Like many franchise owners, John Sanders, the New Jersey market subfranchisor for Canada-based lawn care provider Weed Man, understood the business value of employing veterans extensively trained by the military to follow rules, systems and procedures, but he struggled with plugging into the veteran networks that could connect former servicemen and women to opportunities at his company.
That's why the International Franchise Association launched a campaign through the White House Joining Forces initiative in November 2011 to improve veteran recruiting and hiring among franchise brands by 2014 — and one year later, the military transition effort has nearly hit its target.
According to Beth Solomon, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry relations for the IFA, more than 64,000 veterans, military spouses and wounded soldiers have started careers in franchising — including 4,314 veterans who have become franchise business owners — in the past 12 months through the Operation Enduring Opportunity campaign. Though the IFA's original commitment with the White House involved the franchise industry hiring 75,000 veterans and military spouses and 5,000 wounded warriors within three years, Solomon said the association is on track to surpass its goal long before 2014.
"When we started this effort, a number of people said we would never be able to do it, that we would embarrass the franchise industry by making this commitment," Solomon said. "But now that we're so close to reaching our commitment, we're setting the pace for the nation and for other industries to step up to the plate."
Under Operation Enduring Opportunity, 530 franchise brands provide job training and offer discounts on their franchise fees to veterans — and Sanders said those incentives have gone a long way in attracting veterans to become potential Weed Man franchisees.
When Jeff McCorry, a former Army Special Forces sergeant, first stumbled upon Weed Man during an online search for franchise opportunities, he "wasn't really considering businesses based on them being better or worse for veterans," but he did appreciate the lawn care provider's 25 percent discount off the franchise fee for returning soldiers, which ultimately convinced him to open a franchise servicing Ocean County in April 2011.
Now, McCorry and Sanders set up tables at regional veteran job fairs and communicate with local veteran support services groups to encourage former soldiers to fill open positions at Weed Man and extend the company's network throughout New Jersey, where it plans to open a handful of new franchises within the next two years.
But Solomon said access to the financing needed to launch new franchise locations is still a roadblock for many veterans, which is why Operation Enduring Opportunity is turning its second-year focus to forming partnerships with lenders and angel investors.
"You need a certain amount of equity to get a loan to buy a franchise, and while banks want to see that, veterans who have been serving overseas and have moved around to different military bases so often face a lot of challenges in terms of personal financial resources — especially for young veterans who haven't had a chance to build up net worth," Solomon said. "Getting new commitments from banks like TD Bank, which is agreeing to waive fees and make lending easier for veterans interested in franchising, is what will keep up the momentum for this campaign and give veterans the resources to start new careers."