"I’m Thinking of Retiring, But Not Sure I Can Afford To. What Should I Do?"
05/17/23 Edition Stephen Says Column

Dear Stephen,

I just turned sixty and I work for one of the big three manufacturers. I’ve been in both sales and sales management, but I am better in sales, relating directly to the customer, so I am now in a sales rep position, which I prefer. I have deep, long-term relationships with architects and designers, and I’m still very engaged with all of my customers. I like them, they like me, and I like what I do. 

In the last three years, I’ve had more than one opportunity to take a generous buyout from my company. I almost came close once, but I decided against it. Like I said, I like what I do, and now with inflation on the rise, I’m so glad that I did not retire. Even though I’m a saver, I still worry about not having enough money. Since I’m always above my sales goal and a significant contributor in my region, not a coaster, I make a good living. 

I have a feeling that sometime after NeoCon, towards the end of this calendar year, my company is going to come back to me again with a “final” package offer. I say “final” because I’m convinced that if I don’t accept an exit package the next time it is offered, I will not be able to keep my job. In fact, usually they only offer “the package” once, rarely twice. After that, I have seen them terminate groups of workers with less generous packages than the ones they offer “voluntarily.” They say it is downsizing, yet it is no coincidence that many of us being downsized are over 60 – it’s no secret we’re the ones with the higher base salaries.

Here’s my question, if offered “the package” again—do I stay, or do I go? Or, rather, since I really do want to stay working, how do I continue to stay relevant and indispensable so that I’m the last one my company would want to dismiss? 

Too Young To Stop Now,
Dear Too Young,

I hear you. I hear you loud and clear. Along with lots of other people your age who are concerned about the downside of retiring too early. As the author of #HarperCollins’ Bulletproof Your Job, you already mentioned one of my most important secrets for keeping a job in sales: that is, to stay relevant by staying engaged with your clients. You sound like your focus is the A&D community, and that is good. Good for you and good for your business since it’s the A&D community that specifies your product. I coach A&D sales reps to understand that it’s those new, younger, designers - I call them The New Influencers - that need to know your name and need to feel like you are part of their world.

To answer your question, I say keep that job even if you have to fight for it. If you’re exceeding your sales goal, that is a large part of what keeping your job is about.  If you are not coasting (and let’s face it, we all know what that means), stay. Make them force you out kicking and screaming. If you are enjoying work, and the people you work with, and you’re overperforming, keep the job. If it is a chore to come to work, then do not keep it, take the package. Here are some of my tips on keeping the job and letting your bosses know you are valuable to the company.

Very often, once your A&D clients become your peers… age-wise, they lose their relevance within the design firm and it’s the new crop of designers that get those hot, new projects. So, you need to stay in front of those younger people, which sometimes becomes an issue because of your age difference. But I must say, as recruiters in the contract furniture industry we don’t see very much ageism. Just look around NeoCon and you’ll understand what I’m saying! Did you ever notice how the people inside the showroom walls are one age group and the designers circling the hallways are another?

There are many ways to stay in the mix: For one, be at every event. Never plan to skip an event just because you’ve attended it thirty times before. Go out of your way to introduce yourself to new designers. Keep up to date with what’s new in our industry. Be sure to keep up with the latest design trends, for example, #sustainability and adaptable multi-function furniture solutions.

Furthermore, be aware of new technologies, like #AI that will impact the design industry, and stay current on social media with #Instagram and #TikTok - don’t go overboard, but don’t ignore it either!

I recently attended the #IIDA Breakfast in New York City where we were honoring longtime #MillerKnoll, now retired, A&D veteran Hilda Longinotti. She is 91, and to quote #CindyAllen, editor-in-chief of #InteriorDesign, “Hilda remains the best salesperson in the room.” Staying relevant is a state of mind. Hearing Hilda reminded me of seeing my friend #MarthaStewart on the cover of #SportsIllustrated this month. Martha is constantly busy and evolving, she calls it #selfcreation, and to quote Martha “when you’re through changing, you’re through!”

However, one thing you mentioned in your letter that gets my attention the most, that never changes no matter how old someone is, is that if you’re meeting and exceeding your sales goal – that is what companies respect and want the most, no matter how old you are!   

If you’re able to do all of these things, your company is going to value you and want to keep you no matter how old you are. So, stay and work and you will thrive!

Sincerely yours,

 #MillerKnoll #Retirement #MarthaStewart #CindyAllen #InteriorDesign #BoF #MMQB #IIDA #Haworth #Steelcase #HON
#NeoCon #ICFF #HermanMiller #RH #Knoll #HarperCollins