Over the last several issues we have profiled retired educators who have chosen to continue in some way or another to teach. Glen Turnbull and Bobbie Turner, the husband and wife team who are the subject of this issue made a conscious decision to remain involved in the field of education after he fully retired and she scaled back. After deciding it was time for a change, they bought an existing business which they have expanded into a profitable and satisfying enterprise. Glen and Bobbie have been married for over 25 years and have three grown children. Read on and learn about the how, why and what of their interesting choice. (Our questions were answered by Glen.)
What was your original area of work in Education?
I taught in both elementary and secondary schools and in the field of special education. Bobbie was a teacher-librarian and special education teacher at the elementary school level.
How many years did you work within the educational system in Canada?
I taught for over 30 years while Bobbie taught full time for over 15 years and now works part-time as a library technician in an elementary school.
Did you work outside of Canada or in another field besides education?
We have only worked in Canada, but I have also worked for the Ministry of Education in BC as part of the team who introduced telecommunications and the Internet to the provincial school system.
What type of education focused work are you now involved in?
We are owner/operators of a home-based book wholesale company that was originally established in 1996 by a team of retired teacher-librarians (CanLit). As I was already retired and Bobbie was transitioning into retirement, this company seemed to be a way of letting us continue to be engaged in the field of education while giving us the opportunity to also do something important, which was to support the world-class work of Canadian authors and illustrators and provide some stimulus to the Canadian publishing industry.
What were your reasons for continuing to work after your retirement from your primary career?
I still felt energized about education but wanted something different from the regular classroom and school routines. For Bobbie, full retirement was not yet a personal preference as she still enjoys working with students in the library, but she could see the personal and professional advantages of owning CanLit. There was another incentive for both of us to continue to do some type of work: to enable us to help our three children get a university education. We both felt CanLit filled these criteria— employment with some income and a more relaxed form of work.
What made you decide on this particular type of work?
Several years ago, just before my full retirement, an article appeared in a local paper about a couple of retired teacher-librarians who had created a book wholesale business related to selling books to school libraries across Canada. We eventually contacted the couple and arranged to meet for coffee with an interest in learning more about their book business. As it turned out, Bobbie had taught with one of them and they were both ready to be fully retired. The business sounded perfect in meeting my personal goal for retirement and as the business was financially sound it also offered a good income, making it a perfect match for us (Glen: education + technical expertise and Bobbie: education + expertise with children’s literature).
Aside from all this, buying CanLit gave us the opportunity to support something we really felt was important, both educationally and culturally. We believe that Canadian books offer a high degree of relevance to students wanting to know more about Canada, its people, culture and history. We also believe that by promoting and supporting the use of Canadian books in school libraries, we are providing a much needed service to teacher librarians, teachers and students.
What challenges did you encounter in your new endeavour that you did not expect and how did you deal with them?
Owning and operating our own business has proved to require a real commitment of our time for paying attention to detail and developing and maintaining good customer relations. Other challenges included learning and coming up to speed with basic accounting skills and practices. As we keep our own financial records including ordering, sales, payroll, taxes, inventory tracking, shipping and receiving, I had to develop new skills. An ongoing challenge is maintaining careful financial books so that the accountant can complete the year-end financial report. At first onerous, it has gradually become a welcome experience for me as I pride myself on maintaining well kept financials, which organizationally perhaps did come from my teaching experience.
A major challenge for both of us was finding the time to read the large volumes of books that have to be reviewed and pared down to make up our books lists every September, January and April. We receive approximately 200+ titles from book publishers, three times a year. We read each of the books for content and age appropriateness, as well as writing quality. From these we select 100 to 125 titles ranging through all grades K to 12. We categorize the books into grade appropriate groups and write teacher notes for many of the titles. Although time consuming, the best part of this is that we love reading and get to read a wonderful selection of Canadian titles that are hot-off-the-press.
In short then, when owning your own business, perhaps the main challenge is time management or, as Bobbie put it, denying the urge to work 24/7.
What have been the rewards of your new endeavour?
There are many rewards. An almost immediate reward for us was the financial reward of running a successful company. Another was the personal satisfaction of knowing that the effort we put in to selecting great books for school libraries is appreciated by others who do not have the time to preview book titles for content relevance, age and appropriateness. As well, a very satisfying reward is having customers who are happy with their book selections. A pleasant and unexpected reward of being our own boss is that it gives us a high degree of flexibility with work schedules and allows us to take time off during slow periods to do other things we enjoy. Probably one of the biggest rewards was learning that we could successfully manage and expand a business through hard work and determination. The hours in a work day/week sometimes seem to be longer than our teaching assignments, but the rewards are undeniable.
What impact has your choice had on your life in general?
When I retired over five years ago, I was not ready for a full-time life of leisure so becoming involved in a home-based business was perfect. For Bobbie, cutting back to two days a week in a school met her needs to stay engaged with students while giving her time to spend on an exciting new adventure as well.
Of course, there is the reading, reading and more reading. Every book we recommend for sale through CanLit, we have read (or have had someone read) to ensure content and age appropriateness. This has had a big impact on our lives as we read a lot more now than we used to. The downside (if you want to look for one) is that we seldom have time to read for our own personal interests.
With your own business, it is not all work and no play. There are times when we can spend extended time exploring nature in our camper and for the past two years we have managed to get down to Arizona and California during February and March so that we can practise becoming “snow birds” on a more continuous basis.
Were you ever worried that you might have made a mistake? Did you have a Plan B?
Originally we didn’t have a Plan B but we found we needed to consider one fairly quickly. By way of explanation, we bought CanLit just before the economy made a downturn and that caused some major concerns for us as we had invested money to make the purchase. We certainly worried that the economy would negatively affect school library budgets, as in fact it did. Teacher-librarians, with whom CanLit had had a good business relationship, were laid off. Some Teacher-Librarians were moved into other roles or decided to retire and were not replaced. As well, school-based book purchases dropped as money became tight in schools right across Canada. However, going against this tide, CanLit sales continued to improve. Whew!! One reason for this was that CanLit originally sold books only to elementary schools so our Plan B was to expand the sales market to include secondary schools. This move proved beneficial as sales to this group made up for lost sales revenue to the elementary schools.
Did your new position require special training?
Neither of us took special training either before or after purchasing CanLit. There were many tasks/skills that we had to learn, such things as accounting, E-commerce site management, negotiating skills for getting discounts from publishers and customer service and management. All of these we learned on the job.
How has your background in education aided you in what you are now doing?
For both of us having a background in education gave us the ability to feel empathy for teacher-librarians who had to survive with the “do more with less” work ethic that is common in most schools across Canada. Bobbie’s background as a teacher-librarian also added a good understanding of the teacher-librarian role in the school system. Both of us had a solid understanding of curriculum across the grade levels, as well as an understanding of what students like to read. One important skill we learned as teachers was being organized. Running our own business requires strong organizational skills, well learned by us as educators and now put to use in a different career path. Actually, we both feel we learned and developed many of skills as educators that we now use, unconsciously, in our business.
How long do you intend to be doing the type of work you are now doing?
We have been running CanLit for over ten years and in our opinion, it has been a wonderful transitional experience from being fully employed as an educator to being fully retired. We have enjoyed our continued involvement in education and in particular being exposed to great Canadian literature. Three years ago, we developed a five-year plan to move from CanLit to full retirement for both of us—our second Plan B. We intend to continue running CanLit for at least another year or two after which we hope someone else will have the same dream or plan that we did when we bought the business.
Note: CanLit has been in business since 1996 and has proven itself to be a very stable business even through tough economic times. Inquires can be directed to Glen and Bobbie directly. canlitforkids.com
What advice would you give to other educators interested in pursuing the same type of work that you are involved with?
If you are thinking of owning/operating your own business as a transition into full retirement from teaching, then be prepared to work long days and weeks to be successful. If you are successful doing this, then be prepared to feel fulfilled.
Do you have any further thoughts or comments about your retirement choice?
By choosing to operate our own business we find that we are enjoying the benefits of freedom from the constraints of a teacher’s schedule, personal satisfaction and pride in owning our own business and financial benefits. Having this business has also kept us in touch with something we love, albeit in very different roles than educators in schools.
As we become more experienced with age—that is not the same as getting old!—we are now more seriously considering another change in lifestyle but we have no regrets about our decision to transition into eventual full retirement by owning our own business.
Buying and running your own business may not be for everyone; but for those considering such a venture in their retirement, Glen and Bobbie have given you much food for thought. Through careful consideration and planning, your retirement can be equally successful, whatever it is you choose to do.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Carol Baird-Krul & Enise Olding
Carol and Enise (firstname.lastname@example.org) are the creators of a series of pre-retirement and post-retirement planning workshops: Transition to Retirement: The Uncharted Course©, Recently Retired: Charting a New Course© and Ideas… Enhanced and Advanced©, and authors of Transition to Retirement: The Uncharted Course. Previous articles on retirement may be viewed in back issues at CanadianTeacherMagazine.com.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Sept/Oct 2014 issue.