Money alone can’t buy you a Batteries Plus Bulbs franchise.
Come in with a questionable location, business plan or mindset, and the company might give your check right back to you.
"We’ll spend the time and the money to truly assess [the] market, to truly understand the candidate’s capabilities," said John Twist, vice president of franchise and business development at Batteries Plus Bulbs. "We have turned people away before because, you know, they’re nice folks, but I guess they didn’t have either the right attitude or the right aptitude for this business."
Hand-in-hand with that careful approach is a robust support system to help franchisees succeed launching and maintaining their businesses, he said, with on-site visits typically twice per year for continuing franchisees and more frequently during the first year.
Likely as a result, about 98 percent of Batteries Plus Bulbs' franchises have stayed in business over the past three years.
"We know that our success is linked to the franchisees'," Twist said. "We are not interested in having stores open that are not successful."
Thanks to an approach that treats franchisees as partners — rather than as customers or employees — and the associated track record of success, as well as veteran-specific discounts, Batteries Plus Bulbs landed the No. 6 spot in the 2017 edition of Military Times' Best for Vets: Franchises rankings.
Travel franchise CruiseOne continued to dominate the rankings, taking the top spot, followed by Color Glo International, a furniture and auto restoration franchise, then Marco's Pizza, Boulder Designs and Snap-on Tools.
Franchise brands representing many different types of businesses, with locations across the country, took part in our 2017 Best for Vets: Franchises survey.
To be considered, the brands filled out a detailed survey, comprising more than 100 questions, and also submitted their most recent franchise disclosure documents, forms with required details on franchise cost and performance that must be given to prospective franchisees. Not every brand that participated made the cut.
Overall, veteran-run franchises accounted for more than 8 percent of franchises at companies that responded to the survey.
Every single responding company indicated that they provide discounts for veterans and people with connections to the military. Most common was a markdown on the initial franchise fee, averaging a little more than 18 percent. Discounts were typically restricted to people opening their first franchise.
More than 82 percent of responding companies indicated that they are affiliated with VetFran, an International Franchise Association group dedicated to veteran franchising issues.
The automotive brand Line-X started franchising in 1999, and 96 of its 536 franchised units in 2015 were veteran-owned.
Photo Credit: Line-X
Most companies do not have veteran resource or affinity groups, however, and only a few companies give special help or accommodations to franchisees who are called to active duty while in the National Guard or reserves.
More than 87 percent of veteran-run franchises stayed in business over the past three years, data provided in the survey indicates, slightly better than the 84 percent rate charted for all franchisees in franchise disclosure documents.
For vets who want to go into business for themselves, one of the key advantages to franchising is the support structure that franchise brands offer. The extent and quality of that support varies from one company to another, however.
At CruiseOne and Dream Vacations, new franchisees may get help not just from the franchise brand but also from fellow franchisees — including franchisees who are also military veterans.
"Some of our top-producing veteran agents have really stepped up to mentor … other veterans who come into our network," said Tim Courtney, the company's vice president of franchise development and ambassador of veteran affairs.
Another key factor to consider: cost.
Courtney said his company's franchises, which have initial investments ranging from $3,245 to $21,850 before veteran discounts are applied, are "a great, low-cost, low-overhead business opportunity."
Factor in veteran discounts, and more expensive franchises might also be in reach. Juice It Up! franchises have initial investment costs in the six figures, but the brand will knock $15,000 off of the initial franchise fee for vets and waive that franchise fee entirely for a second store if a vet opens it within a year of opening the first, said Carol DeNembo, the company's vice president for business development.
"It's really important that we give back" to veterans, DeNembo said.
But it's not about charity.
Franchise brands view veteran discounts as a smart business decision, DeNembo and others said.
"We know that as they've spent their time in the service, [they] have acquired great training and knowledge that can be transferred into the business world," said Gary Smith, president of Color Glo International.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe's three-year growth rate for veteran-owned units was 150 percent from 2013 to 2015.
Photo Credit: Tropical Smoothie cafe
There are several similarities between serving in the military and running a successful franchise. In both cases, there is a set structure to follow, good teamwork is often required, and a strong work ethic is essential.
"Franchising brings a set of operational systems," said former Army Capt. Joe Walker, who served as an infantry platoon leader in Iraq. "Build your platoon around your mission. … In this case, the output was pizza."
Walker opened his first Marco's Pizza location in 2011 after noticing that in the worst of the recession, as most businesses were shrinking, Marco's seemed to be growing. Walker is now planning to open his 17th, 18th and 19th locations.
Walker advises vets not to constrain themselves based on their military jobs but instead have faith in the leadership and teamwork skills learned in uniform.
"Look at me. I'm a military officer — a combat military officer — in the pizza business. If you can draw a correlation between those two skill sets, I'd love for you to do so."
Scott Quagliata, vice president of the Marco's veterans program, advised veterans considering franchising to do their homework before settling on any particular brand.
"Have discussions. Get in contact with people who have experience as franchisees, or contact someone like me, who works on the development side of a franchisor."
While there are many similarities between military service and franchising, there's one huge difference: As a franchisee, you are your own boss.
Brian Elfering, a former Army first lieutenant who is now a Color Glo franchisee, set a Tuesday-to-Saturday work schedule so that he could hit government offices on Mondays to take care of paperwork after a recent move.
"It's nice that I can adjust my schedule as needed," Elfering said. But "you've got to work hard."
With no senior troops to watch over them, veteran franchisees have to lean on that military discipline and work ethic to make their businesses a success.
Slack off, and that's money out of your pocket. Work hard, and watch your business grow.
"I really believe you get out of it what you put into it," said DeNembo, the Juice It Up! vice president.
Air Force Times reporter Phillip Swarts contributed research to this project.