Maui Wowi’s typical veteran discount is 10 percent off the franchise fee; however, for the past two years, the concept has doubled that discount during November and December in honor of Veterans Day. “It’s 10 percent off of sometimes a $60,000 franchise fee, so that’s $6,000,” Livingston says. “And when we double down, that’s $12,000 off. That is a lot of money.”
But giving veterans a financial advantage right out of the gate isn’t all the help they need, Edible Arrangements’ Farid says. In fact, catering the training process to each individual veteran is essential, he says.
While following procedures and a concrete business plan is something veterans are suited to, “finance may not be their strong suit. Entrepreneurship may not be something that they understand,” Farid says. “Let’s figure out what the weak points are or what the weaknesses are, and let’s spend a lot of energy to give them that confidence.”
One-time training at the beginning of the franchising process won’t cut it, either. At Edible Arrangements, new veteran operators are linked up with fellow ex-military owners to create a mentoring system, and follow-up training is provided at no extra cost.
Just as brands are bringing veteran franchisees on board and giving them the tools to succeed, they’re also making an effort to bring in former servicemen at the unit level. A 2012 Career Builder survey shows that 29 percent of employers are actively recruiting veterans, with 65 percent of employers saying, given a choice between two applicants, they’re more likely to hire a veteran than a non-veteran.
Edible Arrangements is one of those employers. This past February, the brand announced a major initiative, known as “Hero’s Welcome,” that—among other things—aims to provide job opportunities and a career path for an additional 1,000 veterans at its U.S. locations. Farid says the goal will be relatively simple to accomplish, as the brand has 900 units around the country. “It’s that next person you need to hire,” he says.
But the brand and its franchisees are quick to emphasize that they’re bringing veterans on board not as a charitable effort, but because they’re seeking employees who are the best at what they do.
“We want them to know that, not only do we want to give you a job, but we want to give you a job because we think you’re the best person to hire,” Farid says. “And on the other end, we’re going to give you the training that’s required, and we’re going to take you under our wings to help you and help ourselves in the process.”
While this type of employee and franchisee training is becoming commonplace for brands working with veterans, Tijuana Flats—a Tex-Mex chain with 81 units on the East Coast and in the Midwest—offers training of a different nature. Its Chester’s Working Warriors Fellowship, which operates in conjunction with the Orlando VA Medical Center, provides an internship of sorts that teaches veterans basic business skills to help with resume writing, interviewing, and more.
Tijuana Flats began developing the program two years ago and accepted its first two interns in January. The 26-week course, which requires around 20 hours of work each week, lets veterans learn skills in departments such as accounting, human resources, marketing, and nonprofit management.
Camp Fitch, chairman and owner of the brand, says the program is better than “just writing a one-time check. This will hopefully serve them for life.”
Tijuana Flats isn’t keeping the fellowship to itself, either. Instead, it plans to expand the program to its vendors and, eventually, to the broader community.
“The statistics for homeless veterans and unemployed veterans is just unbelievable,” says Nicole DiPietro, vice president of corporate finance and treasury for the company. “If we’re able to put this program in place; have it be a success in our company; share it with our resources, our network of vendors, and our partners; and be able to put this in place in other organizations, then I think we’re doing our part in the community to help the problem and make it better.”
Other brands are doing their part by making charitable donations to military and veteran organizations. Jersey Mike’s not only sponsors the Buddy Bowl—a series of flag-football contests around the country that bring together veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, for which the brand makes sandwiches for participants—but it also teams up with Wreaths Across America, a 15-year-old organization that lays wreaths on tombstones in Arlington and in veterans’ cemeteries across the country to commemorate fallen soldiers.
In the first year of its four-year partnership, Jersey Mike’s donated $20,000; last year, it helped raise close to $220,000 to lay more than 225,000 wreaths on tombstones in Arlington.
Manzo says that while franchise incentive programs and similar efforts are a huge help to veterans, charitable donations like these have a far-reaching impact. “We give so much to these individual organizations that we feel that that’s affecting a lot of people individually,” he says. “If you have a vet [franchising] program, you’re only affecting a few people.”
CKE, parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., is another company known for its donations to military and veteran organizations. At the end of April, it kicked off its three-week-long Stars for Heroes fundraiser for the third straight year. This year, it will raise money for charities like USA Cares, which helps support military families in need.
Since the program launched in 2011, the company and its employees, franchisees, and customers have helped raise nearly $2 million to support more than 40 military organizations nationwide.
Though no brands go into fundraising mode—or offer franchise incentives, recruit veteran employees, or provide on-the job veteran training—to personally benefit from the effort, they do reap some rewards.
First and foremost, efforts like these help build a strong team made up of the highest-quality franchisees and staff members. “There is some mutual reward from targeting veterans as franchisees, because we’re very selective at Maui Wowi about who we reward franchises to,” Livingston says. “Veterans are an unbelievably great representation of the caliber of folks that we just love. It’s an honor bringing them on because of everything they bring to the table.”
Working with and helping veterans also gives employees something to be excited about and proud of, ultimately creating a stronger company culture. “Everyone wants to work for a company they can take pride in and feel good about,” Tijuana Flats’ Fitch says. “We just try to be the facilitator of giving people an opportunity to do for other people.”
He adds that the 40 staff members at the brand’s Orlando-based corporate office were eager to get involved with the Chester’s Working Warriors Fellowship. “They’re all foaming at the mouth, [asking], ‘When’s it my turn? When do I get to spend a week with them?’” he says. “They absolutely love it.”
And while it’s likely the last reason a brand assists veterans, the tangible results are hard to ignore. Because his store is located in San Diego, home to the Navy’s Point Loma base and the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton, Firehouse Subs’ Glandling says recruiting and reaching out to veterans helps the unit see a return on investment in terms of revenue and sales.
“You have to do outreach,” he says. “And if you do things right by the community, they’ll do right by you.”