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What's Old Is New

Mature Mart is doing well by doing good: Selling gadgets that make life easier for seniors

Alexis Abramson, a former director of three senior centers in Atlanta, vividly remembers the moment three years ago when she encountered an elderly client sobbing at a hallway telephone, frustrated by her inability to read the standard-size numerals on the dial pad. "It broke my heart," says Abramson. She had often searched high and low for simple adaptive tools that would help seniors at her centers cope with failing eyesight, poor hearing, and arthritic hands. "Here for the lack of yet one more simple item, the seniors around me were suffering," she says.

That experience led Abramson, who has a Masters in gerontology, to a major career decision. She announced to her family that she had turned down a doctoral scholarship in gernontology. In the same breath, she asked her father for a $50,000 loan to launch Mature Mart, a company that would act as a central clearinghouse for products to help overcome seniors' physical limitations. Abramson also secured a $50,000, SBA-backed loan and has since gotten two more $25,000 loans--and paid them all back.

Today, Atlanta-based Mature Mart, with 1998 revenues of $2 million, sells 20,000 products, such as a pill-crusher, a telephone amplifier, and a flashlight/magnifier, mostly by mail and online. An adept promoter, Abramson has plugged her products on the QVC Network and the Today show.

Mature Mart's 12 employees include Abramson's Mom Phyllis, 58, who does PR, and her grandmother Rose Holtzman, 87, who writes a monthly Web column.

Abramson is starting to attract notice. She just beat out 1,200 nominees for the "Entrepreneur of the Year" award from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Ken Dychtwald, president of Age Wave, a marketing firm in Emeryville, Calif. specializing in seniors, says Abramson "represents the fusion of two great American qualities: a passion to do good combined with a wonderful entrepreneurial flair."

And entrepreneurial she is. She couldn't resist bringing some copies of her new catalog to the U.S. Open. "Several people in the box were looking at them instead of watching the game," she says. Abramson herself seems to keep her eye on the ball.Read about other breakthrough companies. Click Entrepreneur Profiles at frontier.businessweek.comBy Echo Montgomery Garrett


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