him as an adviser. Lankford helped lead Wright through the process of buying the business, networking and developing a strategy to attract more customers.

So far, the plan seems to be working. Wright said sales have grown every year. And Lankford saw Wright’s success for himself when he took his own car to New Lebanon to be fixed.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

Potential business-owners should first assess their financial situation, Lankford said. The first year will be tough, and owners need capital.

While most of the clients that Lankford advises are between the ages of 30 and 45, his older clientele often have savings, investments and have managed their debt.

“There is no way you will have too much cash when you start a business,” he said.

Business owners also should have a drive to be successful, he said. Because owners often work long hours beyond the typical workday, they also should be sure that they are moving into a job and field that they enjoy.

“It’s not money that motivates entrepreneurs at that age. It’s the desire to create something and being in charge,” Lankford said.

Wright acknowledged the financial considerations – his goal, after all, is to keep and grow the business – but his reasons to own a business stretched beyond the monetary and into quality-of-life issues.

He didn’t want to travel for work anymore, and his commute now clocks in at two minutes. Instead of spending hours on conference calls, he enjoys working face-to-face with customers. And now Wright, who has lived in New Lebanon since 1988, is even more involved in his community.

Some new business owners have dreams of flexibility and setting their own schedule, Wright said. But that can be difficult – especially when you also wear so many other hats, from marketing to sales to janitor.

“The first thing I would say is it’s not for the faint of heart,” Wright said.

Becoming an entrepreneur after retirement can be rewarding, but there are also challenges and risks, said Kara Hamby, public information officer for Montgomery County business services.

Having the extra time to devote to a business is one advantage that retirees might have, but they also need to be cognizant of the resources and energy that they are willing to pour into it, she said. Entrepreneurs also should be prepared to lose money.

Many resources exist to help businesses get off the ground and mentor those starting out, Hamby said, and the Montgomery County Business Solutions Center is just one that offers assistance and support.

While extra money and the chance to turn a hobby into a job often appeals to entrepreneurs, many also have a drive to give back to the community, Hamby said.

“Starting your own business really does afford you the opportunity of doing what you love and getting paid for it,” Hamby said.

When Wright traded in his suit and tie for the chance to own New Lebanon Body, Frame and Tech, he said that some people thought he had lost his mind. Wright, however, finds his new career rewarding and is proud of the difference it is making.

“This isn’t glamorous, and we are just a little shop compared to the big leaders,” Wright said. “This is Small Business 101.”

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