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After turning 50, Charlotte woman becomes first-time entrepreneur

Juanita Tackett became the first woman to franchise an LED Source nearly three years ago after deciding to go into business for herself. She opened an office in a business park on Monroe Road and employs two salespeople, with plans to add two more within the next year. Tackett is considered a second act entrepreneur, a person over the age of 50 who starts a business after working a traditional job or jobs for years.
Juanita Tackett became the first woman to franchise an LED Source nearly three years ago after deciding to go into business for herself. She opened an office in a business park on Monroe Road and employs two salespeople, with plans to add two more within the next year. Tackett is considered a second act entrepreneur, a person over the age of 50 who starts a business after working a traditional job or jobs for years. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

First in an occasional series

Juanita Tackett has done it all. Worked on a farm. Sold fashion accessories. Rented out washers and dryers. Marketed a real-estate company.

Now at age 54 – after a lengthy career of working for other people, her husband included – Tackett runs her own Charlotte-based enterprise: LED Source, a business that sells energy-efficient lighting to clients that include the Charlotte Rescue Mission, Salvation Army and the Vue penthouse apartments in uptown.

Three years ago, Tackett poured all of her six-figure retirement savings into starting the business – making her the first woman to franchise with the Florida-based lighting company in its 10-year history.

She’s a second-act entrepreneur – a group of more than 7.4 million Americans over the age of 50 who work for themselves, according to AARP. They’re one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs in the U.S., and twice as likely to plan to start a business than their millennial counterparts, according to a recent Gallup study.

“What we’re seeing is that a lot of people have always wanted to start their own business but they (were) afraid to,” said Suzanne LaFollete-Black, associate state director for AARP-North Carolina. “Those that go ahead and take the risk … they’re doing their ‘what’s next’ chapter.”

The number of second-act entrepreneurs nationwide is expected to triple in the next 20 years, LaFollete-Black said.

Although the U.S. Small Business Administration says only half of all new businesses survive five years or more, second-act entrepreneurs with their years of work experience, paid-off debts, retirement savings and Social Security might have more gumption about starting ventures, said Dr. Mike Menefee, an entrepreneurship professor at UNC Pembroke.

“If you have a second, third, fourth source of income … then you’re much more able to withstand getting through that first couple of years (in business),” he said. “If they have retirement income with a paycheck in hand, that lowers the risk greatly.”

Tackett’s many acts

Tackett’s familiar with risk – and hard work. At age 4, she started working on her family’s farm in rural North Carolina. She later graduated college with a degree in fashion design.

While working in retail, she discovered a passion for outdoor sales. “One of the things about growing up on a farm is that you’re used to being outside,” she said. “Being in an office is very, very restrictive to me.”

She landed a job with Liz Claiborne Accessories and managed the company’s Belk account in Charlotte. She was laid off two years later, she said. After a couple of stints with property management companies, she became regional sales manager for Appliance Warehouse, a washer and dryer rental company.

Years later, she took a break from corporate work to market her second husband’s real estate business. But once the housing market crashed and business dipped, Tackett went back to work full time. “The income had gone down, and I felt like I needed to be out working and contributing,” she said.

By then, she was over 50 and quickly realized companies weren’t eager to hire someone her age. She found work with a startup until the day the firm’s founder told her something his mother once told him.

“ ‘The way you really generate wealth is that you get other people to make money for you,’ ” Tackett recalled him saying. “I started thinking about that and I said, ‘That’s what he’s got me doing. I’m out here busting my butt … and when it hits, he’s going to be the one making all the money.’ ”

For Tackett, that changed everything. She decided to create her own wealth.

Finding her niche

Tackett’s decision to buy an LED Source franchise was a mix of passion and strategy. She wanted to own a business with a proven concept that complemented her skills and experience.

“I had sold solar heating units back in the eighties … I learned a lot from that experience, but the solar industry at that time just couldn’t gain traction,” she said. “I gained an appreciation for sustainability.”

Matching passion with expertise is what drives many people over 50 to start businesses. Said Menefee, the UNC professor: “You’ve got a hobby, interest, expertise. That’s a good thing to market.”

No shoestring budget

Starting a business is no less expensive for older entrepreneurs than for younger ones. But here’s their advantage, Menefee said: Money in the bank.

“You have resources to draw from when you’re older,” he said. “You have home equity loans. You have savings. You have retirement. You have pools of money that are available to you that aren’t available to young people.”

Tackett looked to her IRA, using all the money she accumulated over the years as an employee to open Charlotte’s only LED Source office on Monroe Road. While she hopes to replenish those funds, she doesn’t regret using them.

Her takeaway: “Don’t start out on a shoestring (budget),” she said. “Make sure you have enough money to get your business off the ground. When people are desperate for money, they don’t make good decisions.”

Need help?

If you’re over the age of 50 and interested in starting a business, there are several resources available to help you get started:

▪ Charlotte SCORE, an organization made up of former and retired entrepreneurs, provides free one-on-one mentoring and access to workshops about starting a business. Visit them at charlotte.score.org/node/145963.

▪ AARP offers a variety of articles and fact sheets on what it takes for people over 50 to start a business at aarp.org/work/self-employment/.

▪ The Small Business Administration has free online courses that help encore entrepreneurs start or grow their businesses. Find them online at sba.gov/encore.

About this series

More Americans are starting businesses after age 50. Know someone we should profile in Second Acts? Email us at shoptalk@charlotteobserver.com.

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