How One Retired Couple Turned Lavender Into Business Success
Edgar and Martine Anderson were in their 50s when they retired. Both had been highly successful corporate executives—he in the food services industry and she in high-fashion retail. They had worked hard all their lives and saved diligently, setting aside sufficient funds to step away from their high-powered careers for a quieter life in Door County, Wisconsin.
Deciding to step away from their jobs was the easy part; deciding what to do next took some time.
“Starting a business together was always in the back of our minds,” said Edgar. “But first we wanted to give ourselves a little time to recharge after so many years of nonstop corporate travel and 60-hour workweeks.”
For the Andersons, this meant renovating the home they purchased on Washington Island, making new friends and connections, and immersing themselves in the unique ebb and flow of life in this remote part of Wisconsin. During that time, they considered dozens of business options. Then, Martine remembered growing lavender during her childhood in the south of France. When she successfully tested growing a plant, the idea of a lavender farm started to take form.
“From the time I was a young woman growing up in Provence, I wanted a large lavender garden. But it was Edgar’s careful research and determination that turned my dream into a much larger reality,” said Martine.
Edgar conducted weather studies, took soil samples and planted a test garden at their house and at the home of Helene Meyer, a dear friend who eventually became their business partner. When the lavender flourished at both places, they knew they were onto something.
In the spring of 2013, the Andersons started the Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop with just under 9,000 lavender plants. By autumn, their lavender business was thriving, and the Andersons had more orders than they could fill. In a matter of months, they went from being a small startup to a rapidly growing, successful enterprise.
To accommodate the burgeoning demand for their lavender-based home, health and culinary products, the partners purchased a nearly 22-acre parcel of land and immediately expanded their planting, production and retail capabilities. Today the farm grows 48 different varieties of lavender in an all-natural, chemical-free environment. “In a matter of three years, we’ve become one of the largest lavender farms in the Midwest,” said Edgar.
The Andersons credit Christina Collins, their wealth management advisor at Northwestern Mutual, for helping them to create a plan that enabled them to make the transition from corporate employees to business owners.
“When the Andersons first came to me, their goal was to create a retirement income plan that would support their desire to retire early,” said Collins. “Over time, those goals evolved to include launching their lavender business.”
According to Collins, one of the most important steps to creating sustainable income in retirement is building flexibility into the plan. “Even with a carefully considered vision for what they wanted, the Andersons faced ‘speed bumps’ along the way. Their family home in Chicago took much longer than expected to sell; their home on Washington Island required extensive renovations; and their business took off more quickly than anyone could have anticipated, requiring a cash infusion to fund expansion. The plan we created enabled them to meet these challenges and move forward.”
When it comes to starting a business in retirement, Christina says that flexibility becomes even more important. “Retirees have a lot of advantages when it comes to starting a business, including the wisdom and experience that comes from years in the workplace. But financially, the stakes often are much higher than people realize. Yes, you may have more financial resources to draw from—but you also have less time to make up for losses if the business doesn’t succeed.”
For this reason, Collins believes that one of the most important steps is building a “Plan B” for the business. “First we quantified startup costs. Then we ran a series of ‘what if’ scenarios to determine whether the Andersons could weather the inevitable ups and downs of a business, including the possibility that the business might fail,” said Christina. “Then we built a contingency budget for unexpected challenges and opportunities. That way, we were able to protect the Andersons’ retirement assets so that they could retire no matter what.”
As the Andersons learned, understanding the financials of a new business is a difficult but crucial exercise, especially when your financial security in retirement is at stake. “Christina helped us to weigh the possibilities before we started the business, including how it would feel financially if the business went bust,” said Martine. “When you’ve answered the ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ question, you’ve taken a lot of the worry off the table. That gave Edgar and me the confidence to move forward with our plan. ”
At an age when many people are downshifting, the Andersons are now gearing up for a stellar year ahead. This includes hosting the first Washington Island Lavender Festival at Fragrant Isle.
“Starting a business later in life was more complicated than we imagined because we have to protect our resources for our eventual retirement,” said Edgar. “But now that our business is launched, Martine and I have just one regret: We both wish we had started the Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm & Shop sooner.”
Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, Milwaukee, WI (NM) (life and disability insurance, annuities and life insurance with long-term care benefits) and its subsidiaries. Christina Irene Collins is a Representative of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company®, (NMWMC) Milwaukee, WI (fiduciary and fee-based financial planning services), a subsidiary of NM and federal savings bank. All NMWMC products and services are offered only by properly credentialed Representatives who operate from agency offices of NMWMC. Representative is an Insurance Agent of NM, and Northwestern Long Term Care Insurance Company, Milwaukee, WI, (long-term care insurance), a subsidiary of NM, and a Registered Representative of Northwestern Mutual Investment Services, LLC (NMIS) (securities), a subsidiary of NM, broker-dealer, registered investment adviser and member FINRA (www.finra.org) and SIPC (www.sipc.org).