Thousands of U.S. troops decide to stay in Colorado Springs when they leave the military, and the franchise industry sees that as a big opportunity.
“Franchising is very natural to veterans,” said Beth Solomon, outreach director for the International Franchise Association in Washington, D.C. “They learn in all of their training how to follow the rules of a system. They develop operational excellence and team leadership, especially if they’re officers. The skills and discipline translate well to franchises.”
Solomon said there are 66,000 veterans who are franchise business owners in the U.S. That’s about 8 percent of the total 815,000 franchise owners in the country.
“That tells us something is working,” she said.
About 2,100 bought into franchises through VetFran, a program created in 1991 to make it easier for soldiers returning from the Persian Gulf War to get into the business.
There is a directory of about 450 companies that offer special assistance and discounts to veterans in the VetFran program.
Armed with new research about veterans and franchising and in preparation for returning soldiers to enter a tight civilian job market, the association launched Operation Enduring Opportunity in November. It’s asking member businesses to hire 75,000 veterans by 2014 and is urging franchises to make it easier for veterans to buy into new businesses.
Some big conversations in the national franchise circuits have even inspired a few businesses like TeamLogic IT to give franchises away to veterans.
TeamLogic offers contract IT solutions for small and mid-size businesses that don’t have the capital to hire full-time in-house tech support.
The company pledged in November to waive the $40,000 franchise fee for the first 10 veterans interested in opening an office in 2012.
“It’s a win win,” said TeamLogic president Chuck Lennon. “There are no guarantees, but for the most part veterans make great franchisees for us.”
The company’s first franchisee to take advantage of the program was Mark Kelly. He and his wife Dawn “bought” into TeamLogic in January.
They didn’t have to pay the initial fee, but still have to front the operating capital, Lennon said.
Mark retired as an Air Force fighter pilot about two years ago and finished his master’s degree in engineering management at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs last summer.
He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next.
“I knew I was interested in going into some sort of small business of a technical nature,” Mark said.
He attended a presentation about franchising at the Air Force Academy and got interested.
Cindy Rayfield, a franchise consultant at Denver-based FranNet Colorado, led the seminar.
She has given a few such seminars at the Air Force Academy over the last year and a half. She also works with nonprofits that help soldiers exiting the military re-assimilate into civilian life.
“Colorado Springs has been very good to me,” she said. “People are asking about franchising.”
She has been working through the franchise buying process with about 10 military personnel in the last year and a half. Some of those are still considering it.
“It’s a long process,” Rayfield said. “Some people may go through the whole process and then decide they don’t want to do it. I usually expect about 25 percent to actually close.”
She had two sales go through in the last year. One was the Kellys.
Dale and Dagmar Bastin were Rayfield’s other success. They bought a Keylingo franchise in August. Keylingo offers professional translation services to business clients.
Dale will retire from his post as a force support officer in the Air Force after 25 years this summer.
Dagmar opened a Denver Keylingo office in late 2011 and has been networking and trying to build relationships with businesses there.
Although she’s fluent in four languages and has worked with language in the past, she and Dale won’t actually do the translation work. They have a pool of experts in every imaginable language to draw from.
Their role in the business is to work with clients and make sure their needs are met.
“I almost like to call myself a matchmaker,” Dagmar said.
The Bastin’s Keylingo franchise is the only one in Colorado and Dagmar said she expects to expand down to the Springs after the business gets a little more established and Dale retires.
“We plan to settle down here,” Dagmar said.
The couple and their children have lived in Colorado Springs just a year and a half. They moved 12 times, almost always across continents, in Dale’s 25 years of service and they’re looking forward to the stability and flexibility that being small business owners will allow them.
“There were always so many military obligations,” Dale said. “The family missed a lot of important events and had to make a lot of sacrifices.”
They have a daughter in college in Texas and twin 12-year-olds. They’re looking forward to making Colorado Springs their permanent home and establishing a business like Keylingo provides the perfect opportunity to do just that.
The Bastins also found Keylingo through Rayfield. They were looking for a business and knew they wanted to start one of their own. Franchising seemed like a smart way to get started without beginning from nothing.
“We’re kind of the new kids on the block,” Dagmar said. “It’s not just because we have a new business. No one knows us. We’re new in this community.”
Recognizing that weakness, the Bastin’s thought it would be wisest to buy into an established business model.
Someone referred them to Rayfield and she presented them with a menu of businesses opportunities that could have been a fit for them.
“She was a matchmaker, too,” Dagmar said.
Keylingo stood out to the couple right away. It fit with their interests and ideals. The company doesn’t participate in the VetFran program that offers special discounts and franchise fee waivers, but the Bastins preferred it over similar companies that do.
“They’re very upfront with clients,” Dale said. “It’s a similar culture to what I was used to in the military.”
The franchise industry is prepared for a surge of exiting military personnel to buy into businesses, Solomon said.
“You have a lot of military there in Colorado Springs,” Solomon said. “We expect to be active there.”