Let’s Call a Halt to Hiring Our Veterans
That is, at least, until you read what I’ve learned from meeting with veterans, what problems we as franchisors may encounter in awarding franchises to veterans and give consideration to a solution that very well may be our silver bullet.
First, let’s not forget, since 2000, nearly 2.6 million courageous servicemen and women have served or are now deployed in the Middle East and around the world defending our freedom. For these heroes, the question remains: Will we be there for them?
I served in the Military Police during the Vietnam era, and I painfully remember how our uniformed troops who dutifully sacrificed and came home were verbally confronted at airports, heckled at train stations and ignored at restaurants. It pleases me no end to see the reception our troops receive today − heartfelt applause on airplanes, generous people who pick up their checks in restaurants and other thoughtful displays of gratitude.
Now we have another cause to rally support for: Putting our veterans to work in civilian life. As of last October, the jobless rate for all U.S. veterans was 6.9 percent. However, according to a chart published by the Council of Economic Advisers, the unemployment rate for veterans who served since 9/11 stood at 10 percent with 246,000 out of work.
Helping Veterans Own Their Own Business
I have to salute Steve Caldeira, president and CEO of the International Franchise Association, and his staff for taking the lead in hiring our veterans. On Nov. 9, 2011, the IFA launched Operation Enduring Opportunity, a timely and well-thought-out initiative to put veterans and their spouses to work in franchising or to give them the keys to own their own business.
At the same time, franchise companies across the country participated in the roll out. My team in Georgia staged a press conference at the state Capitol to announce the program. I know that what we and other franchisors did to tell the story and spread the message helped make a difference. I had the honor to accompany Steve to The White House Nov. 21, 2011, to witness President Obama sign the American Jobs Act. It was a thrill I won’t soon forget.
The good news is that since 2011, the franchise community has created jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for more than 150,000 veterans and their spouses. That’s a big number, and we should all be proud of the contributions we’ve made. But, there is more to be done.
I’m glad to say that my friend Joe Lindenmayer, CFE, former Marine and president and COO of TSS Photography, chairs the IFA’s VetFran Committee. Through his steadfast and passionate leadership, I know we will reach our goals and help to change the lives of thousands more of our military veterans.
Teaching the Fundamentals
What troubles me though are three things I’m hearing as I meet with veterans and make my “Combat Ready for Franchising” presentation to transitioning military groups. In our zeal and genuine commitment to meet our goals, we may be doing a disservice to our veterans in possibly speeding them through our development programs and setting ourselves and our veterans up for failure as franchise owners. Reaching our short-term goals may create long-term battles we can’t win.
We know that veterans have desirable character traits and skills that make them solid franchise employees: leadership, discipline, service, structure and teamwork, specific training in health care, information technology, logistics and transportation. However, what worries me is they have virtually no civilian management or operations experience that would even remotely qualify them to own a business. Working a fast-food shift during high school does not count. Having a paper route in the summer is not business management. What are we going to do about their impressive lack of experience? Even though we may unfurl the “no experience necessary” flag, do we − franchisors who want to award franchises and development managers with sales goals − have the time, resources and inclination to teach the fundamentals to our heroes? I don’t think so.
I’m also concerned that veterans, in many instances, are overly gung-ho about owning a business that’s well beyond their reach. “I want to have several McDonald’s in my hometown,” I hear that more often than you might think. Our veterans have no idea what things cost. And, of course, why should they? They may be living paycheck to paycheck. Personal finance skills may be an issue, too.
Recently, I made a “Combat Ready for Franchising” presentation to transitioning soldiers at Fort Benning outside Columbus, Ga. When I asked them what franchises they were interested in, one said McDonald’s and another added, Dunkin’ Donuts, and I noticed most everyone nodding in agreement. In their defense, if you’ve been on a steady ration of beef with zesty BBQ sauce and diced potatoes or vegetarian pasta fagioli in the form of military MREs − meals-ready-to-eat, dreaming of a 550-calorie Big Mac, that among much else might fuel your fighting spirit. I have a “Tannerism” for that: #17, Don’t make an emotional decision. When you’re thinking about a business that tastes good, or smells good, or just feels good, get a hold of your senses. Make a rational business decision.
It’s no secret customers who like your product or service generally make the best franchise owners. However, if given the chance, I think our military veterans might literally eat through their profits. They have no objective idea what businesses or industries fit them best. Whose job is it to help them set realistic expectations without tamping their enthusiasm?
I have an answer, which I include in my presentation. It’s an all-in-one solution that solves many problems. If you are a franchisor, it pre-qualifies candidates, which allows your development managers to focus on converting leads to owners. So what is it?
It’s the VetFran Toolkit. For your development managers, when they encounter a veteran exploring your brand, they should make the VetFran Toolkit the first step, the first assignment in the candidate’s investigation process.
The toolkit was created by the IFA staff and the VetFran Committee members as part of the Operation Enduring Opportunity initiative (Visit www.vetfran.com). Kevin Blanchard, a sharp young man and Marine veteran, oversees the VetFran program and manages the toolkit as project coordinator, research & strategic initiatives for the IFA. I asked him how the toolkit benefits veterans: “It helps them relate to other veterans who have gone through the process and speak from experience as successful franchisees,” said Blanchard.
The toolkit was first released on June 28, 2012, and “is an ongoing evolving collection of how-to materials,” said Blanchard. “We’ve added a video library where vets can see other vets talking about various topics such as: financing, franchise law, ownership, the franchisor-franchisee relationship and more. Our IFA mentor program is new where we match a candidate with a seasoned veteran for guidance and support throughout the process.”
Blanchard tells me there are two critically important programs that have been recently added. One is a personal assessment tool to determine what industries are most suitable to a candidate’s personality and skills. Another is a financial assessment program to match a candidate’s financial qualifications with a concept’s financial requirements. All I can add is: Hurry up; we can’t wait!
Make the toolkit a part of your development process. It will be an indispensible step for your development managers and an indication to veterans that you have their best interests at heart. Do that and let’s march forward at full force with hiring our veterans.
Greg Tanner is executive director of franchise development for Aaron’s Sales & Leasing. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.