Veterans make up some of the strongest members of the U.S. franchising community. More than 66,000 ex-military personnel have already taken advantage of a franchise opportunity and the number is growing year on year. According to VetFran, which connects entrepreneurial U.S. veterans with franchise business ownership opportunities, they make up seven per cent of the American population, but 14 per cent of the franchising network, proving that franchising and veterans’ skills are an unusually complementary fit. But what draws military veterans to franchising – either as an employee with the franchisor or as a franchisee leading their own local team?
Structure and discipline
Many of the skills that veterans acquired in the armed forces are well matched to franchise business systems. Adhering to established processes, working hard to meet set standards, and having a team-minded approach to goals – individuals who have served in the military are not only trained in this work style; they also thrive in this structure.
Steven Marullo, president of PIRTEK USA Gulfgate, Beltway North and Conroe believes that his time in service prepared him well for the franchising world. Steven served as a Machinist Mate Nuclear (MMN/SS) for the US Navy from 1988 to 1997.
“I knew I didn’t want to go to college. I lacked discipline and didn’t think I was college material,” said Steven. “My father believed the Navy, specifically, would teach me something that would be useful in the real world and turn into a career – and it did. I ended up spending two years at school in the nuclear power program for the Navy, training to work on submarines, where I learned nuclear power and mechanical principles, engineering, and leadership. I also developed the ability to work in a team to accomplish a shared goal or mission and to work under high pressure.
Only the people who can handle high pressure make it onto the submarines – ‘steel sharpens steel.’”
Honest Abe Roofing’s VP of franchise launch, Ariel Haase, echoes Steven’s point of view when it comes to discipline. As a Marine Corp veteran herself, she finds that the military’s unique commitment to processes is a great training ground in preparing for a career in the franchise industry. “People who join the military are often children when they join, fresh out of high school,” points out Ariel. “As a parent of a daughter who now wants to join the Air Force, I see the appeal of this aspect of the military even more clearly now.” Ariel credits routine and discipline from her military background as a force that drives her to succeed and continue to want to be better. “Veterans are capable, but they like to have a framework to guide them,” she adds.
According to WOWorks’ senior director of growth, Adam Terranova – who is also a military veteran himself – the military teaches core values that its members believe in. “This allows the collective entity to meet their objectives and feel good about it, no matter how tough it may be,” said Adam. “This core-value connection is the reason why veterans are a natural fit in the franchising world – both as team members and as franchisees.”
Adam served as USMC E-3 (Lance Corporal) at Camp Pendleton, CA, and later became a combat readiness instructor at MRCD San Diego. He finds that if veterans can find a franchise that aligns with their values, such as providing access to better-for-you menu options to their communities, it’s easy for them to channel their skills, work ethic, and discipline toward reaching that goal.
World Gym’s director of franchise development, Michelle Sudovich, also finds that some franchise business models may be better suited to a veteran’s values, due to the shared goals and values. One example of this is franchising opportunities in the fitness industry. “They lived and breathed health and fitness in the military,” says Michelle. “As long as they are passionate about well-being and want to be a pillar of change in their community, they can find success doing something they love in the booming fitness industry, where they help others achieve results by following the systems and processes provided by a fitness franchise concept.”
While working on submarines is very different from working in a franchise business, there are commonalities between military and civilian life in the franchising world. Ron Klatt, founder and president of Prism Specialties DC, MD, and VA Metro, and a veteran, said that life now is similar, in the sense that he’s up early and spends long days at work solving problems. Ron served for eight years of active duty after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy. Two of those years were in training to ultimately fly the F-15C Eagle single-seat fighter in Germany with the mission of almost purely air-to-air combat for air superiority. He left the service as a captain (O-3) having completed his second tour as an instructor pilot in Arizona.
“Managing the many aspects of business ownership can be a bit overwhelming, initially – considering the operations, sales, financials, vehicles, facility, and of course, meeting payroll,” says Ron. “You need to surround yourself with a great team because there’s no way you’re going to do it alone. Your success stems from your ability to hire and retain good talent. This involves instruction, mentoring, modeling, discipline, character, and being willing and actually doing what you ask others to do – in other words, leading by example.”
Adam also endorses the viewpoint that veterans bring relevant skills and experience to the franchising community. For franchisors, they prove to be invaluable team members in strategic planning and process development. For franchisees, their adherence to operational procedures is very impactful in executing brand standards. “Both sides benefit from a communication style that leads towards operational efficiency,” said Adam.
Challenges to overcome
It’s no secret the transition to civilian life after years of service can be a difficult one. According to Pew Research, one in four vets said the transition is somewhat difficult. Ariel shares that she was honorably discharged from the Marine Corp after being diagnosed with cancer, another huge challenge. From there, she did several different jobs until she ended up with the role of VP of franchise for Honest Abe Roofing. Since joining the franchise industry, Ariel says a big lesson she has learned is, “If you’re not accountable for the things you do and don’t do, and you don’t want to keep learning, you’re not going to be successful.”
For Steven, one of the biggest challenges has been the unknowns that come with buying an existing franchise business. “I purchased three existing PIRTEK locations in Houston, TX, and faced some surprises during the transition from the previous owner,” says Steven. He felt he was lucky to have a supportive franchisor that assisted him in overcoming these unexpected issues in a timely manner. “Franchising worked well for me because it allows me to focus on the people – the customers and employees. I don’t have to deal with the backend stuff like ‘where do I get parts from?’, setting up suppliers, setting up transportation, and what software system to use. All of those things remove the focus from what’s important to me: the team and our goals. The backend stuff is taken care of by the franchisor and all I have to concentrate on is vision, culture, team, and customers.”
For Ron, hiring is the biggest challenge in this post-COVID era. “It’s always a tough decision and one you have to live with for a period of time to prove if you were right or wrong,” he says. Ron describes how, as a veteran, one can look at the franchisor and their support as they would their prior military chain of command and support groups. “There are existing guidelines and procedures in place from day one. It’s nice not to have to invent your own software system or processing steps to run the business,” Ron adds.
Support from the franchising industry
The franchising world recognizes the value veterans bring to the franchise community. The International Franchising Association (IFA) assists and hires veterans through the Veteran Transition Initiative (VetFran). VetFran is a non-profit network of over 600 franchise systems located throughout the United States that has helped over 6,5000 veterans and military spouses in acquiring a franchise business. VetFran is committed to transferring veterans from serving their country to serving their communities.
There are other brands that genuinely want to give back to this important community because they recognize the value these individuals bring. For example, WOWorks offers veterans 25 per cent off franchise fees when they open one of their healthy-halo restaurants. Prism Specialties offers 2 per cent off franchise frees when a veteran opens one of their restoration businesses. Similarly, PIRTEK USA partnered with National Veteran Homeless (NVHS) to provide assistance and raise funds for the organization’s homeless veterans’ programs in central Florida this year. In May, World Gym provided all the equipment for a new gym at the U.S. Vets housing facility, an organization committed to ending veteran homelessness by providing housing, mental health support, job counseling, and more. In July, Angry Crab Shack ran a promotion called ‘You Dine, We Donate,’ where they donated $0.25 for every pound of seafood ordered through delivery, carryout, or dine-in to the Arizona Veterans StandDown Alliance (AVSA). The brand raised and donated $75,000 to the non-profit to help veterans get housing support.
Charlotte Smith is an editor and writer for Global Franchise