Tom Perez didn't expect to have any problem finding a job. He spent a decade as a police officer in the Navy, serving in four tours in Iraq, working his way up to supervisor of the police unit, earning numerous medals and getting a business degree.
But after he was honorably discharged from the military in late 2011, he applied for more than 100 police and government jobs around the country, and faced rejection after rejection. "I thought it would be easy to walk out with 10 years in military service into a police officer job, but that was untrue," Perez said. "I felt like I did everything for this country and they didn't want to help me out."
Like Perez, many veterans return from service to find themselves unemployed -- sometimes even unemployable. Rather than continuing to apply for jobs, Perez decided to switch tactics and apply for franchise opportunities, hoping to provide a living not just for himself and his family, but for other veterans struggling to find employment.
That decision led to a quick turnaround in Perez's fortune: Within a day of applying for a Meineke Car Care Center franchise, the franchisor called him back. Three days later, Perez was flown to corporate headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., where he met with franchise executives. Meineke discounted his franchise fee by 25 percent and offered him financing lower than bank rates.
Perez also hooked up with Boost A Hero, a crowdfunding platform offered by Melbourne, Fla.-based Sprigster for veterans seeking to buy franchises. Through Boost A Hero, Perez raised the extra $10,000 he needed to complete his purchase. "To us, this is what it is all about," said Mark Mohler, CEO of Sprigster. "If Americans really want to help these veterans, what easier and more meaningful way to do it than a small contribution to help these heroes get started in the next chapter of their lives?"
A little more than a year after he started his fruitless job search, Perez is expecting 2012 sales of $500,000 and has created six jobs through his franchise, including four jobs for veterans. HuffPost Small Business caught up with Perez to find out what it feels like to go from unemployed to employer.
What was your mindset after having 100 job applications denied?
I was angry at first. I had a degree, 10 years of experience -- what else could I really do? I wasn't asking for a handout -- I wanted a job. But I didn't even get the opportunity.
Did you ask off the record why you were getting turned down?
Yes, and I only got one answer. A police chief said it was because of the negative stigma with PTSD, since I'd been to Iraq so many times. I was a little angry by that excuse, but then thankful that he told me. It made sense at that point why I wasn't getting hired.
Did that insight provide the incentive to switch from job hunting to franchise hunting?
I talked to a few friends who were getting out of the military and having the same issue, so I said let's do something about it. So far I'm the only one who opened a business that is trying to hire mostly vets, but I'm pushing them as well. You know, it's that first step.
Did you feel Meineke viewed your military background as an advantage rather than a disadvantage?
Yes, they were willing to help me the most, and that was a major relief compared to what I had been used to seeing, not getting anything from anyone.
Likewise, with Boost a Hero, were you surprised to find strangers were willing to support you financially?
I got most of my donations from just random people who wanted to help. To me, it meant that the actual public still supports vets.
And is there a special satisfaction in employing others?
Yes, very much so, especially with the vets. It felt good to be able to hire them. I was in their shoes just a few months ago, and hopefully I can teach them what I learned and get them to do the same thing I did.
What would you say to the many other people who are dealing with numerous job rejections?
Take things into your own hands and open a business. Don't rely on someone else anymore. Do it yourself.
Name: Tom Perez
Company: Meineke Car Care Center
Location: Pensacola, Fla.
Started: May 2012
2012 Projected Sales: $550,000
Mission to Iraq
Tom Perez served four tours in Iraq, often putting his life in danger for his country, and thought he would have no problems finding a job as a police officer after his military service was over. "But that was untrue," he said.
Father Knows Best
Though Perez, with sons Bladen and Logan, thought he had found a lifelong career in the Navy, he found himself in search of a new civilian career after he was honorably discharged from the military due to downsizing in early 2011.
Perez has received numerous medals, including Navy/Marine Corp Achievement Medals, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Good Conduct Medals, the National Defense Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War On Terrorism Service Medal, the Global War On Terrorism Expeditions Medal and the Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
Though Perez had no experience working on cars, he believed he could succeed by following Meineke's business plan, and felt that being a franchisee was a good transition from the military, with its structured approach to business.
Perez was willing to move his family anywhere in the country for a job. "We didn't care where we went," said Perez, with (from left to right) Logan, daughter Whittney, Jaylene and Bladen. The family ended up in Pensacola, Fla., a Navy town.
Standing By Her Man
Perez with wife Jaylene
Raising Money for Vets
Mark Mohler and Scott Ritchey started Sprigster in mid-2011 and Boost a Hero, their inaugural crowdfunding platform, was launched this February. "We looked at the huge issue of veteran unemployment and formed a conviction that these relatively new and powerful Internet tools could be used as engines of economic development for veterans in capital constrained times," Mohler said. "We have seen the perfect storm of military downsizing and military defense cuts at a time of high general civilian unemployment. We think veterans increasingly need to 'hire themselves' rather than simply being limited to jobs in a civilian marketplace that does not understand their training and skills."
How Crowdfunding Can Help Unemployment
"We see crowdfunding as an important tool to combat unemployment -- directly and indirectly," Mohler (left) said. "The indirect impact on unemployment is that veteran business owners hire other veterans as employees."
Perez is projecting sales of $500,000 for 2012 and has already hired six employees, including four vets. His message to the unemployed: "Take things into your own hands and open a business. Don't rely on someone else anymore. Do it yourself."