Many of our readers will be familiar with our write-up on why seniors are the perfect entrepreneurs, and you’ll understand why it makes so much sense. Owning a business takes expertise and experience, which many seniors have acquired in their working years. Plus, seniors who work for themselves can make their own schedule and work around what they can and can’t do.
We sat down with a senior who’s been running his own business while enjoying retirement. Richard (Dick) Lewis of Etters, PA, is a salesman and inventor who owns DL Enterprises. Over the course of the interview, he told us about his over 40 years of sales experience, inventing the Aisle-A-Gator, and what it’s like being your own boss.
The Commission Man
Dick worked over 40 years in the materials handling industry. In that time, he worked nearly every facet of the company, from truck driving to running the parts department.
“I did have a really good experience being able to work with all types of people, whether it be the maintenance department or any of the people from purchasing to the engineering department.” – Dick Lewis
Due in part to his mixed experience, Dick truly hit his stride when he entered sales. He knew how to talk to anyone who was looking to buy something from his company. Each day, he traveled his sales territory, meeting with customers and helping them get the equipment they need. This is the aspect of his job he misses most.
“More than anything else from my sales time, I miss the friends that I made in the business like that. I didn’t realize until after I retired how much I missed that. It sounds crazy, but it really did.” – Dick Lewis
Luckily, when Dick retired in the 90s, many of these relationships followed him.
While Dick was working in sales, he stumbled on an opportunity to go above-and-beyond. Meeting with a regular customer in their new warehouse, Dick ran into a frustrated worker. The worker had to plug in his vacuum, but, between forklifts running over the cords or running out of line, he was having a tough time getting the job done.
“Of course, I was there trying to be helpful, and I guess I got my mouth in gear before my brain. I looked at the thing and I said, ‘Perhaps, what you folks may need here is that vacuum cleaner should be able to be plugged right into the battery on that fork lift.’” – Dick Lewis
Intrigued, the manager asked if there was such a product. Confident that they existed, Dick promised to check and get some to the customer. He quickly found out that he was wrong.
I was there trying to be helpful, and I guess I got my mouth in gear before my brain.
Instead of admitting defeat, Dick determined to create a battery-powered sweeper. Using his repairs experience, he built the prototypes of the Aisle-A-Gator. The customer tried them out, loved them, and bought the first two on the spot. Over the next few years, Dick took orders and built them in his garage in the evenings. When this became overwhelming, he leased a nearby building. There, he continued to build them with his two sons at night.
When his wife’s health took a turn, Dick sold the company to a local company that sold similar products. Presently, some of the largest companies in the world use the Aisle-A-Gator, including Walmart, Sysco, Lowes, and Quaker Oats.
The Oddball Salesman
The origins of D.L. Sales, and later D.L. Enterprises, stems back to his commission days. As Dick went from one sales meeting to the next, he noticed that many of the companies had parts that they wanted sold. Coincidentally, another company he’d meet with needed those parts. Ever the go-getter, Dick got the two of them together and helped initiate a sale. At that point in his career, though, it was a favor — a bonus of buying from him, in a sense.
Once he retired, his former customers would reach out to him, asking if he could sell some equipment they had lying around. He was happy to oblige, reaching out to his contacts to find interest. That’s the general process he runs today. One of his contacts will reach out to him with a product. He’ll put his sales markup on the product and float it on the market. Once he finds a buyer, he’ll help connect the two. At any given time, Dick works with anywhere between 15 to 20 specialists, but he also works on eBay and Amazon.
“I sort of became the oddball salesman. ‘Oh, hey, we got this thing to sell, we got that, can you do anything with it?’” Lewis said.
D.L. Enterprises works perfectly for Dick, because of the freedom it gives him and not having a boss holding him to a quota each month. He loves the freedom to pick and choose his jobs, or to work according to his own schedule.
“That’s what retirement’s about, doing what you like to do or what you want to do at that time,” Lewis said.
Another advantage of D.L. Enterprises is that Dick can run everything from his living room, contacting both the buyer and seller via email or phone. If you have something you want sold in materials handling (ie. warehouse equipment and vehicles, excluding forklifts), shoot Dick an email at email@example.com.
“I challenge people to let me have a shot at what they have,” Lewis said.
If you email Dick, include pictures of the item, along with a description and honest assessment of its condition. Then he’ll go to work!
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Are you a senior and want to share your story? You have a lifetime of experiences, and we’d love to hear them! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll get the ball rolling.