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Silver Linings: Not going quietly into retirement

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 22. 2016 9:59PM
Suzanne Foley of Portsmouth stands with a display of her Port City Pretzels in a store in Newburyport. Foley, 54, started her business a year ago and now sells 3,000 bags a week at stores in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/Union Leader)

Just over a year ago Suzanne Foley found herself in a time she calls "life-changing." Her father and sister died within a short time of each other, and she lost a job she thought she'd have until she retired.

Sitting in a mandatory meeting to receive unemployment benefits, the 54-year-old thought to herself she couldn't go to work for someone else. She needed a change and she turned to her passion ­­­- pretzels. That day she was already registering her trade name as Portsmouth Pretzels.

Today, her treats are called Port City Pretzels and are sold in more than 100 stores in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. She quickly exceeded her initial goal of selling 1,000 bags a month in Portsmouth and now sells 3,000 bags a week across three states.

"It's what I love. I am happy every day, and it really keeps me young," Foley said. "It's crazy how having your own business can create your own energy."

Foley represents a growing number of Granite Staters who are over the age of 50, going into business for themselves and contributing to what Oxford Economics refers to as the "longevity economy." The Oxford report prepared for AARP found that Granite Staters over the age of 50 are responsible for 50 percent of the state's $34 billion GDP, take in 46 percent of all wages, and pay 56 percent of state taxes.

Those over 50 also represent 38 percent of the state's work force, with 14 percent working as self-employed entrepreneurs like Foley.

Whether it be turning hobbies into businesses for extra spending cash or to support a longer retirement, New Hampshire's mature population is finding ways to grow the economy.

For Georgie Lyons, it was a big yellow colonial farmhouse in Pittsburg that got her into entrepreneurship. She and her husband, John, had a place in New Hampshire's northern-most town when this farmhouse came on the market. They bought it, and soon it became the Inn at Bear Tree, complete with an upscale restaurant called Murphy's Steakhouse.

When one of their children was looking for an investment opportunity, Lyons asked her son to take a shot on mom and dad. The Inn at Bear Tree now incorporates several lakeside cabins, lodges and rooms for rent. Serving snowmobilers in the winter, ATV riders in the fall, and families year-round is how the Lyons' are spending their retirement.

"We always loved it here, and this is how we wanted to spend our time," Lyons said. "It's a labor of love."

Getting off the ground

Turning a labor of love into a profitable business doesn't happen overnight, and there are several agencies in the state to help people looking to start their own business. Those include SCORE, a nonprofit group aimed at helping small businesses get off the ground, the Small Business Administration, which helps people get funding, and SNHU's Center for Women's Business Advancement.

AARP New Hampshire recently held a workshop on "Making Your Hobby a Business" at LaBelle Winery in Amherst, with about 100 mature people looking for tips to turn their passions to profits. Some of their business ventures included honey-based sunscreens, cake decorating, heirloom toy wooden farmhouses, and fermented teas called Kombucha.

Experts from SCORE, the Small Business Administration and the SNHU's center talked to them about determining the viability of a business, creating a business plan, marketing and the importance of social media in building a small business.

"Look at the depth before jumping in," said MaryAnn Manoogian of SNHU's Center for Women's Business Advancement. "But it can be done."

Needing mentors

One of those who got it done with some help from SCORE's office in Portsmouth is Teri Cardinelli of Cloth Interiors in Kennebunk, Maine. Cardinelli spent 25 years in the interior design business when the economy collapsed on the industry in 2008. In 2010, the unemployed Cardinelli moved from the Southwest to Maine and returned to a self-taught talent of making window treatments and curtains to make ends meet. She pushed her bed into her bedroom corner to make room for her 2000 Singer sewing machine and began to build her business.

A year later, Cardinelli opened her first store at the age of 58 "going on a wish and a prayer." She put together her ideas and went to SCORE and began working with mentor and retired executive Sanford "Sandy" Carlisle of Wolfeboro and SCORE volunteer Lisa Allison. She said they have been with her for four years, providing her advice, guidance and a "no" when needed.

"They watched me from sewing in my bedroom to converting my whole house into a sewing room until I opened the showroom," she said.

With help from others, Cardinelli said taking such a leap wasn't as scary as one might think.

"It's no scarier than when you first go out in the workforce," Cardinelli said. "In my case, it was following the money and making a living at something I am very good at."

Finding success

Something that Cardinelli said she wasn't quite prepared for was success.

"It's nice to have success, but you have to learn how to handle it," she said.

That is the same thing Foley is experiencing now. She loads up her SUV and travels all over New England dropping off boxes of pretzels to vendors, while dealing with the manufacturer on the phone and taking orders. She's expanded twice and now operates her office out of Dover and "takes help where I can get it" to package boxes to go out for delivery. She is now considering hiring full-time employees.

"I am allowing the market to take me, and it's been very good," Foley said. "But I am trying to manage the growth slowly."

She also uses SCORE, the SNHU center, and other mentors to keep her on track and to grow at that steady pace.

"I need that help because again it's controlled growth," she said.

Foley said she has some advice for anyone thinking about making the leap she did

"Do it. Do what you love," she said. "You've got to work hard and you can't be afraid of it."

Want to start a business?

Here is a list of some places to help get your business up and running:
  • SCORE: A nonprofit agency that provides mentorship and counseling.
  • SBA: A government agency to help small business get the funding they need.
  • SNHU's Center for Women's Business Advancement: Faculty, students provide entrepreneurs with tools and info to succeed.

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