Starting a business can be a daunting task for anyone.
Starting a business at age 65 with multiple sclerosis can be an even bigger challenge.
But that’s exactly what Greg Davis, owner of Your Trike Spirit in Deer Park, did last year.
Davis, who was diagnosed with MS in early 2009 and was laid off from his sales job about three months later, started his business primarily to fill a niche he thought was underserved on Long Island.
With MS, which caused muscle weakness and balance issues, his mobility became limited. While he could still drive, he missed biking around his neighborhood and in nearby parks.
“My life became very small,” says Davis, whose background is in retail management and sales.
He recalled seeing someone years ago on a recumbent trike — a three-wheeled vehicle that puts the rider in a reclined position and requires less leg strength to pedal than a traditional bike — and thought maybe he could ride one. Davis scoured dozens of bike stores, but most shops didn’t stock them. Finally he found one that had been in storage at a Holbrook store that has since closed.
“There was no doubt in my mind that it would change my life,” says Davis.
And that it did. But when people would see him riding and inquire where they could get one, he didn’t know where to send them. While recumbent trikes can be ordered online, their hefty price tags — models at Davis’ store sell for $900 to $2,000 — mean many people, especially those with a disability, want to try before they buy. So with encouragement and funding from friends and family, he opened his store last summer.
Davis, now 66, is one of a growing number of older entrepreneurs.
Last year, 24.3 percent of new businesses were started by entrepreneurs ages 55 to 64, up from 14.8 percent in 1996, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City, Missouri-based group that promotes entrepreneurship.
Several factors are contributing to the growth, including the fact that people are retiring later than they used to, says Arnobio Morelix, a senior research analyst at the foundation.
“People are just working longer than they used to,” he notes, adding that some must do so to replenish retirement accounts that withered in the Great Recession.
Data also show that those with disabilities are more likely to be self-employed than those without a disability — 10 percent vs. 6.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The higher entrepreneurship rate is due to the higher unemployment rate” among the disabled, explains John D. Kemp, president and CEO of The Viscardi Center, an Albertson-based organization that serves disabled individuals. “It’s a consequence of not being able to find a job, but still feeling that you have worth and you have a desire to provide for your family.”
Davis didn’t want to stop working, but the sales job he had when diagnosed with MS meant he was on his feet a lot.
And most of the positions he applied for after losing that job would require him to be standing frequently, as well. It was a tough period financially for Davis, who in 2009 filed for bankruptcy and eventually sold his Deer Park home in a short sale and downsized to a nearby apartment with his wife.
Those circumstances made it difficult to get a bank loan, but with loans from friends and family and a GoFundMe page, he was able to open his doors.
Before doing so, he did plenty of research into the trike business by visiting trike shows and dealers.
“You have to have a sense of what you’re getting into,” he advises other entrepreneurs.
There are resources to help disabled entrepreneurs get started, including ACCES-VR, New York State’s vocational rehabilitation program, and the Iowa-based Abilities Fund, which focuses on entrepreneurship for people with disabilities, says Kemp.
“You need friends and partners that will help you accomplish your goal,” he notes.
In the beginning, Davis only stocked a couple of recumbent tricycles, but he now has eight different models of two major brands, KMX and TerraTrike.
Over the past year he’s sold more than a dozen trikes, which allowed him to cover store expenses, but he still isn’t drawing a salary. Sales have been increasing, and he recently sold three trikes in one day.
He advertises in local newspapers and online, and has a website, yourtrikespirit.com, but also gets customers as people see him out riding.
Jerry Brockhoff, 73, of Riverhead recently bought his TerraTrike after seeing Davis riding at a Riverhead fair and inquiring where he got his trike.
“I had seen them before, but I had no idea where to buy them,” says Brockhoff, who has diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which gives him limited use of his legs.
Brockhoff rides his trike every day for two to four hours.
“It’s like riding a La-Z-Boy with wheels,” he says.
Davis would like to expand his inventory and is looking to raise another $20,000. His GoFundMe page is still active.
He hopes the business will be profitable one day, but that isn’t what gets him out of bed each morning.
“I’m just happy to wake up every day and be able to come in here and hopefully meet some people I could help,” says Davis. “Every day is a gift.”
At a glance
Company: Your Trike Spirit, Deer Park
Owner: Greg Davis
Product: Recumbent trikes
Price range: $900 to $2,000
Total investment: $20,000-plus