CRYSTAL LAKE – Surrounded by stuffed animals, children’s books and a variety of toys, Lori McConville finds herself in an unexpected dream job in downtown Crystal Lake.
The 52-year-old spent most of her working career in the nonprofit sector in Philadelphia before transitioning to elementary teaching jobs in the Crystal Lake area. It was then that the first ideas for Marvin’s Toy Store began to form.
Since her doors first opened more than 6 months ago on 64A N. Williams St., McConville is adjusting to life as a small-business owner and loving every minute of it.
“When I was teaching I saw there was a need for quality toys tied in to education that was not really being met,” McConville said. “This idea combined my two passions.”
McConville’s experience is becoming more common as adults throughout the country are leaving previous careers later in their professional lives and taking the risk of starting a business.
Encore.org, an organization dedicated to studying baby boomers’ career plans, found nearly 25 percent of people between 44 and 70 years old are interested in starting their own business or nonprofit.
The study proved correct in Florida where the average age of 500 recent applicants for an entrepreneurship program through the U.S. Labor Department was 51. In all, people between 55 and 64 years old started 23 percent of new businesses in 2012.
Pat Cumpata, president of the McHenry County Economic Development Corporation, said the trend is likely the result of many factors, but it could have gained momentum because of employers hesitancy in a down economy to pay for the experience that older adults bring to a job.
“If you’ve been in the workforce from 22 to 52 and you’ve seen raises and compensation adjustments it can be hard to get in at a new company,” Cumpata said. “You sometimes get these companies that are looking at that and thinking the person might expect to receive same level of compensation, vacation and benefits. They don’t even want to ask that person to take something less.”
On the other hand, Cumpata said older adults could also feel more empowered to start a business because of a higher level of financial security and the desire to break away from the idea of working for someone after years of filling that role.
Whether people start a business because of difficulty finding another well-compensated position or through a desire to be their own boss, Cumpata said it is always difficult.
“Not everyone is Bill Gates,” Cumpata said. “There is risk and it’s going to take time. There is a lot of hardships with starting a business.”
McConville knows those challenges well and said she took the steps necessary to start her business on the right foot despite desires to expedite the process.
With no business degree or background in for-profit ventures, McConville spent years researching how to develop proper business plans and networked with whoever she could. When she felt ready, she still waited a few years during the height of the economic recession before moving forward.
It was during that time she tweaked with her business idea and made the toy store stand out by serving a niche audience. Her items are not only educational and imaginative, they are also environmentally friendly.
An initial $60,000 investment allowed the store to gradually grow, she said, tying into her strategy of keeping a simple business with a clear mission and product.
“You’re probably not going to get rich doing this, but if you do it right you can make a simple, comfortable living,” McConville said of opening a business. “Make something unique and different and people will support it.”