Seniors who want to start a second career find a wealth of opportunity and support in Maine.
By Jennifer Van Allen
When industrial designer David Hulbert moved from Brooklyn to Maine at age 58, he had no intention of stopping work. He couldn’t afford to, and he didn’t want to either.
“I think the idea of totally retiring, sitting around and doing nothing is kind of deadly,” Hulbert says.
He’d been mulling an idea for a lifeboat that a person could row, sail, or use with a motor. After he settled in Portland, he spent eight months building a prototype in his garage.
With the help of grants from Maine Technology Institute, mentoring from SCORE, training in management and production from the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs’ “Top Gun” program, and classes on scaling up from the Small Business Administration, Hulbert launched Portland Pudgy, Inc. in 2004. Today, orders for his 8-foot boats come in from all over the globe, and Hulbert’s encore career yields $600,000 in annual sales.
While he sometimes wishes he wasn’t working this hard at age 77, even if he wasn’t building boats, Hulbert says, “I would have to do something — drinking rum on a Caribbean island can only last so long.”
Hulbert is part of the rising tide of so-called encore entrepreneurs who are starting businesses at an age that has been conventionally reserved for retirement. Nationally, nearly 26 percent of entrepreneurs are ages 55 to 64, up from 15 percent in 1996, according to the Kauffman Foundation, which promotes education and entrepreneurship.
“I don’t see us sitting around watching the game in the lounger.” — Frank Ferrel, Zen Bear Honey Tea
“Seniors have the wisdom and experience to plow into potential business opportunities, and often they have the financial resources to invest in their start-up,” says Nancy Strojny, chair of Portland’s SCORE chapter. While the trend is taking hold nationwide, it’s particularly hot here in the Pine Tree State, which has the highest median age in the nation and a thriving start-up community. Approximately 35 percent of all entrepreneurs who seek mentoring from SCORE Maine are age 50 or older.
“Mainers understand the power of connection,” Strojny says. “People collaborate to help each other succeed — a rare quality for a state.”
Collaboration was critical when retired librarian Jodi Breau launched Dental Lace — a biodegradable dental floss that comes in a refillable recyclable container. Her SCORE mentor helped her hammer out a business plan, jump through the regulatory hoops, and identify key contractors who could provide services like design.
“My SCORE mentor’s support and mentoring skills were beyond awesome,” says Breau, 59, of Cape Elizabeth. “There wouldn’t be a Dental Lace without him.”
A tech-savvy friend helped Breau create a Shopify website for online sales, and once her product hit the market, it quickly gained traction. Soon, retailers were clamoring to get Dental Lace in their shops. Breau moved the business to an office space, then hired temporary contractors to help. And in 2018, her second full year in business, Breau’s company brought in $300,000 in sales, with distribution in 11 countries and wholesale accounts in 37 countries.
While Breau does aspire to a more conventional retirement one day, full of travel and leisure, she wants to see Dental Lace flourish first. She dreams that one day it could be a household name, as popular as Tom’s of Maine, and create quality job opportunities for Maine residents. “I really want to make a change,” she says.
Other encore entrepreneurs are also inspired by the opportunity to make a positive community impact. In 2013, Mike Roylos developed the Sidewalk Buttler, a cigarette-butt receptacle that attaches to light poles, hoping to clean up the toxic butts that littered the sidewalks outside the restaurant he owned in downtown Portland. Once full, bags of butts can be shipped, free of charge, to a recycling operation that turns them into items like pallets and park benches. Roylos, 63, has since sold his restaurant and now attends full-time to Sidewalk Buttler. He has sold 13,000 units to municipalities, advocacy groups, and individuals all over the world. His 67-year-old wife, Nan McLaughlin, joined the company after retiring from a 43-year career in nursing.
“It’s very exciting to be a part of a solution in keeping our planet healthy,” McLaughlin says. “Mike is a natural inventor and loves to think up new ways of making things better. I love preventing problems.”
For sisters Anne Hassett, 57, and Carrie Lacy, 54, a second career emerged out of a desire to satisfy a hunger — for pizza. They moved to Milbridge from Connecticut last year and couldn’t find a local restaurant that sold the wood-fired pizza they loved. So the sisters, a retired receptionist and security dispatcher, respectively, took food safety courses through a program run by the National Restaurant Association, traveled to Denver for a crash course on operating a mobile wood-fired oven, and with guidance from the Maine Small Business Development Center, they got a $65,000 loan to purchase a pizza-oven trailer and inventory.
They opened last June and sold 50 pizzas on day one. “It just took off,” Lacy says. Business was so good that the sisters needed to pull Hassett’s husband, Pete, 62, out of retirement to take orders during the busy hours. Though the physical intensity of the job wears on the sisters, they love the activity and feeling connected to their adopted hometown. “As tired as we are,” Lacy says, “we’re having a really good time.”
Frank Ferrel, 76, and Lisa Ferrel, 72, started Zen Bear Honey Tea in 2014, shortly after retiring from their first careers.
Frank and Lisa Ferrel say they just stumbled into a second career in 2014, after Frank retired from Maine Public Television and Lisa retired from the Chewonki Foundation. They make and sell Zen Bear Honey Tea, an herb, spice, honey, and tea mixture that they had been introduced to by their nephew, an acupuncturist and practitioner of oriental medicine.
“It seemed like kind of an interesting thing and just kind of pulled us along,” says Frank, who is 76. Lisa is 72. They eventually moved the business from their garage to a space in Brunswick’s Fort Andross Mill, which provided access to a loading dock and a connection to other supportive, successful, locally grown businesses, including Redd Superfood Energy Bars, Green Bee Soda, and the Frontier Cafe. “It’s an atmosphere of creativity,” Frank says.
While the Ferrels have since delegated some of the business-related travel to part-time employees, they still thrive on the adrenaline of running the business.
“Whenever we say, ‘What are we doing? We’re getting too old for this,’ something exciting happens and we get all enthused again,” Frank says. “If it wasn’t this, we’d be doing something else. I don’t see us sitting around watching the game in the lounger.”
TIPS FROM THE TOP
David Hulbert, 77
Encore career: Portland Pudgy
First career: Industrial Designer
Support system: Hulbert received guidance from SCORE, Maine Center for Entrepreneurs, and he received three grants from Maine Technology Institute. Even beyond the financing, the grants “gave me the validation to continue,” he says.
My advice: Outsource expertise that you don’t have — or want to develop. Hulbert’s wife handles shipping and marketing. He has one employee handling assembly, and contracts with a bookkeeper. “It’s important to delegate to keep yourself interested,” Hulbert says. “I’m a designer, I’m not a finance person or a manager.”
My take on retirement: “I think the idea of totally retiring, sitting around and doing nothing is kind of deadly. I wish I wasn’t working as hard as I am. But I would have to do something. Drinking rum on a Caribbean Island can only last so long.”
Jodi Breau, 59
Encore career: Dental Lace
First career: librarian and teacher
Support system: Breau’s SCORE mentor helped her hammer out a business plan, jump through the regulatory hoops, and identify key contractors who could provide services like design. “His support and mentoring skills were beyond awesome,” says Breau. “There wouldn’t be a Dental Lace without him.” A friend helped her build a Shopify site for online sales. Other friends, family, and neighbors eagerly jumped in to help with assembly. Even her 84-year-old parents are very much involved.
My advice: “Do your market research,” Breau says. If that’s not your thing then find a reference librarian with business expertise. “Portland Public Library is a great resource for entrepreneurs.”
My take on retirement: “I’m a restless person and easily bored with routine. I was nearing retirement but was also looking for a new adventure that would stimulate and excite me. Starting a business with no business background, at all, has fit the bill.”
Mike Roylos, 63 and Nan McLaughlin, 67
Encore career: Sidewalk Buttler
First career: Roylos was a restaurateur; McLaughlin was a nurse.
Support system: SCORE helped with services like branding, marketing, and social media. And their neighbors, who were extremely tolerant of the ear-splitting noise in their driveway, when Roylos was cutting the aluminum tubes with a chop saw.
My advice: Persistence pays off-remember a NO is one step closer to a YES!
My take on retirement: We want, to do something that will help ensure a safe environment for our grandchildren and their children,” McLaughlin says. “Plus, I’m a neatnik and love to tidy up!
Anne Hassett, 57, and Carrie Lacy, 54
Encore career: Fire & Dough Woodfired Pizza, seasonal
Most recent career: Receptionist and security dispatcher
Support system: The sisters earned food safety certification through the National Restaurant Association, and got a crash course on operating food trucks with wood-fired ovens through “Fire Within Woodfired University” a weekend course in Denver. With guidance from the Maine Small Business Development Center, they connected with a bank which provided a $65,000 loan to purchase a trailer and inventory.
My advice: Do your research, look for the business help that is out there, and enjoy the process without getting intimidated.
My take on retirement: “I never thought I’d be doing something like this, “Lacy says. Hassett adds:”I’m always thinking about my life as chapters, this journey is the beginning of my retirement chapter”
Frank Ferrel, 76, and Lisa Ferrel, 72
Encore Career: Zen Bear Honey Tea
First career: Frank worked in public television. Lisa worked as a cook at the Chewonki Foundation
Support system: The Ferrels boostrapped their startup with a small loan from family. Their SCORE mentor helped them every step of the way, through the arduous process of obtaining a trademark, and setting up shop on Amazon. And the couple continue to take advantage of every training opportunity that they can find. “We take every class they offer,” Frank says.
My advice: Plug in to Maine’s vibrant startup community. At first, the husband-and-wife team were handling every aspect of the business themselves, working from the guest room and their garage. Now they moved to a space in Fort Andross Mill in New Brunswick, and have 3 part-time employees. They love having access to a loading dock, and being near other successful home-grown companies like Redd Bar and Green Bee Soda. “It’s an atmosphere of creativity,” Frank says.
My take on retirement: “Whenever we say, ‘What are we doing? We’re getting too old for this,’ something exciting happens and we get all enthused again,” Frank says. “If it wasn’t this, we’d be doing something. I don’t see us sitting around watching the game in the lounger.”