They Struck It Rich After 50 -- Can You?

Col. Sanders didn't strike gold with the KFC franchise until he was 66.

May 19, 2010, 4:12 PM

May 20, 2010 — -- He was 66 and almost broke after a new highway drove traffic away from his once-successful Corbin, Kentucky, restaurant.

But Harland Sanders didn't give up. Instead, he worked on putting together a franchise business on the strength of a fried chicken recipe he'd spent years perfecting. That business became known as KFC and in 1964, Sanders -- also known as Col. Sanders -- sold his stake in the company for $2 million. By then, he was in his 70s.

While Sanders, who died in 1980, may be the ultimate example of an older entrepreneur who struck it rich, Ken Budd, the executive editor of AARP, the magazine, says that seeking business success in one's golden years is especially common among today's Baby Boomer generation.

"They're focusing on possibilities and opportunities and redefining what it means to be old," Budd said.

Nearly one in three business owners are older than 55, according to a 2006 U.S. Census Bureau survey.

"The idea that you're just going to retire at 65 is becoming an outdated notion," Budd said. "It's more that time when people say, 'I'm going to do that thing I've always dreamed about.'"

Following their dreams, he said, gives older entrepreneurs a passion for their business that helps them succeed -- though not everyone becomes self-employed by choice. Budd said that layoffs during this last recession has forced many older, newly jobless Americans to reinvent their careers, including, in some cases, starting their own companies.

Fortunately, those with years of experience often find they have strong networks and skills that can help get their businesses off the ground. That was true of Sanders, Budd said.

"Here was a guy who clearly knew what he was doing and how to market himself," he said.

Below, takes a look at other older entrepreneurs who are following Sanders' lead. They may not be as famous as Sanders, but they've already gotten their fair share of attention: several have been profiled in Entrepreneur Magazine as well as other publications.

Franny Martin, Cookies on Call

Franny Martin had spent three decades working in corporate marketing for companies like McDonald's and Domino's Pizza.

Then, when sitting at her desk one day, she asked herself, "If this was actually my last day on earth, is this what I want to be doing?"

The answer was no.

At nearly 56, Martin decided to give up her corporate career and go into full-time cookie-baking. Her husband had planted the idea in her head sometime earlier, after enjoying Martin's homemade chocolate chunk hazelnut cookies.

"He said, 'This is the best cookie I ever tasted, have you ever thought of selling it?'" she said.

In 2002, she did. Martin started baking in her own kitchen, intending at first to just deliver cookies within a 20-mile radius of her home. But word of Martin's cookies soon spread beyond her target area.

"One thing led to another and three customers asked me if I would ship the cookies," she said.

Now, Martin says, she ships cookies all over the world, including Germany, Italy and China, as well as to troops in Iraq. She also owns her own shop in Douglas, Michigan, and has a staff of five.

She says the company has recently grossed roughly half a million dollars and she aims to one day exceed the $1 million mark.

"If you do what you're passionate about," she said, "the money will follow."

A relative's brush with death helped inspire Ray Simmons, an appliance and electronics technician with experience in video surveillance, to start his own corporate surveillance business at age 52.

His son-in-law was once held at gunpoint while the store he worked in was burglarized, Simmons said.

"I offered to place a video surveillance system in the store to assure his safety, and to be able to catch the criminals' faces if they came back," Simmons wrote in an e-mail to "This started something with me, as I saw how it affected that business in a positive way. His employees felt safer, and they felt like someone cared about them. I felt good knowing I had given someone security and peace of mind."

Simmons founded Stealth Security Services in Marietta, Georgia, in 1998. Today the company employs more than 20 people and sees revenues of more than $1 million a year.

Starting the company, Simmons said, helped him ensure a standard of customer service that he found lacking at his previous employer. Its customer service is what's made Stealth successful, he said.

"We are there for them (Stealth customers) when they need us," Simmons said.

Jill Boehler, Chilly Jilly

Jill Boehler was a speech pathologist for some three decades before launching a business called Chilly Jilly, which makes different types of wraps that can be used as shawls, scarves or sarongs.

She decided to make the move after suffering through frigid air conditioning at a restaurant in 2006, prompting her friends to tease her at the time with the name "Chilly Jilly."

Boehler, president and founder, said she was always someone who thought of various ways to improve a situation -- and did so for her work by publishing teaching materials for adults who lost their speech, for example, after a stroke.

"I couldn't just go to work. I had to think of something to do to make it better," she said.

A year after that ice-cold dinner, she started selling the wraps and the company now has several different lines, along with gloves, that run in high-end boutiques, Bed Bath & Beyond and QVC.

Chilly Jilly made $300,000 in gross sales last year, doubling its sales from the year before that.

At age 58, Boehler said previous experiences at work and with her children's education have helped her learn how to negotiate and deal with the difficult situations that can come up in business.

"With age," she said, "comes patience."

After 26 years in the electrical system testing business, Mose Ramieh was ready for a change.

"I had worked for a lot of companies both large and small and made a lot of money for folks and decided it was time for me to make some for myself," he said.

So in 1996, Ramieh said hello to self-employment and founded Power and Generation Testing Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee.

Working in the Nashville area for years before starting his own company provided Ramieh with a network of potential clients.

"It was a matter of letting them know I was in business for myself and they started calling," he said.

Today, Power and Generation Testing employs 14 people and has more than 100 clients, including Bridgestone Firestone and Vanderbilt University, Ramieh said.

Now 67, Ramieh said he's thought about retiring but he's not sure if he ever will.

"I have too much fun," he said.

Wally Blume, Denali Flavors

Wally Blume, CEO of Denali Flavors, the Wayland, Michigan-based ice cream maker behind the various "moose tracks flavors," always wanted to go into business as a young man but said he never had enough money to do it.

His shot came after years of sales and marketing in the grocery business -- especially with dairy foods. He launched the company in 1992 with two other partners.

By 1995, Blume bought out his partners and struck out on his own. The company has grown to the point that it made between $85 million and $100 million in retail sales last year.

Denali Flavors now has distribution in supermarkets throughout the country, along with Canada and parts of Mexico, Blume said.

He said he had to put up his house, cars and everything else he owned of value to buy the business for himself. But he knew it was worth it and he has advice for anyone over 50 considering starting their own business.

"You better know the business," said Blume, 71. "I knew the ice cream business. It wasn't really as risky as it sounds. I knew sales potential and profit potential."

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