Businesses For Baby Boomers
Elizabeth G. Olson 11.16.07, 6:10 PM ET
After two decades in the real estate business, 55-year-old Carol Cole mulled what to do next. Then she happened upon a radio news story about people who help downsize households.
A year later, Cole launched her own downsizing business covering a 16-zip-code territory around Roanoke, Va. Operating since September as a licensee of "Smooth Transitions" (a franchisor based in Louisville, Ky.), Cole helps fellow Boomers and other clients pare back their belongings and set up shop in smaller apartments and retirement facilities. Revenues are but a trickle at this point, but Cole has high hopes. "I am trying to replace my full-time salary [about $60,000 a year]," she says.
A huge swath of the U.S. population--some 80 million baby boomers--is edging toward retirement, though only a small percentage will hit the links on a permanent basis. The rest will keep working, either because they want to or because they can't afford not to. The trick: working on one's own terms.
In Pictures: Seven Businesses For Baby Boomers
Clearly it helps to have a specific expertise. Accountants, lawyers and money mangers can make their own consulting hours and charge a pretty penny to boot. But Boomers without specialized skills have entrepreneurial options, too. Many are aimed at a familiar audience--other Boomers and their parents--and demand neither 13-hour work days nor huge piles of capital.
Take Cole. To kick-start her downsizing business, she spent $800 on conferences to learn about the industry; $1,800 on a training course (essential, she says, for handling challenging customers like hoarders and Alzheimer's sufferers); and $3,000 for "Smooth Transitions" training and license fee. Not a princely sum. Variable expenses include insurance ($650 a year), computer rental ($300), brochures and stationary ($650) and miscellaneous supplies and documents ($400).
Wellness coaching is another boomer-friendly option. Wellness coaches guide people through some of their tougher challenges, from dropping weight to quitting smoking. Typical rate: $100 per hour. Coaches with corporate experience can boost rates to $300 an hour by adding "executive coaching" to their repertoires.
That's Charles Schroeder's plan. After nearly three decades in the nuclear power utility industry, Schroeder found that woodworking and riding Harleys wasn’t enough. So he spent $1,000 on a 10-week online course about navigating issues as diverse as weight loss to recovering from an injury.
While he expects his Estes Park, Colo. business to take a couple of years to ramp up, Schroeder points up a nice perk: After the initial in-person meeting, wellness coaching can typically be done by telephone--“even from our motor home parked by a beach."
Karolyn Wrightson, 65, turned a passion for Australia into a business opportunity: a specialty travel agency. Many Boomers have wanderlust, and that's good news for travel agents. But with the onslaught of do-it-yourself trip-planning on the Web, agents have to specialize to thrive--either by focusing on specific geographies or customer demographics, such as intergenerational family groups or customers with disabilities.
Inspired by a three-month trip to the Outback, Wrightson left behind a career in historic preservation and founded Essential Down Under Travel in 1999. Since then, her number of clients has doubled every year, mainly via word of mouth, she says. Last year Essential sold $1 million in travel packages, of which the company takes an undisclosed cut.
Another in-demand profession for the newly retired is "professional organizer." Plenty of people are a mess--or at least their homes are. Professional organizers impose order on everything from towel closets to home offices--and get paid $50 to $200 an hour to do it.
"It used to be a little secret," says Standolyn Robertson, 51, founder of Things in Place Organizing Services in Waltham, Mass. There's a reason for that: People are often reluctant to admit they use an organizer. (Hint: Don't count on word-of-mouth marketing.) While The National Organization of Professional Organizers, now with 4,000 members, offers a professional organizer certificate, in reality anyone can hang out an organizer's shingle.
The burgeoning number of people entering "driving retirement" was a clarion call for boomer entrepreneurs Jeff Maltz and Susan Steiner Saal, founders of SilverRide in San Francisco. Since its launch last January, SilverRide has nabbed 175 clients whom it transports--by scheduled appointment--to medical appointments, grocery stores and fun outings like the opera. The company has grown so rapidly, say the pair, that they plan to expand into other cities, probably through franchises.
Compared to office organizing and booking vacations, this is a more capital-intensive business. State laws mandate that SilverRide, which operates much like a limo company, has to carry nearly $1 million in insurance on each of its three black Chrysler PT Cruisers and the drivers, including both a former Buddhist monk and an airline stewardess.
Worth the investment? “We can make a living from this," says Maltz.
In Pictures: Seven Businesses For Baby Boomers