It was 1991. The Gulf War was coming to an end and tens of thousands of service men and women were returning to the United States. Don Dwyer Sr., founder of The Dwyer Group, one of the world’s largest parent companies of home service brands, (now known as Neighborly), realized that veterans would need opportunities to transition into the civilian workforce. Through many ups and downs, the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) VetFran Program, which supports veterans and their spouses’ abilities to have access to owning a franchise through education, financial assistance and mentorship, would one day become that opportunity.
Twenty-seven years ago, as I struggled to stay alert at a very early morning breakfast with Don Dwyer, he shared an idea that he had just dreamed up in the shower. The idea would allow franchisors to give hope and opportunity to thousands of deserving veterans.
In order to help make his idea a reality, Don said he wanted me to inform the Department of Defense that when service men and women returned from the Gulf, they could give him a call and he would help them become franchise owners, either through a Dwyer Group franchise or another brand. I told Don I would handle it, but in the back of my head I doubted this idea was going to succeed.
Upon contacting the Department of Defense numerous logistical issues came to light, but Don insisted I persevere. Don instructed me to describe his idea in a brochure and he wanted the brochure to be given to every solider upon re-entry into the country. He wanted me to find a way to get the IFA and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to sponsor the project, as well as call every franchisor we knew to tell them about the project and why they needed to be involved. I also needed to convince every franchisor to contribute $1,000 to help with expenses. And Don gave me 30 days to get it all done.
Initially, everyone resisted the idea and said it would never succeed. But, as time passed, people came around. VetFran eventually won the support of the IFA, SBA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but not without Don personally funding the project. When he decided we needed a national spokesperson to introduce VetFran, Don personally paid $25,000 to hire a famous general for that role.
A dozen or so franchisors supported VetFran by offering discounts to veterans who qualified to buy a franchise, and several dozen veterans became franchisees during the next couple of years. However, the program lost steam once the war ended, and then Don died prematurely and so did VetFran.
Several years after Don’s death, his daughter, Dina Dwyer-Owens, was CEO of The Dwyer Group and she was elected to the IFA Board of Directors. One of her goals, especially as chair of the IFA board, was to revive VetFran. The IFA agreed and so did hundreds of franchisors.
Although it has been years since I have been personally involved in the VetFran program, I have followed its progress as it has evolved into the program Don envisioned. Today, more than 600 franchise brands voluntarily offer financial discounts, mentorship and training to veterans who want to open their own franchises. VetFran’s most recent survey shows more than 238,000 veterans and military spouses have been able to find opportunities within the franchise community. More than 5,600 veterans have become franchisees through the program.
Many franchisors now look for opportunities to sell franchises to veterans because they are disciplined and orderly, they get things done and they are conditioned to follow an operational system. This is why so many franchisors support VetFran. Here is what just some of these many franchisors associated with the program have said about it:
“Through the years I’ve found that veterans have the exact qualities that make a great franchisee and I’m always proud to work with them.” – Tariq Farid, Founder of Edible Arrangements
“Veterans know how to follow systems and procedures, have a strong work ethic and tremendous integrity. All of this translates very well into owning a small business.” – Gary Findley, CEO of Restoration 1 and bluefrog Plumbing + Drain
“Not only are we giving these veterans the chance to begin their own ‘American Dreams’ as business owners, but they also turn out to be some of our most dedicated and successful franchisees.” – Shannon Hudson, Founder and CEO of 9Round Franchising, LLC
Clearly, VetFran has turned out to be a program that benefits many, both veterans and franchisors alike – just like Don originally envisioned.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. John P. Hayes, Titus Chair for Franchise Leadership at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, has written numerous best-selling books about franchising and teaches at franchise expos worldwide.