How a 70-Year-Old Unretired to Start Painting Business As Stock Hedge

  • Joe Mlaker, 70, decided to start a business just two weeks after retiring from his job as a pastor.
  • As the stock market plummeted, he says, that extra income became more important.
  • He expects to earn around $2,000 a month if he continues with his business.

On a Sunday in May, 70-year-old Pastor Joe Mlaker held his final 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.

According to documents verified by Insider, he started work in July and posted more than $7,000 in sales and nearly $3,000 in profits in September. With his $2,600 startup cost now out of the way, he expects to earn around $2,000 a month from his new gig.

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

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“The money becomes really important, especially when I look at what’s happened to my retirement accounts — how fast we’ve all lost 10% to 15% over the last year,” Mlaker told Insider. His estimate of his losses might even be a bit conservative. Bloomberg estimated that the average balance of 401,000 as of June 30 was down 20% from a year earlier.

As well as 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 assets, COVID concerns and layoffs. But high inflation and a struggling stock market are now prompting some retirees to consider returning to work. For example, a June CNBC poll found that 68% of workers who retired during the pandemic would consider returning to work. If they return in large numbers, it could help alleviate ongoing labor shortages and ease wage pressures, which are one of the reasons the Fed is shutting down the economy.

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But while the rate of retirees returning to the labor market has returned to pre-pandemic levels — around 3% — growth has stalled in recent months. It remains to be seen whether the underlying economic conditions will ultimately encourage this.

“I always had something to do”

Mlaker, who pastored four different churches in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin during his time, was “always busy.” When he moved into a 2,500-seater house in a gated community in the Naples area, he became restless almost immediately, he says.

“All my life I’ve always had something to do, an office to go to,” he said. “Even during COVID I went to church every day, I recorded a service. When I came to Florida, I didn’t have that routine.”

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After noticing that there was a lot of painting work going on in his community, Mlaker spoke to a handyman friend who told him he could “take any side job” if he wanted. Having run a small painting business for almost three years in his twenties, it seemed like a natural fit.

He took the opportunity, applied for an LLC, designed business cards, and bought a pickup truck. His startup costs included $250 for a Sherwin Williams Open Contractors account, $22 for a web domain, $145 for public liability insurance, $126 for a locker, and $117 for magnetic truck- Stickers, according to documents presented to insiders.

After everything was settled, he began posting about his business on the local networking service Nextdoor, as well as in the community’s Facebook groups.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’m new to the community. I am in retirement. If you’re looking for a little lick of paint, look no further,” recalls Mlaker.

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

Joe Mlaker 2

Joe Mlaker

Mlaker tries not to work more than three days a week. The typical job takes four to five hours and generates around $275 in profit, while the largest three require 8-hour days and generate around $1,400 in profit – that’s about $55 in profit per working hour.

He charges customers about $1 per square foot of painted wall — he says $1 to $2 is the typical price — which works out to about $350 for a typical room. It reduces the cost of a second coat by 75%, which customers typically want.

The company’s running costs include tape, plastic covers, roller covers and paint tray covers, and new brushes after about every fourth job. When buying paints, he receives a 35-40% discount, which he says he passes on to his customers. Running costs include gas, insurance, storage rental and bank charges.

His business was in high demand in his neighborhood. In fact, Mlaker says he’s never once left his gated community for a job that “fits his lifestyle perfectly.”

In terms of business competition, he says the big painting companies usually take on larger jobs – like an entire house – but there’s less competition when it’s just painting a bedroom, for example. Since he’s only a one-man team and likes to limit his hours, these smaller jobs are exactly what he’s looking for.

And a small job can lead to more work. He recalls making $2,000 painting half of a client’s house and then getting called back to paint the other half. Another client had him paint a bedroom and eventually he did their kitchen too.

Mlaker chooses the days he works and loves the flexibility his company offers. He recalls running out of paint at a job one morning, went to the paint shop near the beach, relaxed on the beach for two hours, then drove back and finished his work.

While Mlaker believes others his age can achieve similar success, he acknowledges that he has been blessed to be in strong physical condition – something that facilitates his active work life. He’s an avid road cyclist who rides “thousands of miles” a year and even says he still plays hockey.

“Being active is a part of my life,” Mlaker said. The more I can get involved in different activities, the better I actually do everything with them.”

Mlaker worked with many people during his time as a pastor, but says he rarely had the opportunity to see the “end results” as life pushed them in different directions. But painting allows him to step back after a hard day’s work and be proud of the finished product.

He advises people of his generation who are considering starting a business or going back to work to ask themselves, “What do you enjoy doing?”, “What are some of your life skills that you might be able to turn into an income?” and ” What suits your physical nature?”

Going forward, Mlaker intends to continue working at his business only part-time, but is considering taking on additional work outside of his community. He lives about 8 miles from the ocean and suffered wind damage and temporary power and water outages during Hurricane Ian, despite not being in an evacuation zone.

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

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