Franchises recruit veterans to fill ranks of owners

And there’s this: “It’s a different feeling knowing that I own this,” White said. “I’m not going back to corporate America. This is the road I’ve traveled, and I’m taking it.”
December 25, 2006

Franchises recruit veterans to fill the ranks of owners
Darrell Smith

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Stanley White could very well be the poster child of the military veteran-turned-franchise owner.

After a six-year U.S. Army stint in the mid-1990s, White became a highly successful insurance salesman, hitting a six-figure income by the time he was 30.

By 2005, however, he was restless. His long commute, the hours missed as a husband and father to two growing boys and the desire to “do my own thing” – all nagged at him.

“I wanted to run my own business,” White said. “I wanted to do a 180, go crazy and jump off the cliff all the way.”

That kind of abandon took some careful planning. In August, after more than a year of research, he dove into small-business ownership, opening his own Cartridge World outlet, an ink-cartridge refill company tucked into a small shopping center.

White, 35, is among the growing force of military veterans who’ve plunged into the world of franchise ownership, thanks in part to the franchise industry’s nationwide push to recruit more vets. Since the program was re-launched in 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, more than 600 military veterans have purchased a franchise using VetFran incentives, according to the International Franchising Association, the Washington-based trade group that sponsors the VetFran program.

Veterans such as White are tailor-made for franchises, association spokesman Terry Hall said.

“They tend to have absorbed discipline. They work within a team system and they tend to be pretty driven people,” he said. “The franchise business just loves them.”

VetFran, shorthand for the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative, offers reduced-cost entry into the world of franchising. Originally, it began after the Persian Gulf War.

About 220 franchise companies – from Baskin-Robbins ice cream stores to Matco Tools – participate in the current VetFran program, according to the association.

“Vets tend to be naturals at being franchise business owners,” Hall said. “One of the best training grounds is the U.S. military.”

The VetFran program was one of the main attractions in Los Angeles last month at the West Coast Franchise Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The expo, considered a buyer’s bazaar for franchise opportunities, featured hundreds of franchise companies pitching their business concepts, as well as seminars on franchise financing, marketing and ownership.

The growing number of vets in the franchise industry comes amid robust activity. More than 18 million Americans work in franchised businesses, accounting for 14 percent of the country’s private sector billion in payroll employment and generating $506.6

“We hear statistics that a franchise opens (in the United States) every eight minutes,” said Greg Roquet, president of the Franchise Network’s Sacramento office. The franchise brokerage firm covers Northern California and Nevada.

Despite his eagerness to own his own business, White did his homework before choosing to invest in a Cartridge World outlet.

He talked with his wife, a local real estate agent, and his father, his business role model.

Before attending last year’s West Coast Franchise Expo, White researched various franchise opportunities and financing options.

White, who is black, sought companies that offered incentives to minorities and would reward his military service.

He also tempered his expectations. White wanted to finance the franchise himself, rather than be burdened by huge loans, so large franchisers such as McDonald’s and Chevron, with their long waiting lists and steep buy-ins, were out.

Cartridge World’s $30,000 buy-in fee was within reach, even more so when the company shaved another 15 percent off the down payment.

He even carefully planned the location of his new store – an area of Elk Grove poised for growth and near enough to another Cartridge World to give customers brand familiarity.

By August, he’d opened the doors, wearing his company’s signature blue-and-gold logo shirt to greet customers.

Three months later, the payoff’s still a work in progress.

“It’s not ‘Field of Dreams’ where you build it and (customers) come,” he cautioned.

A whiteboard in the shop’s back storeroom lists daily, weekly and monthly sales targets for his three-person staff, promising a free lunch if they hit their goals.

Admittedly, it’s been slow going. But White is already seeing other dividends.

He works 10 minutes from home. He can pick up his kids after school, watch his 8-year-old son Stanley’s football games and see his wife at a decent hour.

And there’s this: “It’s a different feeling knowing that I own this,” White said. “I’m not going back to corporate America. This is the road I’ve traveled, and I’m taking it.”

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