Why We Started a Family Business at Age 50-Plus

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Courtesy Marcia HarrisMarcia and Dean Harris, co-founders, IBRshop
Starting a business, let alone a family business, when you are over 50 might seem like a crazy idea. Who could ever work with their husband or their kid?

It seems that startups should be created by 20-somethings who incubate an idea in their dorm room, generate no revenue and then turn down billions to sell to Yahoo (YHOO) or Google (GOOG).

My new business concept came from my work as an interior designer. When doing projects in New York City I never could find furniture that fit my requirements. So I did what any self-respecting entrepreneur would do, I created my own pieces. They had a smaller profile, were able to multitask throughout the day and in most cases had storage built in. People kept asking where they could find this small space furniture and this became our brand, the Itsy Bitsy Ritzy Shop.

We researched the furniture category thoroughly and found what we considered to be a very broken model. For what might be the fourth largest purchase in a person's life, furniture was manufactured, distributed and sold in an incredibly inefficient way. What's more, what was available in the U.S. often was poor quality and poorly proportioned to fit increasingly smaller living spaces. We believed in our concept and saw a huge opportunity in the marketplace for both consumers and businesses.

Here's the way I looked at starting something new at my age. Providing a much-needed product alternative in the marketplace seemed exciting.

Invest in Your Values

I would rather invest in my family than in something abstract like the stock market. Equity investing means putting your capital and faith in management who probably has very different objectives than yours. If you are going to plunk down a few hundred thousand dollars on an investment, why not invest in yourself? It's a risk you can better control and has the possibility of creating something that has meaning and enduring value for the people you care about.

Courtesy Marcia HarrisZach Harris, VP, Digital, IBRshop
The idea of starting a family business appealed to me, too. My husband and I had worked together successfully in an advertising agency that we founded and ran together. Adding our son, another trusted partner into the mix, was a bonus.

The IBRshop has been in business about a year and a half. Our run rate is approaching 7 figures. But things have not always gone smoothly. We've learned and have shifted direction since we began.

What Went Wrong
  • We thought we could market furniture to consumers online. This has proven to be a hard sell, as people want to see, touch and sit in their furniture before they buy it.
  • We were too comprehensive in our product offering with too many SKUs.This made it less efficient for us to build and somewhat overwhelming for consumers.
  • We over-engineered our designs. In many cases we were focused on quality when many people are more concerned with price.
  • Packing and shipping individual products across the country has been time-consuming and expensive. With our line, you cannot just stick it in a box and send it UPS.
  • We were undercapitalized. Having no money to advertise or have a retail presence has hurt.

IBRshopFurniture designed for itsy bitsy spaces

What We Did Right
  • We produce a product we're proud of in a way that's consistent with our values. IBRshop furniture is made in America using high quality materials and workmanship as well as a regard for the environment.
  • We've built a brand. The fact that we have received lots of press in places like CNN, HGTV Remodels, Interior Design Product FIND and Apartment Therapy is a tribute to the fact that we have created interesting stories as well as interesting products. Our son has done a spectacular job getting us this PR.
  • We've successfully pivoted from B2C to B2B. It didn't take long to figure out that building and delivering at scale would mean a more profitable business. Dealing with individual consumers was often a drain on our time and margins. Selling to small space hotels, vacation home communities, apartment developers and assisted living communities has been smart. Again, our son is helping to get us these deals in an unconventional, yet effective way.
  • People we respect have validated our concept. This includes architects, designers, manufacturers and developers.
IBRshop This tufted ottoman also functions as a coffee table and provides lots of storage.
This is not to say that the road has been easy. This business has been far more work than I expected. Everyone in our family does not always see eye-to-eye on decision-making. And I now have a serious responsibility to our family as well as the families that are helping us build our products.

Would I do it again? Yes. Growing this business has been exciting and gratifying. It's a lot like giving birth. After a lot of pain and suffering, you're thrilled to watch your child flourish.

Why We Started a Family Business at Age 50-Plus

This is my personal favorite! Think of yourself as a regular monthly bill you have to pay. All you have to do is arrange to have a set amount of money directly deposited from your paycheck into a savings account each month.

I recommend using a separate savings account because if you have access to your funds in your checking account, you're more likely to spend them. Again, it might hurt a bit at first to take home a little less every month, but trust me, after a while you won't even notice it's gone. Here's a moment when the "set it and forget it" strategy works wonders.

It feels great to be rewarded for your hard work. And it feels even better to spend that hard-earned bonus on something you’ll enjoy, like a trip to France or an iPad. At the same time, the pleasure of a vacation or new gadget is short-lived compared to financial security.

So make a pact with yourself to put every bonus you get from here on out to good use. If you direct 90 percent of your bonuses straight into your savings account as a rule, you’ll still have 10 percent to treat yourself with (plus the comfort of knowing that you're building a well-earned safety net). I live by this rule.

OK, OK, this seems like an obvious one -- and easier said than done. Actually, most people spend money on more unnecessary items than they think. So take time to look at where your money is going in detail and begin to cut back. Saving $10 here and there could help you put a lot away in the long run.
Many banks offer seasonal accounts meant to save for holidays like Christmas. These accounts give you reduced access to your accounts, charging a hefty penalty each time you withdraw more than permitted. Since emergencies don't occur often, a seasonal account could make sure you're touching it only when needed (just make sure you're not tempted to blow it all on Christmas gifts).
I love this one. Chalk it up to my massive craving for organization, but I'm all about getting rid of things I no longer use. Rather than throwing these unused goods away, start selling them, and put that money into your emergency fund. All you need to do is post them to a site like eBay or Craigslist or Amazon and you can get rid of items from the comfort of your home. You can also take your clothes to a consignment shop to have them sold for you.
Instead of saving your pennies, put aside any $5 bills that come your way. Never spend a $5 bill again, and you'll be surprised by how quickly this silly trick will help you come up with a few hundred dollars to add to an emergency fund.
You could pick up odd jobs via websites like TaskRabbit.com, DoMyStuff.com, Elance.com, FreelanceSwitch.com or Sitters.com.
If you get a cash-back reward for any spending on your credit card, just make it a rule that those dollars will be dedicated to your freedom fund. It may only add up to $100 extra each year, depending on your spending, but every little bit counts.
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