Editor's note: People over 50 are among the country's most active entrepreneurs, starting businesses at rates higher than their young counterparts. In this series, Inc. profiles the new wave of Boomer founders.
Jeffrey Nash has sold everything from Fuller brushes to office equipment to men's clothes. But the one thing he always wanted to sell--the thing that eluded him for decades--was something he made himself. "I would look at Herbalife or Mary Kay and I would think, 'Oh, my God, I would love to have been the person that founded that company,'" says Nash. "But it just never happened."
When Nash turned 56 though, it happened. He created the Juppy, a warmly reviewed baby walker now for sale through Target, Amazon, eBay, and other retailers, as well as direct online.
Nash, 62, has wandered through life with his radar up. "I am always looking for opportunities, the things other people overlook," he says. Walking home from school in Lynn, Massachusetts, he would check for homes needing repair work and sell the leads to local contractors. Later he went door-to-door for Amway and Fuller Brush. "You would knock on the door and a little old lady would open it and say, 'Oh, I love the soap powder from Amway! Oh, I love the Fuller Brush company! Of course, young man, come in!'"
After the Marine Corps, Nash worked briefly for General Electric, then moved to Atlanta and took a sales job with a clothing company. "A guy comes in one day and he wants a couple of shirts," says Nash. "I sell him $2,200 worth of clothing. He said, 'Anybody that can sell like you needs to be working for me. I give my top salesman a brand-new Mercedes-Benz.' I looked at him and I say, 'You guys don't give helicopters?'"
The customer worked for Canon, and Nash spent a few years selling copiers there. But he missed men's clothing, where, Nash says, "all you really did was chat with people." So he returned to that business, ultimately settling in at Men's Wearhouse, where he worked for 15 years.
In 2010, Nash, who lives with his girlfriend in Las Vegas, paid a visit to his daughter and her family in Los Angeles. "I go to a soccer game with my granddaughters," Nash recalls. "And I am watching this mother bent over trying to teach her child how to walk. And I was thinking, 'Wow. I never really thought about how uncomfortable that is.'
"I knew instantly that I had seen the opportunity," says Nash. "I said, 'Holy cow! Somebody needs to come up with this!'"
Nash hired several tailors to create prototypes of a soft, padded baby carrier connected to long straps that a parent can hold while walking upright. When he had one he liked he got a patent, then found a manufacturer in China to make them. With 1,000 Juppys in hand, he took vacation from Men's Wearhouse to apply his sales skills at independent baby stores in California and Las Vegas. He also trolled the streets of Manhattan while collecting his granddaughters from a summer camp in New York. In three weeks, he sold $12,000 worth.
Nash also crashed a baby expo, introducing himself to attendees whose badges made them sound promising. He lucked out with a $7,000 order from a daily deal company in Utah. Some momentum built as mommy bloggers began writing up the product. It was featured on Las Vegas newscasts and the Today show.
Nash didn't give a second thought to going all in at an age when many people start thinking about retirement. He cashed in his 401(k) and sold his house, renting a smaller one with a three-car garage to hold inventory. He also sold his Lexus, replacing it with a cheap used car that would get him to the post office, UPS, and the supermarket. "The way I look at it, you can't buy a business with a house or a car, but you can buy a house or a car with a business," he says.
"There isn't any such thing as, 'OK, you come to work every day, you do a great job for us. We appreciate you and protect you and take care of you,'" says Nash. "That's not happening. So what are you really risking?"
Six years later, the Juppy is still not profitable. Nash estimates he has sold $1 million worth. But he expects growth to speed up as he puts in processes to deal with larger retailers. Two years ago, Babies"R"Us came calling, Nash says, but he didn't feel confident he could fulfill so large an order. Now he may revisit that decision. The business has also been fielding interest from retailers in Canada, where wheeled baby walkers are banned. To supplement his income, in the meantime he works at the men's store Big & Tall. His girlfriend runs the business while he's at work.
One advantage of maturity is greater patience and persistence, Nash says. If he'd started earlier, he imagines the Juppy's slow progress might have made him quit. "Young Jeffrey Nash would just have got frustrated and said, 'The whole world is against me, and I'm black, so this is why this is happening,'" he says. "Now I am very calm and accept the challenges."