Think you're too old to run your own business? Think again, and meet these six savvy entrepreneurs all over age 60. Maybe their stories will inspire you to start that business you've been dreaming about.
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Edward Ritter, 77, Knoxville, Tenn.-based Roni Deutch Tax Center
Edward Ritter doesn't understand the meaning of retirement. Relax in a rocking chair? Forget it.
Two years ago, at 75, Ritter opened one of the charter franchisees for the Roni Deutch Tax Center in Knoxville, Tenn. Today, his business continues to grow with five employees—nearly all are seniors.
Ritter is excited about this new chapter in his life, which comes on the heels of painful hardships. A corporate financial executive for most of his career, Ritter became a victim of downsizing during the 2006 holiday season. Just three months later, his wife of 37 years passed away.
Although he admits adapting to major life changes is never easy, including the start of your own business, you won't find Ritter focused on the past — or his age. He still works out three-to-four times a week and even volunteers with SCORE, a nonprofit group that mentors entrepreneurs.
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"If you're positive and forward thinking, the age disappears," Ritter says. "I don't know when the grim reaper is going to come, but he's not going to find me sitting in a rocking chair."
Ritter's advice: "Don't dwell on self pity, it will kill you. Be grateful for what you have, and when things change you have to move on."
Carolyn Brown, 61, Dallas-based Weddings by Carolyn
When Carolyn Brown was laid off from her position as human resources director for a health-care company three years ago, she decided to turn her passion for planning weddings into a business. Then came the naysayers.
"They said it was hard to break into the industry, and it would never work," says Brown, 61, owner of Dallas-based Weddings By Carolyn. But Brown dug in her heels, got in her car with a stack of business cards and searched for vendors to help grow her company.
"I joined wedding associations," she says, "and had to learn how to network in a new industry with wedding vendors." Brown also learned that she could bring her budgeting savvy and communications expertise from her years in corporate life to her new business.
"The hardest part was believing that I could actually work for myself," Brown says. "A lot of people my age were taught to work hard, so you can retire and sit back, and that's not true at all anymore."
Brown's advice: "Figure out what you learned in the corporate world that you can transfer into a business. Forget the woe-is-me mentality. Reevaluate your lifestyle and start that business, even if it's in the corner of the bedroom."
Gail Dunn, 63, Atlanta, Ga.-based Women’s Automotive Connection
After 15 years in the automotive industry, Gail Dunn saw countless women being taken advantage of when they brought in cars for repairs. She also saw an untapped market for herself.
"Women who came in with their cars were excited to find a woman to talk to," says Dunn, 63. One month after she retired as manager of a body shop, she launched Atlanta-based Women’s Automotive Connection in January 2008. Dunn moved at a frenetic pace to spread the word. Over the next four months, she showed up at every networking event she could find and scheduled up to five networking meetings a day.
"I found people who are good with online social networking, because remember, when I went to school there was no Internet," Dunn says. "You have to find people with the knowledge you never had and understand that a business takes time to build. When I was younger I didn't have the patience that I have now."
Dunn's advice: "If you're really passionate about your business idea, people will recognize that. So, go ahead and jump off that cliff. It's fear that keeps most people from doing it, and that will keep you from succeeding."
Ted Nakagawa, 65, Phoenix, Ariz.-based CertaPro Painters
Ted Nakagawa always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur, but never saw the right fit — until he was in a position to find it.
In July 2008, he worked for a biotech firm that merged with another company and laid him off. This was the second time a merger left Nakagawa with a pink slip. It was time to try something new.
"I have been loyal all my life, and I still am, but you learn not to look at life through rose-colored glasses," Nakagawa says. In April 2009, he went into business with his son, Todd, as franchisees for CertaPro Painters, a commercial and residential painting company.
"My age has helped me [as an entrepreneur] because I have maturity and I've been around the block a few times. We work hard, work long hours, but we're still earning a buck -- and we're having fun doing it. " Nakagawa says.
Nakagawa's advice: "You have to have a strong work ethic and stick to it. You're not going to get the job done [lying] in bed or watching TV."
Jean Newell, 62, Melbourne, Fla., Newco Enterprises
During her decades-long career in the real estate business, Jean Newell's stumble into entrepreneurship started four years ago with a pen and a napkin at a Denny's restaurant in Melbourne, Fla. That's where she sketched the design of a personal utility pouch (PUP) that would help real estate agents, like herself, carry the myriad of supplies they needed.
The idea was to make the bag look tasteful, not like a bulky tool belt. It worked.
"People were placing orders from other real estate companies and I had 75 orders on a bag that didn't exist yet!" says Newell, 62. "I started with nothing, but I just kept plugging away."
Newell produced the bag and a video about how to use it. QVC snapped it up, and it has been a big seller ever since.
"When I get up at 7 a.m. every morning, it doesn't seem like work," Newell says. "When you're living your passion you have so much energy."
Newell's advice: "If you have a dream, an idea, and some common sense, it will start coming together what you need to do."
Bob, 62, and Kathy, 59, Miller, Rochester, NY-Based Incredibly Edible Cookie Co.
Homemade cookies kept Bob Miller's clients coming back for business meetings during his 25-year career as a sales executive for a large corporation. Miller's wife, Kathy, a senior baker, would send batches to family and friends, too. Rave reviews led the couple to start thinking about making a business out of it.
When Bob, 62, was let go from his corporate job, he partnered with his wife, 59 — and the Incredibly Edible Cookie Co. was born.
"We invested in equipment and utilized my business contacts to get into the corporate gift environment," Bob Miller says. His wife Kathy adds: "It was second nature to me. We had the kitchen and I had some recipes that were really quite good, and a few that were outstanding."
Although cookies and confections are far from where Bob expected to be in his career, he says the new business has brought his family closer.
"It's a different life. I focus on my wife more," he says. "You get closer to your family and your roots, and that takes over the corporate job you had before."
Miller's advice: "Put enough money away, right-size the house to your income, stay close to your family, and be humble."