When it Comes to Business Ownership, Veterans Take the Lead

Lenny’s franchisee Chris Alford was honored to have been spontaneously given a U.S. Army Challenge Coin by First Sergeant Ferrell. First Sergeant gave this to Chris for "superior mentoring of young people," as he coached a couple of new 16-year-old employees.

Christopher Alford, a multi-unit franchise owner with Lenny’s Grill & Subs, is a former marine who decided to buy a franchise to better navigate his own future. Alford first learned about Lenny’s by attending a work meeting scheduled there by his former employer. After reviewing the advertisement and conducting some research, he called the next day and “never looked back.”

“Franchises are a great opportunity to be captain of one’s own ship, while being given a proven road map for success,” Alford said. “They have already done the leg work and have figured out what does and does not work.”

Lenny’s Grill and Subs, popular for its cheesesteaks and Italian sandwiches, has more than 100 restaurants operating or in development in the United States. The restaurant waives its initial franchise fee of $25,000 for veterans. But Alford said that is not the only reason Lenny’s is attractive to veterans.

“It is well-led with a focused leadership team and centralized goals that blend well with those who have military mindsets and are accustomed to being given clear missions and the road map to their success,” he said. 

Franchisees Laura Smith and RC Smith, who is a veteran, celebrate performance milestones at an N2 National Conference.

Top-Rated Franchises for Veterans

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Why Do Veterans Make Good Franchisees?

Franchisees Laura Smith and RC Smith, who is a veteran, celebrate performance milestones at an N2 National Conference. 

Veterans are known for their loyalty, commitment to their teammates, and ability to follow a process to get the job done — sometimes under the toughest conditions. These characteristics are also indicative of successful entrepreneurs, who must be able to withstand a certain degree of risk while staying positive and keeping their eye on their business goals. 

Today, more than 2.5 million American businesses are owned by veterans, making up about 9% of all businesses in the United States according to the Small Business Association

Although veterans make up only about 7% of the population, they account for a whopping 14% of all franchisees in America, according to VetFran, an initiative of the International Franchise Organization, which aims to facilitate the transition of veterans into franchising by encouraging franchisors to offer discounts and incentives to veterans on the one hand, and to assemble resources, tools and a database of franchising opportunities for veterans on the other. 

When it comes to running a business, veterans more than fit the bill, according to leaders at some of the country’s largest franchises. To attract them, many waive or offer discounts on franchise fees, special mentorship programs, and support from other veterans in the company.  

“Veterans bring a strong work ethic and passion to everything they do,” said Andrew Hoing, franchise marketing manager for Cruise Planners, a Florida-based travel franchise that offers veterans a 28% discount off of its franchise fee (which ranges from $10,995 to $495, depending on experience level), free air credit to attend training, among other benefits. 

Approximately 15% of its 2,500 agents are veterans, many who have ample knowledge of popular vacation destinations, thanks to their experience traveling the world. At Cruise Planners, veterans also receive military-specific marketing materials designed to engage military clientele. Veteran-specific mentorship also comprises Cruise Planners’ ongoing business development and training.

“We have a military advisory board consisting of about 20 Cruise Planners franchise owners, who have served in the military, to advise on ways to better serve our veteran franchise owners,” Hoing said.

Veterans also have a distinct advantage in that they know how to follow a process, said Claire Barham, marketing communications manager for N2 Publishing, a customs publications publisher with more than 900 private, monthly publications in circulation across the United States and Canada.

“Although every N2 franchisee benefits from our extensive training as well as our playbook for success, these assets are particularly appreciated by veterans, who so often come to us with an ingrained desire for structure, schedules and clear objectives,” she said. 

Aside from following the rules, veterans have what it takes to run a business without direct supervision, take charge, and be held accountable for their decisions. They also know how to take calculated risks when they need to.

“It’s vital in business ownership to take calculated risks that can propel you further, but it’s an especially useful skill set for our franchisees because the role is so heavily focused on sales,” Barham said.  

Bringing on New Recruits

Jeremy Brown of Two Men And A Truck

Other franchisors agree that putting efforts into actively recruiting veterans not only improves the bottom line, but also brings unique perspectives and experience to the company that strengthens brands.

Pinch-A-Penny is a 40-year-old pool and spa care franchise with more than 238 units that is consistently rated among the best by its franchisees. In a recent Franchise Business Review survey, its franchisees rated it as “excellent” in the categories of core values and owner enjoyment, for example. 

Michael Arrowsmith, the franchise’s chief development officer, said that Pinch-A-Penny believes in doing more for its veteran members than just offering a 50% discount ($25,000 value) on its franchise fee once veterans join. For the past decade, the company has been an official sponsor of the Valspar Championship, where it hosts a suite for active and retired service members and their families. They also support Birdies for the Brave, a global military outreach initiative developed by the PGA Tour dedicated to honoring and expressing gratitude to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. 

“Our veteran franchisees and employees are among the most esteemed members of our team,” Arrowsmith said. “The characteristics that allow them to excel in the military—like discipline, teamwork, leadership, ad strategy—make them ideal franchisees. They are natural born leaders who are dedicated, community-oriented, and more organized – making them a perfect fit for a family-centric brand like ours.”

At TWO MEN AND A TRUCK, 9% of its franchisees are veterans. The moving company offers a 10% discount on its $50,000 franchise fee to help attract former servicemen or women. The moving company, which operates more than more than 360 locations worldwide and has more than 3,000 trucks on the road, prides itself on an excellent customer experience. Finding franchisees who can follow a process, work within a team, and demonstrate leadership helps the company achieve this goal. “We feel franchising is great for veterans because they can focus on making the customer experience nothing but a positive one, and use their leadership abilities to build a compassionate and caring team for the customer experience,” said Lindsay

Dow, content marketing manager for TWO MEN AND A TRUCK. One of its franchisees, Jeremy Brown, is a former Air Force pilot who won medals for his service in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. Unfortunately, his military career was cut short when he was medically disqualified from flying. Afterwards, he joined the Air Force Reserves and pursued his MBA.

He began researching franchising opportunities and ultimately signed on to become a franchisee for TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®’s Dover, Delaware location. Bringing his business experience and extensive military leadership to the location, he has been able to post a 98% customer referral rate for the Dover team.

“The Air Force was a great organization to be a part of and I think I could paint a correlation between nearly everything I did in the military and all the things that go along with being a franchisee,” said Brown. “In the Air Force, and more specifically as a pilot, processes and checklists rule the day. They allow you to approach every task with clearly defined steps and standards, which ensures both efficiency and consistency regardless of who is performing the task. These principles seem to translate very well into the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® system.”

Providing Support as Well as Incentives

Helping veterans understand how to run a business and how they can benefit from other programs that are available is an important part of supporting them once they are on the job, according to George Stephens, director of brand marketing and development for Parisi Speed School.

About 10% of Parisi Speed School’s franchisees are veterans. The franchise provides youth sport training with a mission of delivering a positive training experience that improves speed of movement and strength in character regardless of ability or economic status. 

While former military personnel may connect well to the mission and may even have experience with physical fitness training, Parisi Speed School stands ready to give them the business tools they need to get ahead. It offers veteran discounts on optional support services such as free tactical marketing or tactical business support for a period of six months and points them to avenues of support outside of the Parisi Speed School network.

“There are many programs for them to take advantage of—from financing to real estate—that they may not be up to date on. It’s important that we help guide and navigate them through the process and get them started on the right foot, even if it’s not directly related to our company,” Stephens said.

How Do Veterans Feel About Owning a Franchise?

This year, we surveyed over 25,000 franchise owners from 258 leading franchise businesses to gauge their satisfaction and happiness with their decision to invest in a franchise. Of these, more than 10% identified as veterans.

Veterans report that they are pleased overall with their franchise companies. 84% rate their franchise opportunity above average, and 8 out of 10 veteran franchise owners respect and trust their franchisor, and would recommend their franchise company to another franchisee candidate.

Veterans report very high enjoyment ratings as well: 88% indicate that they enjoy operating their business, and 87% say they enjoy being part of their franchise organization. 

Most veterans also feel that buying a franchise was a good business decision for them. Two-thirds indicate that the long-term growth opportunity for their business is either “strong” or “very strong.”

The average annual income of veteran franchise owners is currently $81,222 overall, with franchisees in certain sectors earning over six figures. The most profitable sectors for veterans include business services, advertising & sales, health & wellness, and real estate. 

Based on this research, we have determined the Top Veteran franchises of 2019. You can see the full list of award-winning brands here. 

Exploring Top Veteran-Friendly Franchise Brands

While owning a franchise poses a great opportunity for vets, it is important to remember that starting any business—whether it’s from scratch or under the umbrella of a franchise—does not come with a guarantee of success. While a franchise can help you ramp up faster and offer additional tools and support, like any other business—you will need to work it so that it can work for you.

Anthony R. Weiss, manager of strategic sourcing for Lenny’s Grill & Subs, said that veterans draw upon their self-discipline to solve problems and guide their teams in the right direction. They generally view complications as opportunities and have experience in achieving ambitious goals with modest means—skills necessary to stand up a new business.

“No matter what branch of service, a veteran’s experience can be transformed to fit within the make-up of a franchise. Veterans are a perfect fit for the franchise business model, since as veterans, we have been trained to obey and respect orders as well as observe a system standard,” Weiss said. “Figure out what interests you, develop a vision thoroughly, research your franchise options, and do it!”

There are many franchise brands to choose from that offer discounts and incentives to veterans. As you begin your research and consider your options, the FBR Top Veterans Franchises list is a great place to start. All the brands on this list have been rated highly by the franchisees that own them — and many of them have shared their satisfaction reports openly. 

If you do decide that a franchise rated highly by other veterans is the best option for you, be sure to talk to as many franchisees as possible. They can give you unbiased and straightforward feedback on what it’s really like to own the franchise you are considering.