After working as a salesman at a men's retail store for 15 years, Jeffrey Nash found himself facing a 40 percent pay cut in 2009. What's more, his mortgage was at risk for default and he had little in retirement savings. So Nash began scrambling to get his budding business idea, a new type of baby walker he calls a "Juppy," off the ground. He found a manufacturer in China, worked with a patent attorney, and signed up for baby product conventions. "I took three weeks off work to go on vacation, but instead of going on vacation, I hammered this out," he says.
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The Juppy took off. Within that three-week period, Nash sold $12,000 worth of Juppies. That's when he told his supervisors that he wasn't coming back to work. Now, 14 months later, Nash, 57, estimates his company will earn $250,000 this year and $600,000 next year. At his old sales job, he brought in around $65,000 a year.
Nash represents a generation of workers who are being forced to reinvent themselves in the wake of pay cuts, layoffs, and other types of career disappointments. The sluggish economy and so-called "jobless recovery" means more workers face lower earnings than they expected and little in the way of job security. Financial success often requires being more entrepreneurial and reinventing oneself, even as retirement approaches.
Baker Chris Furin, 41, faced a similar challenge when his father's deli in Washington, D.C., where he had long worked full-time, shut down this summer. He prepared for the restaurant's closing by collecting client lists and perfecting his skills as a custom cake creator. He knew from his work at the restaurant that there was demand for specially designed cakes, and that people were willing to pay a premium for them. "You can go to Safeway and get a round cake. I can't compete with that. But if you want a special anniversary cake, or your kid loves Power Rangers, then [customers will] pay for that," says Furin.
Furin minimized his expenses as much as possible, and set up shop at his home in Rockville, Md., instead of renting an expensive commercial kitchen downtown. Now he's ramping up his business while continuing to hold down expenses. His advice to other budding entrepreneurs? "Do something you really like doing and try to stick with that. From what I've read of business people who have done well, to them it doesn't seem like a job," he says.
Anyone unsure of just how to reinvent themselves can turn to free personality tests such as the one at keirsey.com or use guide books such as Timothy Butler's Getting Unstuck: A Guide to Discovering Your Next Career Path. Career expos, apprenticeships, and short-term trials, which sites such as vocationvacations.com help facilitate, can also help.
Mostly, though, a career reinvention requires a lot of hard work. While Nash's story appears to be one of overnight success, it was actually many years in the making. Before his success with the Juppy, Nash had experimented in real estate and with selling Acai juice. "You have to get out there, try different things, and see what works for you," he says.
He originally conceived the idea for the Juppy while watching a mother bend over her tottering toddler. He realized that some kind of contraption that provides gentle assistance without straining parents' backs could be useful. He also knew that traditional baby walkers with wheels were no longer considered safe to use, since toddlers can slide down stairs or get into other kinds of trouble with them. Shortly afterwards, Nash designed the product and solicited feedback from customers at his retail store.
"I would ask everybody what they thought. [Through work] I met doctors and pediatricians who endorsed the product, and ended up on news programs because some of my clients were into marketing," says Nash. When mothers with babies came into the store, he asked them to use it, then asked what they thought. Nash says he put much of his savings, around $35,000, into the start-up costs to get his idea off the ground.