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A Match Made in Heaven

Your guide to finding the perfect franchise for your situation – and it’s probably not the company you have in mind.

The franchise world loves military veterans. Take a look at just a smidgeon of the financial deals the 387 participating members of VetFran (Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative) are dangling to attract you:

Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina™: $5,000 off the initial franchise fee

CruiseOne® travel agency: 10 percent off the franchise fee

ValPak®: 20 percent off the franchise and training fee as well as territory acquisition fees

House Doctors: 25 percent discount on the initial franchise fee

FASTSIGNS®: 40 percent discount on the initial franchise fee

And with the cooperation of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Corporation, and the U.S. Small Business Administration, the program continues to expand monthly. No one tracks the number of military veterans now in the franchise world, but since VetFran was initiated in 2002, some 1,370 veterans have bought franchises using these incentives, according to Terry Hill, the program’s staff liaison.

So, you were a mechanic in the Army, which makes Jiffy Lube® your natural choice. Not so fast, says Greg Tanner, national director of franchising development for Aaron’s Sales and Lease Ownership and author of a franchise advice booklet called Tannerisms. “Usually folks’ first step is the wrong one: They start looking at things-they-like-to-dos,” he says. Take, for instance, the guy who bought a Baskin-Robbins® ice cream store because he liked butter pecan or the woman who bought a Hallmark gift shop because she liked the way it smelled. “These are not reasons. They are emotions,” Tanner says.

“Franchisees need to be guided in a direction to make a business decision. Being in business for yourself is all about creating wealth and creating a quality of life.”

On the other hand, a good businessperson can make a go of anything, admits Patrick Kaufmann, who chairs the marketing department at the Boston University School of Management. “But you’ll spend too much time at this not to like it,” he adds. “This is not an investment for a vast majority of owners, especially those coming out of the military. You will run this as a hands-on business.”

Many times, the company’s criteria itself will rule out the obvious surface matches. “Franchise systems are very sophisticated business operations. They don’t necessarily, and in most cases, don’t want someone who is an expert in automobile repair, for example,” says Hill. “They’re looking for someone who has business savvy, administrative experience, knows how to hire people, and how to operate a business. They can hire people to do that actual repair work.”

And that’s a big reason franchises participate in the VetFran program: Veterans arrive on their doorsteps with a wide range of such skills and personality traits. “You’ve just exited one of the greatest training systems in the world,” says Hill. Not to mention the military’s atmosphere changes on a regular basis – in the commercial arena, that translates to competition and consumer trends – so military personnel have experience in adapting a strategy to fit the needs of an organization.

“Plus, they’re used to working in a system with lots of rules, and practicing,” adds Joel Libava, owner of The Franchise King™ Blog, which is operated out of Cleveland, Ohio, and the blogger behind thefranchiseblog4vets.com.

So the real question boils down to: What do you want from the franchise?