Then he left, and the move meant more than saying goodbye to the Navy. It also meant saying farewell to medical benefits; an automatic pension for his family in the event of his death; and a steady, reliable income – all those things that comprise security. “Everything about me was military, so I didn’t know much about the business world,” he says.
Some of his buddies had gone into defense contracting, but the nature of the work didn’t appeal to McDonald. He instead landed in the financial planning industry as a 100-percent commissioned salesperson from day one, and used his contacts in the military to get a start. He did OK financially, but couldn’t find any passion for his work.
That’s when he discovered the Sandler Training® system and realized this was a way to help coach other small business owners to grasp the lessons he’d learned in the military. “I can stand up in front of them and say, ‘No, I haven’t owned a $200 million company, but I was the CEO of a $1 billion ship and a couple hundred men. We had to load that thing up with several months’ worth of supplies, then shut the hatches, and go all over the world independent of the Earth’s atmosphere and any outside support.’
“I find people are somewhat intrigued by that,” McDonald says from his training center in Norfolk, Va.
Impressed is more the adjective in Chris Loudermilk’s vocabulary. His first reaction to any veteran who approaches him in his role as director of military development at The Dwyer Group® in Waco, Texas, is “Congratulations.”
“It’s almost a no-brainer because the background they have correlates very well into being a small business owner, whether that’s a franchise or not,” says Loudermilk. He’s in a great position to know; The Dwyer Group created the VetFran program after the Gulf War, which has helped more than 1,400 veterans start their franchise units. This company alone has helped more than 160 veterans own one of its units, the most of any VetFran-participating company. That accounts for 10 percent of its overall service businesses (Aire Serv®, Mr. Rooter®, and Glass Doctor® to name a few), and Loudermilk’s goal is to raise that to 20 percent on his watch.
That puts veterans in an excellent buyer position, in Dave Phillipson’s view. The Long Beach, Calif., president of CEO Space tells vets to pick a franchise that matches their passion – after all, winners call the shots. “They have an incredible amount of value,” he explains. “The franchise has to sell them.”
Here’s what you bring to the bargaining table:
1. All Systems Go
Jania Bailey, president and chief operating officer of FranNet in Louisville, Ky., loves to have veterans drop into her franchise-finding service. She knows she has just struck gold with someone who has proven they can follow a system and embrace structure. “One of the biggest concerns franchisors have is bringing in a rogue owner who is constantly trying to reinvent the wheel,” she says. “Someone from the military is willing to stay within the guidelines. I don’t know if that means they’ll need less training, but they will adhere to the training they’re given.”
Loudermilk doesn’t see this as a generalization. After all, in the service, it doesn’t matter whether you’re stationed at Fort Hood or Fort Carson – you’re doing the same job the same way. Franchises work on the same principle.
As the personification of the military’s love, honor, and commitment motto, when a veteran steps forward and says she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it, Phillipson has observed. It’s certainly the first adjective that pops into his head when someone puts veteran and franchise in the same sentence. That’s not to say civilians won’t, of course, but military experience is a plus in this category, Bailey’s franchise clients tell her.
“It’s my experience discipline is mostly learned in the military, whether it was inherent or not. If it’s inherent, it’s magnified in the military. If it’s not inherent, it’s still magnified in the military,” Phillipson laughs.
3. Reality Check
Nor do veterans save this great work ethic for the glamorous side of business ownership. They understand the need to do things that aren’t necessarily pleasant and to work long hours. Take McDonald, for instance. When he had to make his first cold sales call, his hands were trembling. “Back in my submarine days, people would probably have said I was emotionally tough, thick-skinned, and all that. I was ready to go out there and die for my country. I’d chase the Russians, the Koreans, the Liberians, and if the ocean killed me, that was OK because it was for a good cause.
“So why was I so brave on the ship, but scared to make a simple phone call?” he recalls. Still, he dialed that phone and saw the job through to the end.
What’s even better, Loudermilk adds, is that veterans not only put their noses to the grindstone, they don’t complain during the process.
4. Speedy Results
Military veteran franchise owners tend to get tasks done more quickly than their civilian counterparts, in Loudermilk’s observations. It’s just one of the reasons Fortune 500 company recruiters are competing with him for military candidates’ attention.
5. Attentive Listeners
When you aren’t busy thinking up ways to reinvent the wheel, it leaves the brain free to soak up information about the processes and systems in place. Loudermilk has seen this veteran advantage with his own eyes in training classrooms throughout The Dwyer Group’s franchises. “They’ve paid good money for a franchise and they tend to say, ‘You’ve given me the instructions, now let me put them into action,’” he says.
“Veterans are very thirsty when it comes to training,” he adds. “They’re always eager for the next session, or asking when they will learn about [customer service].”
6. Thorough Learners
Military training involves practice, drill, and rehearsal. After all, fail these systems and people could die, so every piece of communication, every syntax, every angle is crucial. When Phillipson works with veterans, he sees this same single-minded focus on getting the details down. The results are strong enough for many in the 65,000-member CEO Space referral network to get behind and promote. It often serves as a conduit to introduce a potential franchise owner to cash sources willing to find the enterprise. According to Phillipson, any military member who qualifies can have as much as $350,000 in loan and grant money at their disposal within 36 hours.
McDonald recently worked with an entrepreneurial couple struggling to turn the corner from marketing whizzes to leaders responsible for not only supervising, but also training their staff. His Navy background was the perfect fit to teach these lessons. “All good business owners know they have to make decisions,” he says. “But like most normal people, they tend to procrastinate on that. Military folks can’t afford that luxury.
“When you’re captain of a submarine sitting off a coast somewhere watching someone on a mission, things don’t go the way you’ve planned and you have to make decisions. You don’t always know the result, but one of the worst things you can do is not make a decision, because that’s when things go downhill fast,” McDonald notes. “Decision-making processes are something I’m pretty used to.”
McDonald’s success certainly isn’t a fluke – one of his buddies from the Naval Academy runs a $200 million defense-contracting firm, another owns a shipyard that has grown into a $1 billion annual business in the last decade. “Could more veterans do something like this? Sure,” he says.