Cash in Retirement


By Lisa Angowski Rogak
Illustration by Barbara Pollak

What is a retirement business anyway? It might be an extension of a hobby, a part-time affair which requires a minimal investment of time and money such as a small farming operation run out of your backyard. At the other extreme, it could be a country inn, a full-time, all-consuming operation that calls for a very sizable initial investment and total commitment to make it run smoothly and profitably. In between these extremes are hundreds of possibilities, a few of which are presented here in enough detail to get you thinking about a retirement business that meets your goals and fits your resources. Each entry contains helpful facts and tips about starting and running the business and includes references for tracking down more information. The real-life stories of how the owners got started in their businesses should give you many insights that you can successfully apply to your own chosen enterprise.

Tour Guide
Tordis Isselhardt
Bennington, Vermont

Ease of Startup Easy
Range of Initial Investment $500
Time Commitment Part- or full-time
Can You Run the Business From Home? No
Success Potential Easy
Description of Business: A business in which a person offers group and individual tours of an area.
Ease of Startup: Easy. Design and map out a variety of thematic tours. Then contact the chamber of commerce and other businesses that deal with tourists.
Range of Initial Investment: $500 for brochure and business card.
Time Commitment: Part- or full-time
Run Business From Home? No.
Success Potential: Easy. Your chances are good; they can improve even more if you put an unusual twist on your tours.
How to Market the Business: Advertising, word of mouth, referrals.
The Pros: You'll meet people and be able to make money from your knowledge of a particular area.
The Cons: Business can be seasonal and sporadic. You might need time to build your reputation as an expert if you're not known already.
Special Considerations: People who love to share their knowledge and enjoy people will do well with this business.

Story of the Business
Tordis Isselhardt has long been known as an expert on Bennington history, from the famous Bennington Battle Monument to the architecture of several of the town's more spectacular historic homes.
In 1988 the Bennington Chamber of Commerce arranged with the three major historical sites in town-the Monument, the Bennington Museum, and the Park McCullough House-to offer a group ticket to visitors, charging one price for admission to all three. The director of the Chamber contacted Tordis to serve as the guide because she had written a brochure for two self-guided tours that the Chamber had published. He then designed and distributed a flier to give to bus tours to alert them to the service. For one price, each person gained admission to three sites, a tour guide, and lunch.
The Chamber ran the program for a year before deciding it didn't want to be in the tour business. They then handed it over to Tordis, who assumed the responsibility of dealing with the bus tour companies and arranging itineraries. The Chamber continues to refer tour groups to her. Lodging facilities in town also recommend her when tours arrive and ask what there is to see.
Generally, Isselhardt starts off with an introductory 20-minute slide presentation in which she gives a brief historical talk about the town. Then the group gets on the bus to visit two or three of the main attractions; sometimes they drive a special route if the group has requested it. "I do basic tours, but also design special tours for people who request them," she explains. The tours last a few hours or all day.
For tours that last all day, she includes lunch, having lined up three restaurants to work with her on a variety of menus. To arrive at her price-which averages $20 per person for everything-she figures out what the sites and restaurant will charge her. The Museum charges $4, the Park McCullough House costs $3 and the Monument charges $1. She can get lunch for $7, giving a total of $15; she makes about $5 per person. If 30 people are on the tour, she'll make $150 for a seven-hour day, not including the time it took her to plan the itinerary and make reservations with the various sites.
Her busiest season is the fall, when she does up to four tours a week for five weeks. The bus tour business slows down in a weak economy because commitments by tourists and tour groups have to be made in advance and secured with a deposit.
"People on the tours want more for their money. They're asking more questions," she says. "They don't just want an outing. It has to be a show and a learning experience."

Exercise Instructor
Beverly Gemigniani
Sun Lake, Arizona,

Ease of Startup Easy
Range of Initial Investment $10,000
Time Commitment Full-time
Can You Run the Business From Home? No
Success Potential Easy

Description of Business: A business that offers exercise instruction through classes, videos, and other products. Demonstrations provide another source of income.
Ease of Startup: Moderately easy. It's a good idea to become certified and to work through another studio before you start your own business.
Range of Initial Investment: $10,000
Time Commitment: Full-time
Run Business From Home? No.
Success Potential: Easy. Good instructors are in demand, especially if they cater to a particular group.
How to Market the Business: Advertising, publicity, word of mouth, referrals.
The Pros: You're helping people become healthy and fit. It's a fun business.
The Cons: Even if you're in great shape, teaching up to six classes a day is exhausting.
Special Considerations: A physically fit, outgoing person with charisma and a dance background will do well in this business.
For More Information: Fitness Management Magazine, POB 1198, Solana Beach, CA 92075.

Story of the Business
Beverly Gemigniani likes big challenges; in fact, she wants nothing less than to change the public's image of older age. "I want to show it as something that is likable and adventuresome," she says. "No one's done this before, and I've always felt I'm on unproven ground."
Beverly Gemigniani is the force behind The Dancin' Grannies, an aerobic dance troupe of grandmothers over 60 that performs all over the country. She started her own business because she was looking for someone to teach her how to exercise as an older person, and that person did not exist.
Before she began working out in the early '80s, Beverly was a size 16. After two years of aerobics and one of weightlifting, she'd transformed her body to a size 4.
She'd always worked as a machinist for her husband, who owned several machine shops over the years. Then they moved to a retirement community in Arizona so her husband could build a new shop. She looked around for something to do and discovered the gym. "I love to share, and pretty soon I was helping other women work out," she remembers.
She decided she wanted to teach, but she needed certification. She joined IDEA, an organization of aerobic dance teachers, and The Dancin' Grannies was born.
After The Dancin' Grannies appeared on The Phil Donahue Show, Beverly was approached by four video companies. She ended up with an independent producer who specialized in marketing businesses to mature people. The first video-their best-seller-has sold almost 800,000 copies.
Beverly believes many people who go into this business eventually fail because they focus on a too small market. "With physical fitness, they'll join one organization," she says. "What we do is also show business, which reaches another audience. You have to constantly come out with new products," she remarks. The Dancin' Grannies are planning a walking tape, a relaxation tape, a poster, and a calendar. All will be sold through a distributor.
The Grannies perform at fairs and expos, earning $2,000 for two performances. Beverly gets $1,500 for a lecture. She grosses $200,000 a year but calls the business a labor of love, due to the high expenses of travel, costumes, and training.
But not everyone has such lofty aspirations. You could build a local reputation and succeed as a part-time business by forming your own specialized dance and/or exercise troupe and appear at local benefits and functions.

Newsletter Publisher
Ron Rich
Lakewood, Colorado

Ease of Startup Moderate
Range of Initial Investment $500
Time Commitment Part- or full-time
Can You Run the Business From Home? Yes
Success Potential Easy

Description of Business: A regular publication sold by subscription that focuses on a very specific field.
Ease of Startup: Moderate. You need one sample issue to start. Range of Initial Investment: $500 if you already have a computer.
Time Commitment: Part- to full-time
Run the Business From Home? Yes
Success Potential: Easy. If you fill a niche that nobody else is addressing, it's easy to succeed if you have the marketing plan to back it up.
How to Market the Business: Direct mail, publicity, conferences, lectures, advertising.
The Pros: It's satisfying to have people pay for what you have to say.
The Cons: Sometimes it's difficult to get subscribers to renew.
Special Considerations: Newsletter publishing is for people who have a particular interest and are able to address it in very specific ways.
For More Information: Publishing Newsletters, by Howard Penn Hudson and The Newsletter on Newsletters, available through The Newsletter Clearinghouse, 800-572-3451. Starting and Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine, by Cheryl Woodard, available through Nolo Press; 800-992-6656.

Story of the Business
Ron Rich had been an elementary school teacher and principal for 30 years. He had developed a reputation as an expert in children's literature and frequently gave talks on children's books in his classrooms.
He took early retirement in 1990 but didn't know what he was going to do. When he voiced his concerns to a friend, the friend replied, "I'm sure it will have something to do with children's books." He turned out to be right.
"I wanted to publish a newsletter about books geared toward kids from kindergarten through the eighth grade," recalls Rich. The result is Booktalk, an eight-page newsletter containing reviews of recently published books. When he started the newsletter in 1991, Rich initially geared it toward teachers and parents. He quickly discovered librarians are the ones who have the money to buy the books and who want to know what's new in the field, so he began to promote Booktalk to them.
He publishes the newsletter monthly from September through June and charges $23.50. School districts frequently pay for the subscriptions. In 1993 he had 100 subscribers, but hopes to increase his circulation to 500. He reinvests all the money he receives back into promotion and direct mail.
To market the newsletter, Rich sends flyers to school librarians. He attends state book conferences, frequently as a speaker. Another service he's developed is a program for kindergarten through 6th grade called Let's Read A Book. He visits school classes and reads to the class in 30-minute sessions. In 1992 Rich conducted 20 such sessions.
Rich works as the Children's Reading Specialist in the local Barnes & Noble bookstore; he also manages the children's department, with over 12,000 titles. He likes working at the bookstore particularly because he has access to any book he'd like to read. He spends about 20 hours a week working on the newsletter. "I started with 500 names; they were names of acquaintances, people I was working with and people at school districts. I sent each a copy of the first issue," he recalls.
"It's a one-person business," he remarks. "This is not stressful, it's real enjoyment." The only downside is that with a subscription-only publication, many people don't renew. "I have to constantly campaign to replace the readers who don't renew," he indicates. Every year the number of those who renew is increasing.
Currently, Rich is exploring how to expand the newsletter to include parents who don't have the funds to buy new books, since the average children's book costs $15. "Some parents who subscribe to Booktalk use the newsletter to identify certain books and then check them out of the libraries," he says.
Ron gets his books from the news releases and review copies that publishers send him; he also reads new titles from the store.
"Publishing the newsletter gives me a lot of personal satisfaction and forces me to keep on top of things," though he admits with 5,000-6,000 new children's books published each year, it can be difficult. "Be prepared not to make a lot of money in the beginning," he advises. "Do your homework in identifying your audience, because if this is going to be a retirement career for you, make sure it's going to be fun and profitable."

From The 100 Best Retirement Businesses, by Lisa Angowski Rogak. 1994 by Lisa Angowski Rogak. Excerpted by arrangement with Upstart Publishing Company, Inc. $15.95. Available in local bookstores, or call 800-235-8866.

Resources for the Entrepreneur

  • Small Business Legal Pro Deluxe. $35.97. Windows/Macintosh CD ROM with more than 50 business forms, letters, and contracts along with information on audits, employment law, leases, permits, trademarks, taxes, and more. 800-992-6656.
  • Starting and Operating A Business After You Retire. $12.95. The author is in her mid-70s and has been starting small, profitable post-retirement businesses for years. 800-548-5757.
  • The Frugal Entrepreneur. $12.95. Creative ways to save time, energy, and money in your business. 800-222-7656.
  • Do-It-Yourself Marketing. $18.95. All the basics on how to position and market your product or service. 800-262-9699.
  • The Advertising Handbook. $8.95. Advice on how to get the most out of your advertising budget. 800-663-3007.
  • Turning Your Great Idea into a Great Success. $14.95. Information and examples based on the author's personal experiences that show you how to develop, license, protect, and promote a new product idea. 800-338-3282.
  • The Maverick Mindset. $23. Practical advice on how to find the inspiration and courage to embark on a new business venture. 800-223-2336.
  • The Lazy Man's Way to Riches. $14.95. This book combines motivational exercises to build self-esteem, with worksheets to define and achieve your goals. More than three million copies have been sold since 1973. 800-253-6476.