For 21.2 million U.S. veterans, transitioning into civilian life can present challenges. One struggle is simply finding employment in a labor market which, while improving, is still tight. Potential employers may take a shortsighted view when an applicant’s military experience and skills don’t map directly to a corporate job description, or when a resume includes a gap for military service.
Related: Veterans Are Natural Born Entrepreneurs
That may be one of the reasons many veterans opt to start their own business; in fact, a higher percentage of veterans than nonveterans are self-employed. Recent data shows that veteran-owned businesses generate $1.2 trillion in sales and employ 5.8 million workers.
Still, building a business from the ground up can feel overwhelming, as Air Force veteran Julie McAdoo can attest. With her husband, Kevin (also an Air Force veteran), McAdoo started a residential cleaning business. “With a startup, if you don’t seek out a coach or mentor in your industry who can show you the ropes, you’re really making it up on your own," she says. "It takes a lot of time and money to get customers and make a name when you’re a brand new business.”
McAdoo -- like thousands of other veterans -- found a successful alternative in franchising. As the owner of an Office Pride commercial cleaning franchise, she discovered a business framework, including training, that shortened the learning curve. “In the military, we are used to a code of behavior and a code of operations, where all the pieces work together," she says. "A good franchise is like that -- they will train you in a very workable system that functions well. The branding, marketing message and materials are already in place, and you can walk right in.”
Veterans interested in franchising have a terrific resource in VetFran, a strategic initiative of the International Franchise Association (IFA). VetFran’s mission is to provide access and opportunities in franchising to veterans and their spouses. Since 2011, VetFran has helped 204,000 veterans, military spouses and wounded warriors find meaningful employment with member-franchise companies, helping 5,600 veterans become franchise owners. (VetFran’s 2014 Veterans in Franchising report offers a snapshot of veterans in franchising.)
The franchise model allows veterans to exercise their entrepreneurial spirit while also honoring the values instilled by military service. “There is a tremendous pride in serving one’s country, and every veteran hopes to find a real meaning and contribute both as an individual, and as part of a bigger team, in their next career,” says VetFran chairman (and Marine Corps veteran) Joe Lindenmayer.
VetFran offers mentoring, information on the basics of the franchising model, financial tips, self-assessment pointers and other resources to help veterans understand whether franchising is a fit for them. Lindenmayer points out that the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, lead others and follow a proven system are key success attributes veterans bring to franchising.
David Lewis, vice president of franchising at Express Employment Professionals, agrees that veterans bring particular strengths to franchising. “In the military, you learn that predictable success comes from following proven systems, but you also learn how to adapt to current conditions," Lewis says. "That is almost the definition of franchising.”
Lindenmayer, Lewis and franchise owner McAdoo all encourage veterans to do their homework. Research the industry and talk to current franchisees in the system to learn what works in that company’s culture, they say. “Not all franchises are created equal,” says McAdoo, who cites the good systems and support she finds with Office Pride as evidence of quality.
Many franchisors also offer discounts and benefits to veterans, but those researching potential franchisors need to check with those companies directly, because not all company websites highlight the comprehensive benefits available.
Franchise ownership, or a job in a franchise company, may not be suitable for every veteran. But Lindenmayer of VetFran says he's excited about the opportunities that exist. “To hear how a veteran came home and got a job in a franchise system and was able to buy [his or her] first home . . . or started a new franchised business and is now hiring other veterans. . . that’s the reason we do this work.”
My company, Guidant Financial, works with veterans to help them secure franchise financing on a regular basis. Based on my experiences, here are the top 10 franchise brands that offer exceptional support for veterans and what that support entails:
1. Batteries Plus Bulbs: The company offers veterans a $10,000 discount on the franchising fee. The company’s limited-time Ownership With Honor program will provide more than $210,000 in financial support to selected veteran franchisees in 2015.
2. Express Employment Professionals: The company offers 50 percent off its franchise fee to U.S and Canadian veterans.
3. The Dwyer Group: Dwyer, the parent company of eight service-oriented franchises, last year awarded $2.3 million in discounts to vets. The company currently offers qualifying veterans a 25 percent discount on the franchise fee, as well as special vendor incentives.
4. Liberty Tax: Liberty does not advertise a veteran’s discount, but does describe special financing and “guaranteed financing of second territory if in compliance” in its IFA listing.
5. PuroCleanPuroClean indicates in its IFA listing that it offers veterans a $5,000 discount on the franchise fee.
6. WIN Home Inspection: WIN reduces the franchise fee by 10 percent, per its IFA listing, and offers a WIN For America program through which veterans may qualify to waive 50 percent of their franchise fee.
7. ComForCare: This company's veteran franchisees receive a 10 percent discount on the franchise fee.
8. The UPS Store: The company veterans $10,000 off the franchise fee, and 50 percent off the initial application fee. Veterans own more than 291 UPS Store franchises across the United States.
9. SuperCutsSuperCuts' IFA listing describes a $2,500 rebate off the franchise fee for the first store.
10. Meineke and Maaco: A 25 percent discount on the initial licensing fee is described for qualifying veterans, as are partnerships with more than 40 veteran franchisees.