Trading on Time-In: Franchisees Make the Most of Military Backgrounds
A military background can be in a great asset in a franchise system.
By James Franks
Acknowledging the efforts and sacrifice of our men and women in military service by helping them transition successfully to productive post-service lives is more than just a debt many of us in the franchise community (witnessed in part by the growing number of participants in the International Franchise Association’s VetFran program) feel compelled to repay. It is also a rich opportunity to tap a population imbued with many of the skills and training we rank so highly in our search for ideal employees and franchisees.
Tom Reed is a shining example of how valuable a military background can be in a franchise system. He and his wife Teresa recently converted Achara Florist & Fine Gifts, their independent floral and gift store in Stafford, Va., to a co-branded 1-800-Flowers/Achara Florist & Fine Gifts franchise. Tom credits his military training as playing a crucial role in how well the transition has gone so far.
Tom spent 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, joining as the Vietnam War was winding down and remaining in through the first Gulf War. While on active duty, he rose to the rank of major, piloted helicopters and participated in multiple combat missions. After retiring, he put his military experience and skills to work educating others, serving as dean of graduate studies of American Military University, a distance learning institution. He then took a job as project manager for Apple Inc., remaining there for 10 years, most of the time on the road. Today, Tom has resumed teaching, and combines that role with one of partnering with Teresa in operating 1-800-Flowers/Achara Florist & Fine Gifts. I spoke with him about how his past experience is helping in his present endeavors.
Franks: How did you first get involved in the flower business?
Reed: Teresa joined me on the AMU staff in 1997 and we worked together for 11 years. She ran the finance department and later added responsibility for the Veterans Administration department. She has a knack for numbers. It made for a good mix when we got into this business because she does the accounting and the day-to-day work while I look at the future and get things ready for the next opportunity or need down the road. She always had a talent for and enjoyed making wreaths and silk flower arrangements, and working with crafts, and had always wanted to own her own business. So, when friends of ours who owned Achara wanted to move closer to their children and started talking about selling, we decided to purchase the store.
Franks: You operated as independents for more than seven years before joining a franchise program. What brought about this change?
Reed: We’re in a small county just below Quantico, Va. The FBI academy, Secret Service and the Drug Enforcement Agency all have their agencies around here. Washington, D.C. encroaches us —we’re 30 miles south. Joining a franchise with a strong brand awareness and support programs was ‘the next step up.’ We looked at everything and figured 1-800-Flowers Franchising would give us a lot of credibility. We also liked their professionalism. So I said, “Let’s make the move.”
Franks: As you have transitioned from independent business owner to franchisee, how did your military background help you?
Reed: Keeping operations normal during the whole transition was one of the hardest things. The methodical training I had in the military, especially in learning to be a pilot and then flying through chaos, as well as my project management mindset, made it easier. I think there’s also a correlation between the pride and discipline you develop in the service and the professionalism you have to maintain in operating a business, especially when you become part of a bigger brand that works hard to set standards across the whole network.
I’m constantly harping on our designers to get out from behind the scenes and go meet the clientele. I also explain that they’ve got to be presentable and remember that our main focus is pride in our presentation to our customer. That starts with how they present themselves and carries through to how the store is maintained and how well we deliver on the customer’s expectations. I want to make sure the customer is satisfied and ultimately fulfill the 1-800-Flowers mission of delivering smiles.
Franks: Have you found that the “fraternity” of military veterans has helped you attract customers? Have any people you served with become customers?
Reed: About six months ago we took over the account for providing flowers to Quantico’s huge chapel. That’s a big arrangement that has to be delivered every Friday. That has opened the door to poinsettia sales for Christmas and lilies for Easter, so we’ve really planted a stake in the ground at Quantico. There are a couple more (acquaintances) left at Quantico from my time in, so any retirement banquets usually yield business for us. Also, I have security clearance to go to the FBI Academy and other locations that other florists don’t have, which again opens the door to incremental business. So yes, I’d say that my military background has been a benefit to get me to where we are now.
Franks: Do you do anything special to honor and or give back to your military veteran customers?
Reed: If they show us their military ID or come in in uniform, we take off 10 percent. We’re also constantly donating to various programs for our troops — Wounded Warriors, Homes for our Troops, etc. — and contributing gift baskets for fundraisers for different organizations.
Franks: Do you see any similarities between the bonds you formed in the military and any bonds you are forming in your franchise network?
Reed: There are two other 1-800-Flowers franchises in the state, one in Fairfax and one in Williamsburg. We visited both this past summer when we were deciding whether to sign on as franchisees. Margaret, the Fairfax franchisee, is on the Franchise Advisory Board and has a lot of valuable insight. I’m sure we will eventually attend franchise conventions and get to meet others in the network and get that “secret handshake,” so to speak.
Franks: What didn’t your military background prepare you for that you’ve had to learn the hard way as a civilian business owner and now, as a franchisee?
Reed: In the military there’s a lot of focus on precision and timing. My nature is to say, “Hurry up – let’s get it done.” Sometimes when I do that, Teresa throws back at me saying, “You can’t hurry the designers because it has to be done right.” We’ve got to have it there on time. But I have to step back sometimes and be patient, because you can’t push the designers all the time.
Franks: Any touching stories about flowers and the military?
Reed: There are quite a few touching stories. One arrangement we take every week to a gravesite and leave it at the headstone of someone lost in war. In 2014 alone in my Lion’s Club we have had three funerals. We do a huge Lion’s Club logo that goes inside with gold and blue flowers. Everyone looks at it as a true icon of the Lion’s Club, put together by 1-800-Flowers|Achara Florist & Fine Gifts.