Coming of Age

Americans are hitting 50 and finding they're anything but over the hill. These entrepreneurs prove it's never too late to buy a franchise.

By Sara Wilson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Don't assume 50-year-olds are past their prime-many arefinding that the years after 50 are a perfect time to start abusiness, and buying a franchise is a great way to do that. Whethermotivated by personal desire or out of financial necessity, theseambitious individuals are pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors inevery imaginable field. Here's a look at several late-bloomingentrepreneurs who purchased a franchise after age 50.

A New Beginning

Today's older population is healthy reported that 7.5 million Americans 55 andolder belonged to gyms in 2002, compared with 1.5 million in 1987.These older Americans have both the desire and the ability to stayin the work force well past the age of 50. In a recent poll fromThe Wall Street Journal and NBC News, retirees were moreinterested in an active life, which involved working, than theirparents' generation.

For aging individuals seeking new work options, franchising isan appealing choice. "Folks in their 50s are energetic,"says David Handler, senior vice president of the InternationalCenter for Entrepreneurial Development, a Cypress, Texas-basedholding company for nine franchise brands. "They'veperhaps lived the corporate life, and they're ready to try iton their own."

Dan and Mary Ann Jones represent this growing population ofolder franchisees. After giving retirement a try for a couple ofyears, they came to the conclusion that it was not all it wascracked up to be. "We were doing nothing, playing golf andhaving fun," says Dan, 58, who left his corporate job at aninsurance corporation to see if the grass was greener on the otherside. "We decided we needed to do something else, because wewere getting bored."

The Joneses spent nearly a year researching franchiseopportunities before selecting Kwik Kopy Business Center, which providesprinting, copying, packing and shipping services. They had bothworked in upper level management jobs and felt a franchise likeKwik Kopy would allow them to use the skills they had acquired froma lifetime of work in the corporate world. "We've bothbeen in high-paying jobs and under tremendous amounts ofstress," says Dan. "We had come to a point in our liveswhere we wanted to have fun and build something."

Since opening their franchise in Temple, Texas, in July 2003,the Joneses have been busy, devoting as much as 70 hours per weekto the business. Still, their franchise has granted them a newfoundfreedom they hadn't known in the corporate world-the freedom toset their own schedules. They have also acquired skills such asdoing the payroll and even using the copy machine-duties they neverhad to learn before. Most important, having a franchise hasbreathed new meaning into their lives. Says Mary Ann, 55,"It's just like having grandchildren."

Layoff to Startup

Marc Weinberg turned to franchising when Prudential downsizedand he was laid off after 23 years as a corporate employee.Weinberg walked away with enough money to retire comfortably, butafter six months, he was ready to start working again. Thoughplenty of opportunities were available in the corporate world, hedidn't want to follow that same path. He also had no desire tostart his own business. "I didn't want to start my owncompany from scratch," he says, "because I'm the typeof person who would work myself to death."

So instead, at the ripe age of 50, Weinberg hit the bars. Hepurchased a Bevinco franchise in Stanholdt, New Jersey, and startedgetting paid to keep bar and restaurant staffs accountable for theproducts used and the cash received. Now, eight years later, he istaking things relatively easy-working about 30 hours a week andbringing in about $100,000 a year. He also works with thefranchisor to assist other franchisees. And he still has time forhis favorite hobby: racing his powerboat.

For Weinberg, getting laid off wasn't devastating; instead,it was a golden opportunity to fulfill a longtime dream of runninghis own franchise. "[Owning a franchise] feels terrific,"he says. "I get to reap the rewards of my own work directlyinstead of having to contribute them all to the company."

The Benefits of Being Older

Cashing In

Health and longevity are keeping people in the work forcelonger, but financial reasons are also a driving factor. Accordingto a 2003 survey conducted for the Employee Benefit ResearchInstitute, 70 percent of older baby boomers and 73 percent ofyounger ones expect to continue to work in post-retirement jobs.Many are staying in the work force to prepare for a time when theycan no longer work. "People have not put enough money away inorder to live comfortably; so, in many cases, they are forced to goback [to work] and do something," says Stuart Taylor,co-founder of Your New Career Inc., a career counseling firm inMenlo Park, California, that caters largely to older people.

Careerwise, Don Salatich, 58, has experimented with everything.He spent several years designing turbines for jet engines at GM,worked as an executive for a brush manufacturing company, and evenoperated a hot-air balloon business. After a lifetime of work,Salatich was mentally ready to retire, but the decline in the stockmarket took away all hopes of being able to do so and still livecomfortably. In search of financial security, he gave real estate ashot, but things didn't click until he tried his hand atscooping ice cream.

In 1997, Salatich discovered Cold Stone Creamery when he and hiswife stopped for dessert during a road trip. "In my world, noday is complete without ice cream," he says. "I walkedin, and they were making freshly baked waffle cones. That aromajust grabbed me."

Six years after that fateful trip, the aroma still hadn'tloosened its grip. He gave into temptation and purchased two ColdStone franchises in 2003. Sure of his decision, he decided torelocate from Cincinnati to Indianapolis to get good locations. Healso made a significant financial investment, with one store aloneamounting to $290,000 in startup costs. "I have two passionsin life: golf and Cold Stone," he says. "At my age, Iknew I couldn't succeed at golf, but I had a great shot atsucceeding with Cold Stone. So we went ahead and got involved withtwo franchises."

Salatich hopes the franchise will ensure a secure retirement,putting him and his wife back in control of their destiny. "Ilook forward to the day I can say 'I'm retired,'"he says. "This is an investment we hope will provide us withwhat we need in the future so we can retire comfortably."

Never Too Late

Those who fear that 50 is too late to buy a franchise may wantto think again. Age is not an accurate representation of yourenergy or ability to succeed. A recent study conducted by theNational Council on the Aging found one-third of Americans in their70s consider themselves middle-aged. "People who are 68 can beall over the map," says Taylor. "Some have the vitalityof a 22-year-old, and [others] have no vitality."

The Joneses, Weinberg and Salatich all agree that getting off toa late start was actually an advantage. "At 50, you'remuch more realistic," says Weinberg. "You have many moretools in your arsenal if you've been in the business world forthose preceding 30 years."

These franchisees are going strong. The Joneses don't planto stop at one franchise. They hope that in five years, they'llbe able to start looking for a second franchise. Eventually,Weinberg will turn his franchise over to his son, move to the Southwith his wife, and try retirement again. Salatich's future willbe filled with ice cream. He plans to hire a general manager to runthree locations while he and his wife focus on planning, marketingand possible expansion.

One thing is for sure: Even after the age of 50, it's nevertoo late to take a leap of faith and begin again. "You'veheard people say, and you've maybe said yourself 'If I hadonly known this when I was younger, I would have done thingsdifferently,'" says Dan Jones. "In a way, this waskind of that chance."

Before You Start
Are youready to start over but don't quite know how? Stuart Taylor,co-founder of Menlo Park, California-based Your New Career Inc.,shares some tips on what to consider before opening a franchise.
  • Examine your finances. Evaluate how much money you willneed to live and how much will be allocated to purchasing andoperating the franchise. Says Taylor, "The worst thing whenstarting a business is to run out of money five months after youstart."
  • Consider going into business with a partner who complementsyour strengths and weaknesses. "It's always good toget a partner," he says. "You want someone who willreally go fight with you on an even basis."
  • Seek objective advice from people other than family andfriends. Says Taylor, "I believe strongly in havingsomeone outside your immediate sphere of family or friends, [whotend to be] either completely down on the idea or overly euphoricabout it."
  • Make sure it's something you love doing. Taylorexplains, "It's really a fact-finding, due-diligence typeof exercise, starting with yourself and then other things aroundyou to see if this is something you want to do."

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