Tim Sanford, a specialist in the Virginia Army National Guard, is a franchisee of Matco Tools in Alexandria, Va. (Mike Morones / Staff)
After months or years of taking orders from guys with more stripes on their uniforms, how would you like to be your own boss on the civilian side?
If you have enough cash stashed away — and can stomach the ups and downs of owning a business — there are lots of franchises that would be happy to have you. And many will discount their costs for military veterans.
The franchising process can offer vets the freedom of working for themselves, as well as the support of being able to rely on established brands and business practices, franchise representatives said.
“Franchising is for people who want to go into business for themselves but not by themselves,” said Todd Leiser, director of franchise sales for the coupon marketing company Valpak.
Leiser’s company finished fifth in the 2013 edition of our Best for Vets: Franchises survey. Sport Clips Inc., Boulder Designs, Line-X and MaidPro were this year’s other top finishers.
More than 93 percent of franchise brands that responded to our survey indicated that they discount initial franchise fees for people connected to the military. On average, these costs total less than $30,000 for nonvets, while vets typically pay some $8,100 less.
About two-thirds of companies discount this cost for current members of the National Guard and reserves, and about three in 10 provide discounts for spouses.
While discounts on the initial franchise fees for vets are very common and generous, discounts on other costs are rare. One in five respondents said they discount startup costs other than the initial franchise fees; fewer than one in 10 discount royalty charges; and no respondents discount their advertising fees.
Fewer than 20 percent of the companies have policies to help accommodate franchisees who are activated as reservists, with benefits such as deferred financial obligations to the franchise brand or assistance running the business.
And about four in 10 companies told us they have veterans serving on their executive or governing boards.
Franchise brand officials told Military Times that offering discounts and other accommodations to veterans is both a way to show appreciation to those who serve the country and a smart business decision for the brand.
Veterans “are used to a system,” said Les Sander, national franchise representative for Boulder Designs, a company that creates commercial signage and personalized borders for residential landscapes. “There’s a lot less maintenance for us.”
Bill Rogers, a Vietnam-era Army vet who runs a Sport Clips franchise, also recognized similarities between the armed forces and franchising.
“It’s an ongoing support system, just like you know the service has,” Rogers said. “All you have to do is copy the business model.”
Sport Clips’ Matt Deputy said the company recognizes the natural compatibility between vets and the franchise system. To attract more current and former service members to partner with the male-oriented hair salon, which took the top spot in our survey this year, Sport Clips put in place a 10 percent franchise fee discount, management help for activated reservists and a waiver of the typical requirement that franchisees open multiple units.
In addition, Sport Clips recently hired Deputy as its first veteran affairs officer, a position that doesn’t exist in many other franchises.
“Acting as a liaison and having someone serve full time in that capacity, I think, is a huge statement,” Deputy said.
Franchise brands can offer extensive support structures that sometimes resemble those of employers, but the big difference between running a business and working for a business is the bottom line.
When it’s your business, you get to keep all the profits that remain after the costs and fees of running the franchise unit have been paid.
And if the business doesn’t make enough money to pay for its costs, you could be saddled with the losses.
Tim Sanford, a specialist in the Army National Guard, said he had some concerns about that personal liability when he made the move from working as an automobile mechanic to starting a franchise with Matco Tools.
But specific guidance from Matco on the benchmarks that would steer him to profits eased Sanford’s mind, he said.
“It’s definitely worth the time and energy to do this, over working for somebody else,” Sanford said. “It’s not … building somebody else’s business. Every day, I’m building my own business.”
Cost and profitability must be primary considerations when you’re thinking about partnering with a franchise brand in light of the wide-ranging upfront fees typically entailed. But it’s not all about dollars and cents.
Chuck Lynch, vice president of planning and development for MaidPro, recommends looking for a franchise that will allow you to do work you will enjoy and also “fit your lifestyle and fit your goals.”
“The benefit of residential cleaning is the daytime hours,” which allow vets to spend more time with the loved ones they couldn’t be with while deployed.
And as a franchise owner, you don’t even necessarily have to separate family time from business time.
Mike Lozier, 15-year Marine Corps veteran who is now a Valpak franchisee, said one of the hardest parts about his time in the military was being away from his wife.
“You have that emptiness inside of you,” Lozier said.
Now he works alongside his wife every day as they grow their franchise together.
Lozier praised the support that Valpak offers its franchisees, as well as the personal attention that company leaders provide. But for him, the best part of transitioning from the military to Valpak is much closer to home: “Never saying goodbye to my wife.”
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