Starting a small business under normal circumstances is challenging, but starting a business when you’re dealing with chronic illness and are of retirement age adds a whole new level to the challenges. Here’s how one Long Island man is overcoming those obstacles while starting and running a retail store. Play the video, then scroll down to read more about how and why he started his business.
Is it a good idea to start a business when you’re 65? What about starting a business when you are 65 and have Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a serious debilitating illness?
That would be crazy, you say? That’s what a lot of people told Greg Davis, too. Greg was diagnosed with MS in 2009. He opened his retail shop in 2015 when he was 65 years old.
Why did he do it? Why did he start a business at an age most people retire?
The answer grows out of his own struggles with MS and the exhilaration he experienced when he discovered that a recumbent tricycle (trike) gave him back some mobility that MS had taken away.
Before developing MS, Greg was a district manager for a major seasonal gift business operating throughout the country. He was responsible for 12 locations across all of Long Island and developed and conducted in-house training programs as well
MS was a heavy blow, one that ended that career. Greg struggled to do everything he could to minimize its effects. He changed his diet, did extensive physical therapy, had acupuncture and took up meditation. He improved, but he still had difficulty with balance and walking.
“I thought a lot about what I could do to get mobile and be able to get out and about again,” Greg explains. “I prayed. Then, I thought about a ‘vehicle’ I had seen once on the streets of my community. What was it? It seemed like some sort of a bicycle but it had three wheels and was very low to the ground. Was it some sort of trike? Was it possible that this ‘device’ could be some sort answer to my prayer?”
With a bit of research, Greg learned that what he had seen was a recumbent trike. After calling dozens of bicycle shops on Long Island, where he lives, he finally located a store that had one. “I found, to my surprise, that I could get in it and pedal it very easily. Within minutes I was zooming around the parking lot in this trike,” he explains. “I was moving faster and farther than I had in years!”
He bought it on the spot. “It was so great to get out and about again. To be able to move blocks at a time, and even miles. It was a miracle. I was able to ride around my neighborhood, meet the neighbors, ride on the boardwalks, see the beach, and ride beside my wife when she went for walks.”
Startup motivation: Helping others
“Then I thought about the others,” Greg goes on. “Those with debilitating illnesses or injuries that have caused them to be sidelined. Those whose only options were struggling to go a few feet with a cane or walker, as I had done previously, or those waiting for someone to push them in a cumbersome wheelchair. Could I help them discover this option for mobility, too?”
Greg became an advocate for using recumbent trikes to enable people with certain disabilities to get around and improve their joy of life, but there was a problem. “When they asked, ‘Where can I get one?’ I had no answer,” he says. “Of the thousands of bike shops on Long Island, none stocked recumbent trikes.” (The trike Greg had bought was a lone model that had been in the shop for “a while.”)
Greg decided to open a recumbent trike shop. It was the only way to help others “experience the joy and freedom of a recumbent trike, to give them the opportunity to have the ‘trike spirit experience.'” From that realization came both the store and the name of the shop, “Your Trike Spirit.”
The need for research
Although he had extensive retail sales and management experience from his former career, Greg didn’t know anything about selling bicycles or tricycles. So he spent some time researching the business before he started it. He read everything he could about recumbent trikes, went to numerous events where he could ride and meet fellow “trikers”. He asked lots of questions and got to know dealers and operators.
“I told them of my interest to start a shop, and they were very encouraging and were very candid and straightforward. I visited several shops and became friends with the owners and they were extremely helpful. Everyone expressed their passion for this business but also the honest challenges that were involved. They also expressed the level of “personal reward” that they experienced, on a human level.”
His research convinced him that starting the recumbent trike shop would be worthwhile, but he couldn’t help wondering if this would this be too big a step to take, given his age and his ongoing struggle with MS.
“Could I actually make it work? Could I actually build and run a business to do this?”
He decided to move ahead when several friends who were excited about his intentions and vision offered him some startup capital.
Opening the retail location
Greg knew that the only way that someone with limited mobility would be able to tell if they’d benefit from a recumbent trike was if they could try one. So he knew he had to operate his business from retail space. Looking to keep costs down, he first talked to some other bike shops about sharing space, but nothing came of those talks. So he rented space in a small strip mall on a busy side street off a main thoroughfare. A sign on his door, a road-side sign, and trikes on display where they can be seen from the road helped him gain visibility.
Greg’s shoestring budget doesn’t leave a lot of money for advertising and promotion. His daughter built and maintains the store’s website. The store has a Facebook page where Greg and some volunteers and fellow recumbent trike enthusiasts post regularly. And to gain awareness from more people in the store’s Long Island, NY service area who might benefit from owning a recumbent, Greg runs Meetups, and networks with other service providers and groups who reach his target audience. In addition to free social media, he’s tried some limited online advertising, and plans to run classified ads in local publications.
Fear was one of his biggest challenges, Greg says. But when his friends offered the money that would let him rent space and put in a small order for trikes to stock the store, “I silenced the voice of fear and here we are ready to start year two. It’s still scary, but somehow I have great faith, that thousands of Long Islanders (for a start) need to have these trikes.”
As with most startups, financing is still a challenge. Greg has no employees, and puts the money he makes selling the trikes back into the store. He doesn’t pay himself a salary yet. He’s running a funding campaign onto get more money to grow, market and advertise the business.
Startup advice for others
Starting a business is a big decision for anyone, but it’s a decision people who have some limitations in their abilities should be particularly cautious about making.
“It takes a lot of mental, spiritual, and physical energy, especially if you have limitations,” Greg says. “Make sure you are ready to do what it takes to set-up, open, and run a business.”
“Spend a good amount of time thinking about what it is you want to do. Be aware that it might be harder to do what you want to do than you might think. Ask yourself, ‘Am I really up for this?’ Make sure it is something you genuinely care about, something you are passionate about, something that you would do even if you didn’t get paid.
“And do your homework. Study, learn about what it is you want to do. Talk to others who are ‘doing what you want to do,’ do hands-on research (work for somebody – for free if necessary) and get experience doing what it is you want to do. Educate yourself about all you can: your products, your market, your competitors. Get support, moral and otherwise, from family and friends.“
Once you’ve researched and feel confident that you do want to go ahead, Greg advises: “Turn off the voice of fear and go for it! Get out of your comfort zone. Work as hard as you can. You will never know until you try.”