For the Year of the Boomer -- 2014 is the year the youngest Boomers turn 50 -- here is another installment in my survey of 50 Boomers across 10 career categories who have reinvented themselves within the last 10 years.
Reinvention is not a walk in the park, particularly for those of us who feel like we have already paid our dues, made our mark, and would otherwise prefer to kick back and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Unfortunately, the lifestyle we Boomers thought we would have at this point in our lives has turned out to be something of a myth for many in our generation. New heroes are emerging, however, who are breaking new ground, and demonstrating that it is indeed possible to adapt successfully to challenging times.
John House was 56 years old and considering all of this and more when he started JHS Specialties, LLC, a green product industrial supply sales company, in July 2011.
John's resume is notable for the range of his experience. He was a career military man, and retired medically from the Army as a 71L, Clerk-Typist; an 11B, Infantryman; and 05C, SCUBA Diver. He had endured physical challenges, including losing the sight in his right eye, and had problems with his knees. He gained more diverse experience from having then worked as a police officer, and as a salesperson. He also did volunteer training for Rescue and Recovery workers in SCUBA skills. But John had an additional hoop to jump through every month. On top of everything, his wife has a lifelong debilitating disease that costs them about $7,000/month in medical expenses.
This is a man whose determined attitude sets him apart. One of his goals in life was to leave a legacy to his children. Clearly, at age 56, John knew that he needed to make a change, and to do something dramatic to make that goal a reality. A practical man who is not afraid to ask for help, John made a series of very smart moves.
First, he sat down with his kids to see if they wanted to run a company he would start. If his goal was to build something that he could leave to them, it would make sense to make them part of the decision, and to enter into this new venture by consensus. They were interested and supportive, so John proceeded to research both the kind of business that could work for him, and then to marshal the resources necessary to successfully manage it.
This is where the services of the Small Business Administration (SBA), and, the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC) came into play. House met with Greg Tucker from the SBTDC, who became John's business advisor, as well as his de-facto coach, egging him on to success along with "an occasional kick in the pants along the way." As reported in an article on the SBA website, John's company was formed to sell commercial and industrial supplies as a home-based business from his home in Valles Mines, Missouri.
John's success is a testament to his determination and his solid planning. Cash flow is crucial for a business like John's, so he addressed this first challenge by leveraging his SBA and SBTDC support and securing a $10,000 credit line in order to buy product. At this early stage, landing customers is tough, but landing the right customers is even tougher, as their willingness to pay on time can be make-or-break. Fortunately, John's customers were good about paying their bills, and understood that he was a small business owner -- but he also understood the value of good customer service, and making the best first impression possible on his new clients. Accordingly, he made a point of averaging only a 15-day turnaround on his invoices. Once he was up and running, the treadmill began, and John found himself in startup land, putting in 12 hour days, 6 days a week. He feels it has been definitely worth it, and his business has continued to grow. He now has one full time, and one part time employee, and has moved out of his house into dedicated office space.
John has sound advice for those thinking about adapting his playbook: "Go to the SBTDC, to SBA. The government is there to help you. Use them. Don't reinvent the wheel. Whatever age you start a business, you should analyze what you want to do and ask yourself if this is what you want to spend your time doing."
House is a small businessman who took some big risks, but risked smartly, did his best to minimize his downside, and, most importantly, got the advice and support he needed. There are many community and governmental resources available to Boomers, and a growing community of aging professionals who will be rooting for the success of our generation in finding meaningful business ownership. In a way, the only thing that makes House's business unusual in our culture is the age at which he chose to start it. But in the coming years, that may not be unusual any longer. And that sounds like a good thing.