At a time when people turn 50 years old and start to think about retirement, there are some people like George Brydon who are just catching their second wind.
Brydon is part of a new clique of entrepreneurs known as encore entrepreneurs who are starting their own businesses just when others their age are planning on slowing down and taking it easy.
“I was a regional vice president for a large corporation that was involved with paper and janitorial supplies,” recalled Brydon. “I worked in the business for 30 years. In 1999, the company was sold and went through a reorganizational change with new leadership. I guess my tolerance for change wasn’t that high so I decided it was time for me to leave.”
After a stress inducing corporate career, you can literally say George went sailing off into the sunset. He and his wife moved to St. Petersburg, Fla. where they moved aboard a sailboat with their daughter. But that wasn’t the end of this story. George wasn’t ready to drop anchor and settle down.
“Back in 2000, I ran across a business that was in trouble. They had just lost a contract with a movie theater chain and it was in bad shape,” recalled Brydon. “I saw the opportunity to take it over and thought it would be something to keep me busy and make a little money.”
Brydon didn’t realize how the business would grow and put him back in the ranks of the work-a-day world but this time as a business owner. He formed Premier Chemical in 2000 and began to sell cleaning products to distributors.
“Intellectually, I knew about cash flow and I did end up chasing it the first year. But this was a business I was familiar with as I worked in it on a much larger scale in my previous career. But now I was doing the sales work myself and I never had so much fun interacting with customers.”
George admitted having a pension from his previous career provided him a financial buffer other entrepreneurs don’t enjoy. But he stressed that entrepreneurs should not get into anything they don’t know about.
“Do what you know and love what you do,” said Brydon. “Unlike the corporate business world, small business owners manage many small pieces. It can be a little lonely because you don’t have a lot of people to collaborate with like you do in a large company.”
Four years after forming Premier Chemical, a new opportunity arose when he had a chance to buy manufacturing equipment that produced Styrofoam “peanuts” used in shipping packages. Now that he expanded into the packaging business, Brydon rebranded his company CleanPak Products which is its name today.
“Expanding the business to handle this product made good sense for CleanPak Products. We sold to distributors in the same geographic area as our cleaning products, they were lightweight, and filled the excess capacity of delivery trucks,” said Brydon.
What used to be a 5000 square-foot business grew to 25,000 square feet.
When rough economic times hit the nation in 2007, CleanPak Products was pressured like many other small businesses. The business was already competing in a highly competitive market where customers change frequently. With customers cutting back or going out of business altogether, things got even more competitive.
"I was transforming my packing peanut business away from Styrofoam to a new biodegradable packing material and I needed capital to do it. Problem was no one was lending money. I learned about an SBA loan through Sun Trust bank and applied. I was able to get a loan through SBA when no one else was lending,” said Brydon.
Brydon received a $225,000 SBA 7a loan from Sun Trust bank. Because of this loan, he was able to remain competitive with a more improved, green product. Today, about 25 percent of CleanPak Products business is selling biodegradable packing material.
CleanPak Products is four to five times larger than George Brydon imagined or intended it to be when he formed the company in 2000. Today he has eight full time employees and two part time employees. He sells to more than 120 distributors and in addition to the Florida customer base, he exports to the Caribbean, Ecuador and Mexico.
“I’m committed to growing my business by helping my customers grow their business,” said Brydon. “It’s easy to get an order in this business but what I want to build are long term relationships with customers.”
For someone who literally planned to sail off into the sunset after a successful corporate career, George Brydon has found success as a small business owner instead.
What can you learn from SBA South Florida District Small Business Persons of the Year? Read about Steve Miller who found a business idea at work. Lisa Hickey expanded a woman-owned screen printing business. John Diaz lost his job then started his own industrial supply business. What are you waiting for? Become a small business owner like these pros!
Simply put, Steve Miller likes to tinker.
Once Steve gets an idea in his head, he’s not letting it go until after he’s studied it closely, taken it apart, reassembled the pieces, and see if he can’t make it perform better. He’s not afraid of getting a little dirt under his fingernails in the process. The Boynton Beach, Fla., registered nurse created his own small business success in his spare time simply by chasing his ideas.
“When I started in nursing, more than one of the other nurses told me that I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer because I couldn’t remember step-by-step procedures and had to write them down on three-by-five cards.” said Miller. “So instead of letting their negative remarks get to me, I started to view myself as a really good spoon and not a knife. I realized I needed to find a role where spoon qualities were essential because I considered myself the best there was.”
Miller’s first foray into the business world was establishing a 16-page health resources magazine that combined both holistic and mainstream medical resources. He talked to magazine publishers and did the research. A publication like that just didn’t exist before and Miller saw a need for people to be aware of all options in order to make better health decisions.
“I started the business in my spare time. I didn’t make much money and I eventually sold the magazine.” said Miller.
Working as a registered nurse paid the bills until one day when one of his businesses ideas would take off. After leaving the hospital at the end of the day, is when Miller truly went to work. Needless to say, days were divided by work and sleep but Steve didn’t see it that way.
“I was doing something I enjoyed. So working an 80 to 100 hour week did not seem like it was work. Anyone who is considering opening their own business should pursue something they have a passion for because then you won’t notice those long hours,” said Miller.
Following his own passion for the sea and sailing led Miller to open his own south Florida charter sailing business in south Florida. For someone raised in Boulder, Colo., this was truly someone not afraid to chase a dream. He learned to sail, bought a sailboat and after a few years was running family and couple charters to the Bahamas.
“That was the happiest time of my life,” he admits. “People came from all over the country to do something they dreamed of doing. They were so appreciative and I loved teaching, sharing, and showing off the coral reefs, islands and the ocean.”
Many entrepreneurs imagine turning a personal passion into a personal business. Like the Chinese proverb that professes: “Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life,” Miller was living through that principle. But his passion didn’t blindfold him from one important reality: he wasn’t making much money.
“I was a contract nurse between charters and that’s what allowed me to keep my charter business.” explained Miller. “That’s how I managed to keep it going. When I didn’t have a charter, I returned to nursing at local hospitals. I was getting older but I was not saving money for my future. “
With the realization of the cold, hard facts before him, Miller made a very difficult decision. He gave up his charter business and went back to nursing full time.
“Sailing around the Caribbean was a great experience for me. You’re a part of a special community where everyone comes together when someone else is in need. You fix things on your own and if you don’t know how to do something, there is someone else who is willing to help and show you how to do it.”
It wasn’t long after he was back to working full time as a nurse when Miller came upon a business idea that was the inspiration for his next company. Having worked at dozens of hospitals in several states over a few decades, Miller turned his attention toward medical waste and how hospitals recycled the precious metals from used in cardiovascular devices.
“Being the seat-of-the-pants type of guy I am, I wanted to figure out how the cardiology recycling process worked. The various companies involved with recycling provided poor service and I thought that I could do better.”
Admittedly, Miller tried some “do-it-yourself” home recycling projects to understand the complexity of the process. But that was just the type of thing you’d expect from someone who likes to tinker.
Miller also received some sage advice and direction from a no-cost business mentor program through south Florida’s SCORE network.
“Herb Douglas was my business mentor and his guidance and input was crucial,” said Miller. “Small business capital was not my concern as working out of the home minimized costs, but I don’t think I would be where I am now without Herb’s mentorship and input from the other great staff at SCORE.”
Through his own efforts and a lot of research into recycling and refining processes, Miller formed Electro-Physiology Reward or EPreward. Unlike other medical waste companies, Miller says his EPreward is structured like a co-op for purchasing medical catheters from hundreds of hospitals and then provides rebates in a very transparent transaction.
“The most rewarding part of my business is having employees who are successful. I can leave the office and do other things and I know my employees are collaborating and being productive. I see one of my main roles as a business owner, is to provide them with everything they need to do their job as best as they can. We also have a profit sharing program where everyone benefits from business success, and our least paid employee makes over two-and-a-half times the minimum wage.” said Miller.
Building a successful small business seems only natural for a person who likes to disassemble and reassemble components to work a certain way. Miller thinks all small business owners are problem solvers of sorts but not everyone can do it. He says his employees are the foundation of his success and picking the right ones is as important as selecting the right parts to build an efficient machine.
“When we hire a new employee, we look at it more as an adoption into our work family.” said Miller. “I’m not looking for the best or most experienced person. Like Ted Turner looking for crew on his America's Cup sailboats, I’m looking for someone who can work well with others, who wants to learn and sees this job as challenge to rise up to. You can’t teach people to get along well with others, they either have that characteristic or not at this age, but you can teach them how to do specific tasks and their own motivation will move them beyond those functions to excel as an individual and a group.”
Miller’s nursing background, entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to tinker has led him to develop two medical devices that he has patented and is awaiting on FDA approval. And unlike television warnings not to try something at home, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Miller tested them on himself. He is also expanding EPreward into an unused medical product redistribution business to include unused materials that are nearing their shelf expiration date.
“Everything I learned from school, hobbies, sports, previous jobs and life experiences I consider as being a ‘tool’ for my next project.” said Miller. “People may reject a job or a task because they don’t see the way it will fit it to their plans. But you should take those opportunities when they come because they are a chance to add a tool to your personal tool belt. There will be a time down the road when that skill will be necessary. A person with a lot of passion but limited tools won’t succeed.”