Boomers become their own bosses
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. — Every passing month and unanswered résumé dimmed Jim Glay's optimism more. So with no job in sight, he joined a growing number of older people and made his own.
In a mix of boomer individualism and economic necessity, older Americans have fueled a wave of entrepreneurship. The result is a slew of enterprises such as Crash Boom Bam, the vintage drum company that 64-year-old Glay began running from a spare bedroom in his apartment in 2009.
The business hasn't made him rich, but Glay credits it with keeping him afloat when no one would hire him.
“You would send out a stack of 50 résumés and not hear anything,” said Glay, who had been laid off from a sales job. “This has saved me.”
The annual entrepreneurial activity report published in April by the Kansas City, Mo.-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found the share of new entrepreneurs ages 55 to 64 grew from 14.3 percent in 1996 to 23.4 percent last year. Entrepreneurship among 45- to 54-year-olds saw a slight bump, while activity among younger age groups fell.
The foundation doesn't track startups by those 65 and older, but Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that group has a higher rate of self-employment than any other age group.
Part of the growth is the result of the overall aging of America. But experts say older people are flocking to self-employment both because of a frustrating job market and the growing ease and falling cost of starting a business.
“It's become easier technologically and geographically to do this at older ages,” said Dane Stangler, the research and policy director at Kauffman. “We'll see continued higher rates of entrepreneurship because of these demographic trends.”
Paul Giannone's later-life move to start a business was fueled not by losing a job, but by a desire for change.
After nearly 35 years in information technology, he embraced his love of pizza and opened a Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurant, Paulie Gee's, in 2010. Giannone, 60, had to take a second mortgage on his home, but he said the risk was worth it: The restaurant is thriving and a second location is in the works.
“I wanted to do something that I could be proud of,” he said. “I am the only one who makes decisions and I love that. I haven't worked in three and a half years, that's how it feels.”
Some opt for a more gradual transition.
Al Wilson, 58, of Manassas, Va., has kept his day job as a program analyst at the National Science Foundation while he tries to attract business for Rowdock, the snug calf protector he created to ward off injuries rowers call “track bites.”
Though orders come in weekly from around the world, they're not enough yet for Wilson to quit his job.
“At this stage in my life, when I'm looking at in the near future retiring, to step out and take a risk and start a business, there was some apprehension,” Wilson said. “But it's kind of rejuvenated me.”
Mary Furlong, who teaches entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University and holds business startup seminars for boomers, says older adults are uniquely positioned for the move because they are often natural risk-takers who are passionate about challenges and driven by creativity.
There can be hurdles.
Though most older entrepreneurs opt to create at-home businesses where they are the only employee, even startup costs of a couple thousand dollars can be prohibitive for some. Generating business in an online economy is tougher if the person has fewer technological skills.
Furlong said many who start businesses later in life do so as a follow-up to a successful career from which they fear a layoff or have endured one.
“The boomers are looking to entrepreneurship as a Plan B,” she said.”
Antoinette Little would agree. She spent 20 years at a law firm, starting as a legal secretary and working her way up to manage the entire office. The stress of working 80 hours or 90 hours a week and always being on call started taking a toll.
After being diagnosed with an enlarged heart, she said, “The doctor told me, either quit or you're going to die.”
Little took a series of culinary classes and found a passion, opening Antoinette Chocolatier in Phillipsburg, N.J. She misses her previous career and, though the store is now in the black, the profits aren't robust. Still, she says she is having fun making chocolate, particularly when children press their noses against the glass doors to the store's kitchen.
“I'm my own boss and you get to eat your mistakes,” she said. “How bad could it be?”
Most boomer businesses are not brick-and-mortar establishments like those of Little and Giannone.
Jeff Williams, who runs BizStarters, which has helped Glay and thousands of other boomers start businesses, says most older entrepreneurs want to make a minimal investment, typically less than $10,000, to get off the ground.
He classifies about 40 percent of his clientele as “reluctant entrepreneurs” who are turning to their own business because they can't find any other work.
Glay says he needed the paycheck, but starting his business was about keeping his mind engaged as well.
Though Crash Boom Bam hasn't come close to replacing an annual income that crept into six figures, Glay says he's busier than ever now, between the business, regular drumming gigs, and part-time work at a bookstore and a wine-tasting event company. “Even if it's not making me a millionaire, I know what it's doing for my head,” he said. “There's no price you could put on that.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Toyota to invest $50M in driverless technology with Stanford, MIT partnership
- Farmers fear 2nd attack of bird flu
- Bank of New York Mellon computer glitch examined for harm to investors
- Voice-assist technology gets big push toward mainstream vehicles
- Alcoa putting $60M into Upper Burrell tech center expansion
- U.S. adds 173,000 jobs in August, dropping unemployment rate to 5.1 percent
- Idea Foundry CEO Matesic decides which new companies get help from his Pittsburgh business incubator
- Is safety impaired when braking makes car shake?
- Jobs report fails to provide clarity to investors
- Save big money with comparable model of vehicle
- Trimmer Pilot belies more room, power