My first job was as a delivery boy for a family-owned, neighborhood dry cleaning store. I was eleven years old and they paid me $2 a week. (You heard me right – a week.) I would come to work after school and deliver dry-cleaning around the neighborhood until around five-o-clock in the afternoon. But they didn’t always have stuff ready to deliver so I would often sit around in the customer waiting area reading 10-year-old magazines. But even then at eleven years old, I was conscious of the cost of doing business and I still remember wondering how they could afford to pay me for just sitting around. (I wonder how many twenty or thirty-year-olds think that way today.)
Fast forward a few years and I now have experience managing all sorts of small to medium sized manufacturing companies but I have been working for a very large aerospace company for about ten years and I am getting close to my 65th birthday. I am due to retire on December 31st of 1994. The day comes, I am officially retired and I no longer have to make a 4-1/2 hour daily commute.
Beginning in January, only a few weeks later, I find myself scanning the want ads in the daily paper. I feel like I’m out of work and need to find a job. ( I guess that’s what happens after you have worked for 54 years of your life.) By the end of January, I am bored and need something to do to keep me busy.
During my entire working career – working for or managing other companies – I always had some part-time enterprise of my own going on the side. Evenings and weekends were often devoted to one entrepreneurial idea or another. Some were more successful than others. At the time I retired in December of 1994, I had one of those little businesses that I had started a few years before – a company that I called BrandNew. It never got beyond much more than being at the hobby stage and interestingly, it had originated from one of my hobbies – woodworking.
I began as an amateur woodworker when I was twelve years old making various craft type things on the kitchen table in an apartment in the Bronx, New York. Later on, some time in my twenties, I decided that I wanted to “sign” all of my work and I designed and made a simple branding iron that I could use to brand my logo into everything I made. (I still use it to this day.)
From that original branding iron, a company named BrandNew Industries was born and in January of 1995, bored with being retired, I decided to give BrandNew some serious attention for a year to see if it had any possibility of becoming a success. With an initial investment of $1500, a lot of tools and equipment I had accumulated over the years and about two days a week, I started (for real) BrandNew in my garage and spare bedroom. We would sell branding irons to woodworkers like myself for them to brand their work.
By the end of 1995, BrandNew had sold about $30,000 worth of branding irons and I was hooked. In 1996, BrandNew sold about $70,000 worth of branding irons. The next year our sales were well over $130,000. BrandNew continued to grow and expand and when I sold the company in March of 2007, it was the largest branding iron manufacturer in the world with sales close to $1 million. It is still in business today.
I am sure that a lot of the success of BrandNew was due to my years of experience managing numerous small businesses over the years. When I finally got around to really starting my own business, I had enough experience so that I knew from the start everything (well, almost everything) that needed to be done to make it successful.
I have a few words of advice to any retirees thinking of starting a business after retirement. In my case, I had a lot of experience running businesses for other people (and making a lot of money for them) so all that experience was invaluable to me when starting BrandNew. You may have a lot of business experience but if you have never run your own small business before, be careful about starting your own. Do not think, for example, that you will be able to successfully start and run a restaurant because – as one would-be entrepreneur said to me once when I asked him if he had any restaurant experience – “No, but I’ve eaten in thousands of them.” (Nor can you be an airline pilot because you’ve flown thousands of miles in airplanes.) When you run your own small business, you need to wear a lot of hats. It’s not enough to be the best auto mechanic or the best accountant or the best plumber or the best whatever. Running your own business means that you also have to be the entrepreneur, the salesman, the bookkeeper – and you probably will find yourself emptying the trash and unplugging the toilet on a more or less regular basis.
If you still think you would like to give it a try, I suggest that you first contact your local SCORE office. SCORE is a national organization, closely affiliated with the Small Business Administration that offers free business advice and counseling to anyone interested in starting his or her own small business.