Life after retirement: Retirees find new purpose as entrepreneurs, business owners

Mary Ellen Tainer, owner of Marmalade Boutique in Sawyer, stands among the clothes in her shop Thursday afternoon. Tainer, who retired after 27 years in real estate business, decided to become an entrepreneur and open up a women’s boutique store in the Harbor Country area. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Mary Ellen Tainer, owner of Marmalade Boutique in Sawyer, stands among the clothes in her shop Thursday afternoon. Tainer, who retired after 27 years in real estate business, decided to become an entrepreneur and open up a women’s boutique store in the Harbor Country area. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

SAWYER — The life of a retiree can be both simple and hectic.

For Mary Ellen Tainer, retirement has been fulfilling. That’s because the 64-year-old has used her spare time to open a business called Marmalade Boutique in downtown Sawyer. Inside her cove, among the exposed brick walls and oak floors, Tainer sells women’s clothing that ranges from scarves to coat’s and blouses.

Prior to opening the boutique in early May, Tainer had spent 27 years working in real estate. Upon retirement, Tainer chose to open a business that she would enjoy being a part of.

“I was just trying to figure out if there was a need in Harbor Country, when someone told me to do what I love,” Tainer said. “I love fashion and shopping, so this was fun for me.”

After mulling over her decision, she moved forward with it in January and hasn’t looked back.

A growing number of seniors like Tainer are embarking on new careers as entrepreneurs. However, Tainer said the term OPALs – older people with active lifestyles – is a more appropriate reference for what her age group is doing.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people age 65 and older make up the biggest percentage of self-employed workers. Those aged 55-64 are a close second. Some start businesses after retirement to fulfill dreams, or do something with their newfound free time. Others see owning a small business as a way to supplement their income, particularly if current savings fall short of what will be needed as they get older.

Regardless of their age or motivation, many OPALs find operating a small business to be the most rewarding thing they’ve done. With them comes experience, resources and the time needed to run their start-ups.

New beginnings

St. Joseph resident Patricia Adams is 70 years old and has retired twice.

At the end of May this year, she retired from Brookview Montessori School in Benton Harbor as its interim executive director. Prior to joining Brookview, Adams retired from the Curious Kids Museum after 14 years as its executive director. In July, Adams began her own consulting firm where she now helps an area school system with its organizational goals and special projects.

“People kept asking me to come help them address issues in their organizations,” Adams said. “I thought maybe all that experience should be used to help people. It’s wonderful to have something to do that involves your heart and beliefs after you retire.”

Adams said she did not find the transition from retiree to entrepreneur difficult, as Cornerstone Alliance helped her through the majority of paperwork.

Mary Ellen Tainer, owner of Marmalade Boutique in Sawyer, folds up one of her scarves she has showcased inside her store Thursday afternoon. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Mary Ellen Tainer, owner of Marmalade Boutique in Sawyer, folds up one of her scarves she has showcased inside her store Thursday afternoon. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

“I thoroughly enjoy working with people and children who believe in excellence and creative education,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to pass those practices on at this time in my life.”

Margaret Adams, manager of the Women’s Business Center at Cornerstone Alliance, said the trend of seeing older entrepreneurs populate the local business market isn’t surprising.

“We are seeing more individuals that have retired and are starting a business because they have this excess amount of time,” Adams said. “They have a skill set that is still usable in the marketplace. It is a good balance to keep their minds fresh and keep them in a good position where they are still needed. They still have a lot to offer.”

Adams said they have helped about six older entrepreneurs within the last year in getting their business off the ground.

No barriers or hurdles

While new waves of technology are being implemented into business operations, Adams said she doesn’t believe there are any real hurdles for retirees who wish to start their own businesses.

The only worry is making sure those businesses are registered with the state and equipped with the proper insurance.

“Most of them bring knowledge and already-established relationships,” Adams said. “It’s just a matter of them becoming a legitimate business in the state of Michigan. Some treat this as their life-long dream. They come up with the concept themselves.”

Back in Sawyer among her clothes and full-length mirrors, Tainer said she knew this was what she wanted to invest her retirement money in.

“Its about identifying needs,” Tainer said. “Sales is hearing and seeing what your customers want. Ever since I was a little girl and sold Girl Scout Cookies, I thought of sales as making people happy.”

From the way she displays products to the placement of her changing room, Tainer is exacting in what she wants out of her business. Through the 10-month process of reading books and doing research, Tainer said there has to be a full commitment on the owner’s end.

She said the only hard part about getting her business going was making the decision.

“Don’t be afraid, do what you need to do,” Tainer said. “Once you make your decision, you run with it. You have to learn a lot and be a little bit of a risk taker.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 30, 2015)

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