How a 70-year-old retiree starts painting business as a stock hedge

  • 70-year-old Joe Laker decided to start a business just two weeks after retiring from his job as a pastor.
  • As the stock market rises, he says that supplemental income has become more important.
  • He expects to earn about $2,000 in monthly income from his business moving forward.

One Sunday in May, 70-year-old Pastor Joe Mlakeer presided over his last service. After nearly 40 years, he retired and moved to Florida with his wife.

But just two weeks later, he decided to start an interior painting business.

He began taking on work in July and brought in more than $7,000 in revenue and nearly $3,000 in profits by September, according to documents verified by Insider. With his $2,600 startup cost now a windfall, he says he expects to earn about $2,000 a month in income from his new gig going forward.

While Mlakeer, a self-described “Type A” personality, initially started the business because he was restless and looking for “something to do,” he says it has become a more important source of supplemental income for him in recent months as the stock market tanked. In late September, the S&P 500 hit a new low for the year, and signs point to further pain in the coming months.

“Money becomes really important, especially when I look at what happened to my retirement accounts — how quickly we’ve all lost 10% to 15% over the last year,” Mlaker told Insider. His estimate of his losses may even be a bit conservative. Bloomberg estimated that as of June 30, the average 401k balance was down 20% from a year earlier.

Along with being a hedge against the markets, he hopes his business income will help him and his wife travel the way they envisioned in retirement.

Early retirements have increased in recent years due to rising wealth values, concerns about COVID and layoffs. But high inflation and a struggling stock market are now causing some retirees to consider re-entering the workforce. A CNBC survey in June, for example, found that 68% of workers who retired during the pandemic would consider returning to work. If they return to high numbers, it could help ease ongoing labor shortages and reduce wage pressures that are among the reasons the Fed is shutting down the economy.

But while the percentage of retired workers returning to the workforce has returned to pre-pandemic levels — about 3 percent — growth has stalled in recent months. It remains to be seen whether economic conditions will ultimately push more for this to be done.

“I always had something to do”

Serving four different churches in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin during his tenure as pastor, Mlakeer “always had a lot on his plate.” When he moved into a house of 2,500 in a gated community in the Naples area, he says he became anxious almost immediately.

“All my life, I’ve always had something to do, an office to go to,” he said. “Even during COVID, I was going to church every day, taping a service. Coming down to Florida, I didn’t have that routine.”

After Mlakeer noticed a lot of paint jobs being done in his community, he talked to a handyman friend who told him he could “pick up any side job” if he wanted. Since he ran a small painting business for nearly three years in his 20s, it seemed like a natural fit.

He took a chance, filing for an LLC, designing business cards and buying a truck. His start-up costs included $250 for an open Sherwin Williams contractor account, $22 for a web domain, $145 for business liability insurance, $126 for a storage locker and $117 for magnetic truck decals, according to documents provided to Insider.

Once everything was in place, he began posting about his business on the local networking service Nextdoor, as well as in community Facebook groups.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’m new to the community. I’m retired. If you’re looking for a little paint, this is it,’” recalls Mlaker.

That helped him get a few jobs, and then “it was word of mouth,” he says.

Joe Blaker 2

Joe Blaker

Blaker tries not to work more than three days a week. The typical job takes four to five hours and makes about $275 in profit, while the largest takes three 8-hour days and makes about $1,400 in profit – which equates to about $55 in profit per hour of work.

He charges clients about $1 per square foot of painted wall—he says $1-2 is the typical rate—which translates to about $350 for a typical room. It cuts the cost by 75% for a second coat of paint, which he says customers usually want.

The running costs of the business include tape, plastic cover, roller covers and paint tray covers, as well as new brushes after about every four jobs. He gets a 35-40% discount when he buys paint, one he says he passes on to his customers. Operating expenses include gas, insurance, storage rental and bank fees.

There was a great demand for his business right in his neighborhood. In fact, Mlaker says he’s never once left for a job, which “fits perfectly” into his lifestyle.

When it comes to business competition, he says the big painting companies usually go for bigger jobs – like a whole house – but there’s less competition for painting just a bedroom, for example. Since he’s just a one-man team and wants to keep his hours down, these smaller jobs are just what he’s looking for.

And a little work can lead to more work. He remembers earning $2,000 to paint half of a client’s house and then being asked to paint the other half. Another client had him paint a bedroom and then ended up doing his kitchen as well.

Laker chooses the days he works and loves the flexibility his business provides. He remembers running out of paint on a job one morning, going to the paint store near the beach, relaxing on the beach for two hours, then coming back and finishing his job.

While Mlakeer believes others his age can achieve similar success, he acknowledges that he is blessed to be in strong physical shape – which makes his active work life easier. He’s an avid road cyclist who rides “thousands of miles” a year and even says he still plays ice hockey.

“Being active is part of my life,” Mlakeer said. The more I can engage in different activities, the better I do everything with them.”

Mlakeer worked with many people during his tenure as a pastor, but says he rarely got a chance to see the “end results” as their lives pushed them in different directions. But with painting, he can step back after a hard day’s work and be proud of the finished product.

For people of his generation thinking about starting a business or going back to work, he advises asking themselves, “What do you like to do? What are some of your life skills that you can turn into some income?” and “What suits your natural nature?”

Moving forward, Mlaker plans to continue working at his business only part-time, but is considering taking on some additional work outside of his community. He lives about eight miles from the ocean and suffered wind damage and a temporary loss of power and water during Hurricane Ian, although he was not in an evacuation zone.

In Fort Meyers, however, a few miles west, there is “extensive damage.” As the area rebuilds, he expects there will be plenty of job opportunities if he chooses to pursue them.

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