Helping hand for veterans: Franchises offer new career path [Gazette, The (CO)]
(Gazette, The (CO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Mickey Ayres, looking to launch a new career after 30-plus years in the Navy, wanted to run his own business.
"I've always had the entrepreneur in me," said Ayres, a command master chief petty officer - the most senior enlisted rank in the Navy.
He wanted to go the franchise route and decided on The UPS Store; it seemed a good fit, he said, with his experience as a logistics specialist in the service.
There was one problem: He was always a bit short of the funds needed to afford the roughly $30,000 franchise fee. Then came Operation Enduring Opportunity, announced in November with the aim of boosting franchises' hiring of veterans as well as getting vets to open franchises.
The campaign includes pledges by several franchisors to waive franchise fees for some veterans - including The UPS Store, which is waiving its fee for up to 10 qualified veterans.
Ayres became the first of those 10. Now he's looking forward to opening his store, in late June or early July, at the Mesa Ridge Shopping Center in Fountain.
Operation Enduring Opportunity spun out of the International Franchise Association's long-running VetFran program, in which hundreds of IFA member companies have offered financial incentives, training and mentoring to veterans. With Operation Enduring Opportunity, the association, which represents 1,100 franchises, is committed to hiring 80,000 veterans and spouses by 2014. That number includes 5,000 wounded warriors.
That help comes as troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and transitioning to civilian life face a new battle: finding work in a still-troubled job market. In 2011, the jobless rate for veterans who've served since Sept. 11, 2001, was 12.1 percent, compared with 8.7 percent for the nonveteran public, according to federal statistics. Among men 18 to 24 in the veteran group, it was 29.1 percent.
The International Franchise Association's new campaign is bearing fruit not just in Colorado Springs but across the country, said Beth Solomon, president of strategic initiatives and industry relations for the IFA. More than 2,100 veterans have gotten jobs with franchises as a result of the campaign, including more than 120 who have become franchise owners.
Franchising and military service are a good match, Solomon said.
"To be successful in franchising, you need to follow a system with precision, you need to respect procedures and the structure, you need to be a leader, and you need to understand operational excellence. We find those very qualities are part of military training."
The type of person who is attracted to the structure of the military is attracted to the structure and support network provided by franchising, Solomon said.
"We like to say in franchising that you're in business for yourself but not by yourself," she said.
Mark Kelly and his wife, Dawn, opened a TeamLogic IT franchise in the Springs this month. Kelly said he found the help provided by TeamLogic in launching the business to be invaluable.
TeamLogic provides small and medium-sized businesses with IT services including networking, security, data and email services.
"They have so much more experience in helping you get up and running than I could ever figure out by myself," Mark Kelly said.
Mark Kelly is a retired Air Force colonel with 25 years of service; Dawn Kelly is also a veteran, having served for eight years as an Air Force systems analyst.
Mark Kelly had the dream of becoming a small-business owner when he retired from the Air Force in 2009; a presentation by a franchise consultant set him on the road to researching franchises.
He and his wife had zeroed in on TeamLogic before Operation Enduring Opportunity was launched; like The UPS Store, TeamLogic is waiving its franchise fee - $40,000 - to 10 veterans. The couple become the first to be part of that program.
It was a matter of lucky timing, Mark Kelly said. Though they might have ended up with TeamLogic even without the fee being waived, "that made it even that much more appealing," he said.
Dawn Kelly has been working at St. Mary's High School, teaching technology classes and managing its websites, but is leaving to work with her husband at the TeamLogic franchise; she's taking the lead technician role while Mark Kelly handles the day-to-day operations.
People dealing with balky computers and other technology issues, Dawn Kelly said, "get so frustrated and so unhappy and so angry, because all they want to do is get their job done. I just want to be able to reduce that stress. We'll come in, make it all better and you can get your work done."
The Kellys are starting out small: just the two of them working from home.
"We hope in about a year we'll be ready to start hiring on employees," Mark Kelly said. "One thing we're definitely interested in doing is hiring veterans into the company."
Ayres also plans to employ veterans or their spouses for his store; he'll start out with a half-dozen employees.
The Navy's motto - honor, courage and commitment - "ties real well into what you can do coming out of the military and going into a franchise," Ayres said.
There's the honor, he said, in being an honest businessman, in representing the franchisor and protecting the store brand. Courage in starting a new venture in a still uncertain economy. And the commitment to make the business succeed.
Being in the military and putting your life on the line, Ayres said, "gives you the 'just do it, failure is not an option' attitude."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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