Hard work is veterans’ common bond
Jamelle Garner, a former public affairs specialist, owns a Bottle & Bottega franchise.
When Jamelle Garner was ready to take up franchising after serving in the military for close to 20 years, her first go-to was Chick-fil-A. But she was intimidated by the investment it needed and the tight territories assigned.
Her next step? She Googled “veteran-friendly franchises.” Bottle & Bottega was near the top of the list, Garner said. Up until then she had not experienced a paint-and-sip session and set up a surprise date for her husband and herself. The more she learned, the more impressed she was with the model. After a discovery day in its Chicago headquarters and talking to a couple of other franchisees, Garner signed on the dotted line nearly two years ago.
Garner, who served in the military as a public affairs specialist, is delighted to be a part of the Bottle & Bottega franchise family but has dealt with a fair number of challenges along the way. “In my mind it was all sunshine and unicorns and rainbows but it’s hard work,” Garner said of her business. “It’s a lot of fun but you can’t truly anticipate the amount of work.” For one thing, competition in San Antonio, Texas, has been fierce—“it’s almost like every graduate of the Art Institute is setting up a paint-and-sip”—but Garner is holding her own, racking up success with a mobile unit that drives to big corporate team-building events and private parties.
Garner is hoping to move to a storefront location soon but is wary about high rents and what that will mean for business overall. Nevertheless she is extremely grateful for the support she has received from corporate. The 10 percent discount on the franchise fee saved her nearly $3,000.
Equally important, Garner was connected to other veterans who owned a franchise and was able to discuss how they transitioned from military service to the business world. She has found, though, what holds true in Chicago (nude model painting is the latest craze) might not necessarily translate to conservative Texas.
Garner admits it’s scary to not have a reliable paycheck every month. “Even if you’re not a good soldier, you’re still going to get paid. But if you’re not a good business owner, your bottom line will definitely be affected,” she said.
Garner continues to figure out the rules of the franchising game as she builds a successful franchise and appreciates that corporate knows her personal constraints. “The family feel of the management team is one of the many positive things. They know exactly what I’m contending with in terms of young kids and retirement.”
Jennifer and Jud Cook own a Christian Brothers Automotive franchise.
Flying to new heights
Julie McAdoo and her husband, Kevin, were stationed in Alaska. “He was a C-130 pilot, I was a C-130 navigator and we met when we showed up to fly together one day,” she says. These days Julie mostly flies solo with their franchise business Office Pride in Tampa. (Kevin is a commercial pilot).
After leaving the military, Julie decided to use her GI benefits to earn a degree in business administration. Her daughters were still young but they made it work. By this time Julie was determined to launch her own business. “I decided to sidestep interviews altogether and hire myself to be right at the top, the CEO,” she said with a laugh. Constantly picking up after her kids, cleaning was what she knew best so she launched a residential cleaning business, Refresh Your Nest, in 2012. A year later the couple met Todd Hopkins, CEO of Office Pride, and they were convinced that commercial cleaning was the way to go.
Being a veteran has had its advantages, McAdoo said, pointing out the calm head under fire she has when dealing with challenges, and especially the “never quit” attitude. She advises veterans who are considering a franchise to go in for a business that aligns with larger goals. For the McAdoos, it was Office Pride’s reputation and integrity that mattered.
“It was about service and not just about chasing the dollar,” she pointed out. Office Pride positions itself as a faith-based business and that, too, appealed to Julie. “In the military you have that higher call of service to your country, it goes hand-in-hand with a higher calling to your faith and to your values.”
One of the many lessons Julie learned along the way is to not shoot first and ask questions later. If clients had a problem she was at first quick to fire employees but has since learned to evaluate both sides of the fence. That faith in her employees has reaped rich dividends and a satisfied staff of 30. “Learning how to work alongside with the people that report to you is something that is very deeply ingrained in the military but isn’t always found on the civilian side,” Julie said. “It is very crucial on a small business that the owner get down and roll up their sleeves and work alongside their employees.”
While Julie and her staff attend to commercial cleaning, she hires a residential cleaning service for her own home. “I don’t clean unless somebody pays me to,” she laughs. Not to mention that it gives her valuable insight into how she should run her own business. “I get to experience this from the customer point of view and I get good empathy and intelligence on what my commercial customers might be experiencing.”
Julie McAdoo, with her husband, Kevin, bought into Office Pride.
Army engineer switches gears
When he was in the military, Jud Cook routinely had to show up before Congress to request allocation of funds. After all, as head of engineering for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida, he was responsible for the engineering forces stationed in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
As painful as that might sound, asking for millions from Congress was only slightly more difficult than having to figure out the daily operations of his two Tampa franchise locations with Christian Brothers Automotive. “Now I just need to figure out with the profits I’m making, should I stick a much smaller sum of money than those millions, should I stick part of this into print advertising or should I do digital? These kinds of decisions, although much smaller in scale, have a significant impact on the potential success of the business and the staff whom I hire.”
The responsibility might weigh heavily on Cook but challenges are what excite the veteran who retired after 35 years in the Army. Having seen his father-in-law become a farmer after serving in the armed forces himself, Cook, a professional engineer, decided he wanted to launch his own business. “I thought franchising would be a great option since it would provide some of the safety net, and I didn’t have to be completely on my own for the first time,” said Cook. He realized that an automotive franchise would make a good fit especially since it would be mostly recession-proof.
Cook finds the overlap between military service and franchising to be significant. The networking, for example, works as flawlessly at Christian Brothers as it did in the military. “I could always call someone and find out what the work was like and that’s the same in franchising, too.” In the brief time that he worked at a private firm, he found that was not the case and often had to figure it out on his own.
As it happens, Cook met his wife, Jennifer, at West Point (although she didn’t stay and graduate and moved on to other things). They were part of the band at Fort Point and even today they are in a ‘40s swing band playing hits from Glenn Miller and the like. Jennifer is the lead singer.
Cook admits he has a passion for cars, and owns a “big old”1994 Chevy Suburban and a turbocharged Mazda Speed. Jennifer sticks to minivans so she can drive the grandkids around.
Cook also has a passion for his work. “The passion which almost everybody in the military has felt some time, that same kind of burning feeling in your stomach is what it takes to succeed in a business. When military people apply it, they’re competitively ahead of somebody who hasn’t been in the military in this world of franchising,” said Cook.
Air Force veteran Sarah Garrett pays attention to detail at Dream Vacations.
Living the Dream
It’s not uncommon for people to come up to Dream Vacations franchisee Sarah Garrett and say they thought travel agents were a dying breed. After all, in the age of DIY everything and the rise of travel websites like Expedia and Travelocity, that reaction is only understandable.
But Garrett, an Air Force veteran, also knows this: She regularly gets calls from people who are overwhelmed by the information they find. They need a travel agent like Garrett, a franchisee with Dream Vacations in Vero Beach, Florida, to hold their hand and connect the dots. “I make sure their transfers are in line, their cruise documents are printed. When you go online and book a vacation you’re not getting that type of service. If something goes sideways, they can call me and I can advocate for them. I sell them peace of mind.”
And if there’s one thing she knows like the back of her hand, it’s sales. Coming from a family that loves cooking, and after four years in active duty, she was drawn to Pampered Chef and worked as an independent sales director with the brand for a number of years.
That snowballed into jobs with a couple of different properties with Holiday Inn and a brick-and-mortar travel agency until Garrett decided it was time to strike out on her own.
While Dream Vacations offers an extensive array of benefits for veteran franchisees like Garrett, she ran with the discount for current travel agents instead. Even better, she saved on overhead by working from her home office, instead of a brick-and-mortar location.
That military discipline really kicks in her approach to work. “The military in and of itself is very regimented and those are the same qualities you need to be a successful business owner,” said Garrett. “Especially when you’re working from home it’s easy to keep the house slippers and robe on but I get up in the morning and get ready to work when I walk into my office.”
It helps that Garrett loves what she does. “It really helps to find a franchise that’s going to best fit your skill set and your lifestyle,” she says. “I love travel, I know the products I am offering. In sales, it doesn’t matter if it’s a bag of ice or a $10,000 vacation, you have to know the product.”
Garrett’s dream vacation: Kenya and an African safari. “There’s a boutique hotel outside of Nairobi called Giraffe Manor, which is a rehab facility for giraffes and they stick their heads right through your open window.”