For the past 17 years, Will Vehrs manned the Virginia Business Information Center, where he counseled and trained would-be entrepreneurs on the steps necessary to start a business. Through the educational outreach the center offered is how I met Will.
As a franchise specialist and owner of FranNet of Virginia, I work with people who explore business ownership as a way to achieve financial independence and make the best use of their talents to match them with franchise businesses. After meeting Will, I invited him to speak at one of the seminars I regularly host to talk about entrepreneurial opportunities.
He spoke at the meeting, providing great advice to attendees. But as the seminar continued, and he learned more about franchising opportunities, the more excited he became. By the end of the event, he decided to establish a business of his own, commenting: "I started thinking about my future, and thought, 'Why not take my own advice? I was ready to invest in myself and set in motion a plan to make that happen."
I started working with him, taking him through a formal -- and free -- process that helped him recognize his skills, interests, risk tolerance, and financial needs so that we could find a great franchise match for him.
The good news is that Will had a wealth of talents and experience. He grew up in Manassas, Va., and served four years in the Army, earning the rank of second lieutenant. Following the military, he spent 17 years with Mobil Oil Corporation in marketing, operations and facilities management.
In 1996, Will joined the Virginia Department of Business Assistance (VDBA) to launch an arm of the agency focused on economic development. He worked with entrepreneurs across the Commonwealth to assist in their start-up aspirations. Then in 2003, he founded another agency under VDBA, the Virginia Business Information Center, a one-stop shop businesses could go to find pertinent information to aid their company's growth.
Taking his background into account, one of the businesses that surfaced to the top was Express Employment Professionals, a full-service staffing and recruiting firm. He liked the Express model, which provides support from the international headquarters office, as well as the company's local focus on helping communities.
Express also offered to waive Will's franchise fee due to his service in the military. Although a 100 percent fee waiver is not typical, more than 400 franchises offer substantial discounts to qualified veterans. This made it an easy decision for Will, who realized his own business ownership dream by recently opening a franchise near Richmond.
Will is not alone in following his business-owning aspirations as one of every seven U.S. franchises is veteran-owned. In addition, the International Franchising Association, the governing body for all franchises, is committed to helping returning veterans. Through its "Operation Enduring Opportunity," IFA is targeting 5,000 "wounded warriors" and 75,000 veterans as franchise owners by 2014.
That's because the franchising industry sees veterans as an opportunity. They generally are excellent matches for franchise systems, which reward adaptable, detail-oriented, diligent professionals who excel at following prescribed systems. Like Will, they have developed extraordinary skill sets that can be tapped for business ownership.
So when it comes time retire the uniform, veterans who are thinking about their next challenge should consider franchise ownership. As Will can attest, businesses that make sense for each individual interest and skill set are out there, but finding the best fit requires doing the homework to ensure that their second careers are as successful as the first.