Join The Graceful Exits Network

ABSTRACT

The U.S. Census Department estimated there were some 78.2 million Baby Boomers living in 2006 (http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/usinterimproj/) and these numbers will only grow as the population of our nation continues to age. As the national population continues to age, our parents will either die or face the need of downsizing and moving into retirement communities or assisted living facilities in ever growing numbers. This fact of life, in turn, creates a humanitarian business opportunity to assist the families of the elderly and the deceased make this inevitable life transition in a dignified and caring manner. This document will describe in detail how the reader can create a second career helping families and survivors deal with these life-changing transitions.

AN INTRODUCTION

My wife and I are semi-retired from the worlds of Information Technology and Banking. Once we left the corporate world we were facing the dilemma of what to do next. During one of our many conversations, we recalled something that Chrissy had said a few years earlier. We were both aficionados of estate sales, and during one of our outings Chrissy looked around at how the estate sale was being conducted and she turned to me and said "We can do better than this!" As it turned out, she was right, although we had no clue then as to the amount of dues we would have to pay first! Having discussed the possibility of forming an estate liquidation company to supplement our income, we decided to take the plunge and actually do it.

During the next few weeks we asked ourselves what assistance we would want and need if we were in the shoes of our potential clients. We decided we would want someone else to deal with everything related to the physical aspects of the estate so we could deal with the even more difficult issues of the familial, emotional and legal realities of losing a loved one or moving an elderly relative into an assisted living facility.

Once we compiled the list of services we wanted to offer, our next step was choosing a name for our company and forming the legal entity. Recalling a conversation with a friend of mine who wanted me to co-author a book with her on Thanatology, we decided to call our new company "Graceful Exits Estate Liquidation Services", a fortunate choice of names that has served us well.

All in all, it cost us about $10,000 to start our company, including filing for the DBA, obtaining sandwich board signs for our estate sales, business cards, magnetic signs for our vehicle, and a quarter page ad in the local Yellow Pages (which was our most expensive mistake -but more about that later). With our help, though, it would cost you less than half that much to start your own company and market your services. And what's our fee for helping you get started? Well, that's an unbelievably pleasant surprise you'll find near the end of this document.

OUR FAILED BUSINESS MODEL

While we had filed our DBA in May, it was August before our ad in the Yellow Pages was published. During the meantime, we created a website listing all of our services. We had decided early on that the website would be important, and that instead of being a sales-oriented site, we would offer as much helpful information as possible and the sales angle would take care of itself. This was the best decision we made in the beginning, and it's still serving us well today. If you are reading this document, you already know that firsthand.

In September, we had our first call and our first job! Unfortunately, it was in Livermore, about 45 miles from our home in San Francisco. Nonetheless, we were excited about our first job and threw ourselves into it. We were also worried about it, but my dear sister Martie told us to "just fake it 'til you make it!", so we did. After our client decided to hire us in exchange for 30% of the sales income, we placed several ads in local newspapers (which is not cheap!), bought a portable cash register, placed our signs outside the house and prepared to do business.

The sale itself was a success, despite the limited number and quality of items for sale, but when we added up the costs of advertising, travel time and gas, and the money we paid someone to help us conduct the sale, we ended up making about $0.75 an hour -a successful sale for our client (who was very pleased), but not so successful for our business.

Nonetheless, we had conducted our first sale! And our second one wasn't long in coming. Our second client was a professional fiduciary, an executor hired by a distant relative. This house was in Oakland (about half an hour away), had been closed up for about 4 years, and had over 60 years worth of personal property in it. This time, mindful of the pitfalls of holding a sale for a percentage of the proceeds, we struck a deal to do it for a fee, leaving the property wall-to-wall bare and broom clean.

Encouraged by our second client within a month, we threw ourselves into it, hiring 4 people to help us prepare for the sale. Again, we advertised in some local newspapers, put out our signs, and sold almost everything in 4 days. Success at last! Until we added up the totals and discovered we had made about $0.40 an hour for that job. Uh-oh, time to refine the business model again.

OUR SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS MODEL

Correctly discerning that forty cents an hour was not enough income to sustain us or our business, we re-thought our business model. We decided that for the next one, we would charge a reasonable fee plus 3rd party expenses for labor (including packing up for charity donations, haul & disposal, and cleaning). We also decided we couldn't afford $6,500 a year for a quarter page ad in the Yellow Pages, opting, instead, for a one-inch ad with just our name, phone number, and website URL for $450 a year. Nor could we afford to advertise our estate sales in the local newspapers. But what else could we do to bring people to our sales?

During the first 2 sales our nascent business held, we met a number of very nice people who were attending the sales in order to find stock for their own antique and second-hand stores. Luckily, being refugees from the world of IT and knowing the potential value of a mailing list, we had asked the folks who attended our first sales to sign our guestbook with their areas of interest and contact information for future sales. That was the second best thing we did for our young business (our website was the first). We now have a mailing list of over 60 honest buyers who pay much more for items of interest than does the general public

Over the course of the next few months, we continued to win some business, but not enough to become completely self-sufficient (it takes, on average, some 5 years for a small business to become successful. But our plan that will cut that time down considerably.). We had to pay many of our monthly bills by drawing on our credit card accounts, and even dipping into our 401(k) plans when certain household emergencies arose. In other words, we had to have a better plan if our business was going to survive and thrive.

After one of our successful projects, for which our client praised us highly (see our Testimonials page), he contacted us again to help move an elderly couple from the upstairs unit into a retirement home. We hired a good friend (and wonderful person!) to help the couple decide what to take with them and what to sell, and to help them pack their belongings for the move. She spent about 4 hours a day with them, patiently going over each item and packing it up. We had figured that 4 hours a day would be just about the limit an elderly couple could endure, and Rebecca was wonderful in dealing with their concerns and worries over the move, which was, after all, a life-changing event for them.

Our next step was to actually move their belongings to their new residence and unpack everything for them. Both our client and the couple we had moved were enormously happy and grateful for our assistance, and we realized that we had a new and important service we could offer. We then became "Graceful Exits Estate Liquidation and Senior Relocation Services", which has since increased our income and profitability considerably.

Then out of the blue, another opportunity presented itself. Someone representing a company in New York called and asked if we would visit a well-known person in Marin County (just over the Golden Gate Bridge), pick up an artwork that had been damaged in shipping, and UPS it back to them. Chrissy and I figured "Why the heck not?" since our client's customer was an internationally known restaurateur we admired and we'd get a chance to meet her in person. She turned out to be as kind and charming as the magazines had written and we spent a pleasant time with her at her home. And made some money from the deal, as well. That episode was the beginning of our "On Site Personal Services" aspect of our business. Since then, we've taken on jobs no one else would take on, including holding sales out of storage lockers, sorting and sending boxes of items to different addresses, and generally helping our various clients accomplish their goals.

Our business model has evolved to include flat fee structures, flat fee + 3rd party expenses, commissions on sales, and hourly fees of $65 when no other fee structure fits the situation. I guess the point I'm making here is to be flexible and take advantage of all opportunities offered to you to increase your business. The second point is that this business is fun, profitable, and extremely satisfying.

INTERESTING TALES TO TELL

One aspect of this business is that it is hardly ever dull! There are new problems to solve almost every time, and if you're into problem solving and helping people, this is the business for you! While the vast majority of the projects we undertake are simple and straightforward, and usually takes us only 2 weeks from start to finish, once in a while we run across something that is special or more challenging, such as the ones that Chrissy and I call "The White Russian's Home", "The Drug House", and "The Never Ending Project from Hell". There are many, many interesting tales we could tell, but if you decide that this is the sort of business you want to start, you'll have plenty of your own. It is, indeed, one heck of an interesting way to make a living by doing good for other people.

BETTER THAN A FRANCHISE (and cheaper, too!)

Over the years, we've had a number of phone calls and emails from people wanting to know if they could franchise our business. Chrissy and I gave it some serious thought, for after all, franchising could rake in some serious income and bring it to whole new level. In the end, though, we decided we were happy as a Mom 'n' Pop operation and didn't want to deal with all the legal and business hassles of franchising. We were having fun by doing good for people and paying our bills, so going corporate didn't sound as good to us as it might have 10 or 15 years ago. On the other hand, we did want to increase our income and eventually be able to retire for good, so we had to come up with some other idea, one that might have some of the advantages of franchising, but without the corporate and legal hassle. So here's what we've come up with, and how you can take advantage of it if this is the sort of way you'd like to make a living.

THE GRACEFUL EXITS NETWORK

In addition to many requests to franchise our little business, we've also fielded many requests for referrals outside of our own 415 and 510 area code service areas. Unfortunately, we didn't know of anyone in, say, Los Angeles, or Baltimore, or Florida, or Houston, or the many other metro areas of our country, who do what we do and how we do it. Every single one of those requests has come from someone finding our website and either calling or writing to us, and that is what finally gave rise to this idea.

First, let me back up just a little. As I said earlier, creating our website was the best thing we could have done to promote our business. As of this writing, if you type "estate liquidator" into Google with no other parameters, Graceful Exits is the very first listing. If you type "estate liquidation" into Google with no other parameters, Graceful Exits comes up in the #4 and #7 positions of the first 10 listings. And that's a search for entire planet! If you add the words "senior relocation", we come up in the #1 and #4 positions. Further, by adding "San Francisco", we come up in the #1, #2, and #3 positions.

Similar results are obtained by using "moving" instead of "relocation", or substituting "liquidators" for "liquidation". In other words, Graceful Exits almost always shows up at the top of the heap whenever someone is looking for an estate liquidator or senior relocation services. Try some of your own likely keywords for this sort of business in your favorite search engine and see for yourself!

Now, this is where the desire for a new business of your own without having to spend a fortune, us not wanting to franchise, and the popularity of our website converge to enable you to have your own business without reinventing the wheel or spending thousands of dollars on franchise fees.

What this means to you is the opportunity to piggyback on our success and drive business to your own estate liquidation and senior relocation services company at a fraction of what it would otherwise cost you. But there's even more we will do to help you start.

HOW WE'LL HELP YOU GET STARTED

Once again, just so we're clear on it, we are not offering to sell you a franchise. You'll have to form your own independent company and choose your own company name. What we are offering is a way to market your company and get business from the get-go, save you a lot of money and heartache by not making the same mistakes we did in the beginning, and give you expert assistance in getting started. It's as close to a turnkey system as you're likely to find. So, here's what we'll do for you:

First, we'll help you start your business by sending you all the forms we use, including our Statement of Services, Sales & Expenses Spreadsheet, Invoice, Credit Due, and Sales Brochures. All you do is substitute your own information for ours in the forms and flyers.

Second, we'll teach you how to market your business and who to market it to.

Third, we'll enroll you as a member of the Graceful Exits Network and put your contact information, including your website URL on a special page on our website to help drive business to you.

Fourth, we'll grant you exclusive rights to your service areas as defined by ZIP codes; we won't sponsor or promote any other company servicing those ZIP codes.

Fifth, we'll use a portion of the fees we collect from you to further promote the Graceful Exits Network through Google Ad Sense and other online and print venues, which will result in more business for all of us.

Sixth, as the network grows we'll establish a Listserv mailing list or a private Google Newsgroup for members of the Graceful Exits Network so we can share advice, information, and stories about our businesses.

Seventh, as a member of a network of estate liquidators and senior relocators, we'll all be able to offer our potential clients who need to move a seamless service from coast to coast, helping them to get out of the old residence and helping them to set up in the new.

Eighth, we can also help you launch your own website for a small additional charge. (See http://www.ourweb.com).

WHAT IT WILL COST YOU

Are you ready for this? We will charge you only $500 per year for each area code you choose as your service area. That's about what a one-inch ad in the Yellow Pages costs per year! Most people these days look to the web to find what they want, and when they're looking to liquidate an estate and get it ready for sale or rent, or when they need someone to help their elderly parents downsize, pack up and move, Graceful Exits is one of the first companies they find in their search. And that means yours will be one of the first companies they find in your exclusive service area. It will save you thousands of dollars in marketing campaigns and make you many more thousands in new business. That's it, just $500 to help you start your business, save you thousands of promotional dollars, and drive business to you in your exclusive service area. What could be simpler and less expensive?

See for yourself: Click on any of the Google ads for franchises at the bottom of this page and you'll see that a franchise for just about any other business will cost you between $10,000 and $60,000 for the franchise and name alone. And you'll still have to drum up business on your own, anyway. So the choice is yours, and it's a simple one to make: spend many thousands of dollars or just $500? I think you'll agree that it's a no-brainer.

DISCLAIMER

This is not the type of business that will instantly make you wealthy, although it can provide you with a reasonably comfortable income if you stick with it as your reputation grows. On the other hand, it is an honorable way to make a living by helping your neighbors through trying times, and it will make you rich in every possible non-material way. Chrissy and I both hope you will give it some thought, and become an active and successful member of the Graceful Exits Network of Estate Liquidation & Senior Relocation Services Companies. Please call us at (415) 626-0460 or email us at info@graceful-exits.com if you'd like to participate, or just to talk it over with us.

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