Skateland Owner Draws From Her Experience to Offer Advice on Business Startups
When Kathy Nave started Skateland of Augusta at age 57, she didn’t realize she would be at the forefront of a trend. Now, as she celebrates her 10th year in business in September, Nave has become an expert of sorts in what Inc. magazine is calling the hot new retirement plan for baby boomers – opening a business.
When the Recession of 2008-09 hit the United States, many baby boomers found their retirement accounts had dwindled. Although the economy has since rebounded, a growing number of people in their 50s and 60s are considering becoming entrepreneurs as a way to supplement retirement income, and as a hedge against another recession.
When Nave opened Skateland in September 2007, she was carrying out the retirement dream she and her husband, Stan, had of owning a roller skating rink.
“Unfortunately, he died in 2000,” Nave said. “It was his dream but I took it over as my retirement.”
Nave and her husband became involved in roller skating when their son started competing in local and national events. Eventually they both began skating as well and competed in adult competitions. Nave competed into her 40s and is now a certified Olympic coach.
And that brings up her first tip for people in their 50s or 60s looking at opening a business after retirement.
“When people are looking to do something in retirement, it’s important to do something they enjoy,” Nave said. “My husband and I enjoyed roller skating.”
But enjoying something doesn’t automatically transfer into knowing how to run it as a business.
“Just because you can cook doesn’t mean you can run a restaurant,” she said.
Nave and her husband worked at various aspects of the rinks they skated in to learn how to operate a roller skating business.
After Stan died, Nave took a part-time job in the office of a skating rink and learned how to operate the books and other business aspects. All of that prepared her to begin Skateland.
“You can do it without knowing how to do business, but you have to know what it’s about,” she said.
In other words, someone who’s never stepped foot into a skating rink would not be successful in owning a skating rink.
Here are a few more of the lessons Nave shared with those reaching retirement age wishing to start their own business.
Don’t rush in. One of the most important things to consider is who wants to buy your product or service. Just because you enjoy something or have a personal need for something doesn’t mean other people will want it. Even in her own business, Nave said if she decided to open an adults-only skating rink, she’d be closed in a month because the demand isn’t there.
“If you don’t have a who for your business, you don’t know anything,” she said. “If you don’t love what you do or know who you’re going to sell to, you might as well quit now.”
Plan ahead. Unless you’re planning to fund the entire start-up cost yourself, you’ll need to borrow money. Lenders want detailed five-year projections – including specific costs of every detail – before they’re going to part with money. Advice from lawyers and accountants is needed. In some cases, zoning changes are needed for buildings.
“It’ll take at least a year because of all the things they require,” Nave said.
But, she added, there is a wealth of information on the internet about planning to open a business, including a vast array of business plan templates.
Money. Even if you’re borrowing, you’ll probably be required to put as much as 25 percent down. And even then, it’ll take a chunk of change to get going.
“Everything costs more than you think it will,” Nave said. “No matter what you think it’ll cost, you double it. Prepare for the worst and then you’re going to make it.”
In Nave’s case, even though she bought an existing rink, she had to install a new floor to the tune of $180,000.
And don’t expect to be rolling in dough as soon as you open the doors.
“You’re going to need money to fall back on,” Nave advised. “When your business opens you’re not going to make money right away. There’s no instant gratification in opening your own business.”
Money sources. In additional to traditional bank loans, there are other sources for obtaining startup funds. The Small Business Association is one such source. Nave advised that just because you’re turned down by one source doesn’t mean everyone else will. She was turned down by one SBA but when she applied to another, she was approved.
She also advised being cautious in having friends invest in the business, stressing that a legal buy-sell document be drawn up by a lawyer.
“Before you go to friends for money, you need a buy-sell agreement,” she said. “When it comes to money, people are not friends anymore.”
Hire good people. “I have a wonderful general manager. She’s someone I can trust. It’s very important you hire people you can trust to run the business.”
Depending on the business, though, sometimes it takes patience with employees. At Skateland, many of the workers are part-timers, usually still in high school and college. Before hiring someone, Nave has them take a math test covering basic skills in making change. Eighty percent of the applicants fail.
Remember your age. Starting a business takes a lot of work at the beginning, both in planning and, once it opens, often necessitating long hours and even physical labor.
“People forget they’re not 20 anymore,” Nave said. She advised examining your health before starting up.
Be prepared to learn. Although most baby boomers know the basics of computers and websites, they may have to learn at a much deeper level than before. And those accounting classes you took in high school probably need a refresher lesson.
The buck stops with you. Owning a business carries responsibility, which means you can’t be wishy-washy. Nave has a reminder of this.
“I had to write a sign to myself: ‘This is Kathy Nave’s business and we will run it Kathy Nave’s way,’” she said.
Necessities. Nave said a website and advertising are necessities in running a business. Be judicious about advertising, though, finding the best media for your type of business.
Fun times. Although it takes work, Nave said there are a lot of good things about owning a business, especially after it is going and you’ve hired good people to run it. Then you can set your hours, make decisions to run it your way (although you’ll also be eating the mistakes you make) and even take trips.
“Owning your own business is fun, but it’s work,” Nave said. “Anybody who tells you it isn’t, they’re wrong.”