Franchise systems are picky. But JDog Junk Removal & Hauling might be the most selective of all. The Berwyn, Pa.-based company sells units exclusively to military veterans and their families -- no exceptions -- and hires as many veterans as possible to clean out, transport and repurpose customers’ junk. It’s great marketing. When a JDog crew shows up to do a job in camouflage trucks and trailers and military-style uniforms, it’s hard not to take notice.
“When these guys walk into the consumer’s home, people instantly respond and say, ‘Thank you for your service,’” says Army veteran Jerry Flanagan, who began franchising the brand in 2013 and now has 21 units operating in seven states. “It makes marketing much easier because we are able to show how we are different. We’re able to penetrate new markets quickly. People really want to get behind veteran-owned and -operated businesses.”
When he launched his business in 2011 in a Philadelphia suburb, he didn’t plan to employ a post-military work force, though he did hire as many veterans as he could. What he found was that employees with a military background often had better leadership skills and were more likely to follow his systems than other staffers. They showed up on time, caused few problems and took pride in their work.
“I’m not really looking for entrepreneurs to be my franchisees,” Flanagan says. “I’m looking for guys who can follow orders and can look at my playbook and follow it effectively.”
While JDog’s vets-only policy is unique, Flanagan is not alone in realizing that veterans have skills that make them great franchisees. In fact, over the past decade, franchise systems have made aggressive efforts to recruit military veterans, offering discounts, incentives and even free equipment to get them through the door.
But it has taken time for franchise brands to fully realize the potential of the veteran community. In 1991, at the end of the first Gulf War, Don Dwyer, founder of the Dwyer Group of franchises that include Mr. Rooter and Glass Doctor, started a program called VetFran, which was a loose affiliation of franchise brands that recruited vets to help them transition to civilian life.
Over the next decade and a half, the program had periods of high and low activity, but in 2007, as increasing numbers of those who’d served in Iraq and Afghanistan began transitioning out of the military, member brands ramped things up. VetFran became a program of the International Franchise Association designed to educate vets about franchising and connect them with companies offering incentives.
In 2011 VetFran launched Hiring Our Heroes, a program aimed at bringing 80,000 veterans into the franchise industry; as of 2014, it had brought 203,890 former service members into the fold, including 5,608 franchisees. Today VetFran comprises nearly 700 franchise brands.
“In February I visited with Budget Blinds, which waives their $75,000 franchise fee for veterans,” notes George Eldridge, program manager of VetFran, who left active duty in 2012. “They were so impressed by the vets they’d worked with that they wanted more. That was nice to hear. Here’s a company making decisions not on what vets have done in the past, but what they can do now. No vet wants a handout. All the franchise brands I talk to say the same thing: They wouldn’t be doing their vet programs if there was no return on investment.”
Former Navy SEAL Monty Heath is executive director of VetToCEO, a Marietta, Ga.-based nonprofit that offers free online programs for veterans exploring entrepreneurship. He believes franchising is perfectly suited to the mentality of many veterans.
“These guys learn leadership and perseverance in the service. They are hard-working and mission-focused, and they complete the task in front of them no matter what,” Heath explains. “Guys and gals in the military are very much used to giving orders and executing. That’s how franchising is. They’re given a playbook and they figure out how to execute it. The military mind is set up to be in that environment. That’s what a veteran provides vs. someone who has to start from scratch learning how to run a business.”
Mosquito Joe, a franchise system based in Hampton Roads, Va., home to several large military installations, is investing heavily in veterans; some 15 to 20 percent of its franchisees are former service members. While the company offers a $2,500 discount on its franchise fee to veterans, COO Brian Garrison, who left the military in 2012, believes vets are attracted to the brand’s culture. Many members of Mosquito Joe’s corporate team also served in the military.
“We feel vets bring the right set of experiences and work ethic to our business,” Garrison says. “Veterans coming through the pipeline look at the other vets in our system, and it resonates with them. Our team has close to 100 years of franchise support experience. We can look veterans in the eye and say, ‘We understand that you don’t have any experience in the private sector. But we can be a backstop for you as you make the transition.’”
Indeed, Mosquito Joe’s culture resonated with Dennis Corrigan from the start. He grew up in a military family and spent the first 24 years of his adult life as a U.S. naval aviator. After retirement from the cockpit, he spent the next 17 years on the fringes of the Navy designing training materials for pilots and air crews. When he decided to go into business for himself, he signed on with Mosquito Joe and launched his unit in Virginia Beach, Va. “I found that because of their focus on the military and because we have the same values, it made it much nicer to interact with them,” he says. “I was able to build relationships with corporate almost immediately based on our common work ethic.”
Corrigan is paying his success forward by primarily hiring veterans and firemen on his crews, which control mosquitoes in homeowners’ backyards and in outdoor areas before events. “I have found that folks from the military have a different commitment to the job,” he says. “They understand a lot about customer service, although they may not know they’re doing it. They are really good at completing a job to the best of their ability and on time.”
Jan-Pro, the 10,000-unit commercial cleaning franchise, and its recently launched residential cleaning brand Maid Right, have sought to employ former service members since 2000, when the company launched its VetConnection Program. The Alpharetta, Ga.-based company offers a 10 percent franchise-fee reduction for vets. Because of its master franchisee model, the company aims to find individuals who have experience managing large groups of people.
Scott Thompson, vice president of franchise development for Jan-Pro and Maid Right, looks to match the right veteran with the right opportunity. “I probably wouldn’t give an infantryman who never managed a larger unit a master franchisee license, and I probably wouldn’t give a major who worked hard to learn leadership skills a small package,” he explains. “We try to align our opportunity to a veteran’s goals, skill set and capital.”
Thompson adds that many service veterans have the advantage of a military pension, which gives them a level of security that other prospective franchisees may lack. “That pension gives them flexibility,” he says. “They have some income already as they’re ramping up their business. In some cases, what they make from their franchise is just gravy. They can take the time to build their business up correctly.”
Eric Freeman, who served in the Gulf War and now works as a Dallas policeman, started his Maid Right franchise last May. By August, he’d exceeded his personal goals by signing up more than 60 clients in his first six months. “The military made me goal-oriented and driven,” he says. “I grew up in a military family and learned discipline. I won’t sit around and wait for someone to do something for me.”
Workout Anytime, an Alpharetta-based fitness franchise, reduces its $30,000 franchise fee by a third for vets. Co-founder and president John Quattrocchi says the past few years remind him of when he returned home from Vietnam after serving four years in the Air Force.
“It seems like an awful lot of people are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and are looking for work, and we have a great need for people with the tools they’ve learned to help us expand,” he says. “When I came home in the ’60s we faced the same thing. I was able to get a job in a steel mill after college, but a lot of friends who served in Southeast Asia couldn’t find a job. I certainly have a soft spot for veterans. We should give back to anyone who serves their country.”