Will Kosnitch was a sergeant in the U.S. Army with three tours of Iraq under his belt, a specialty as a Black Hawk mechanic, and a plan to make the military his career.
Until a bad back got in the way.
With a medical discharge in the works, Kosnitch, 35, was panicked at the prospect of looking for a job.
“I had been in Army almost 12 years; it’s hard to know anything else,” he told CNBC.com. “At first I thought I’d look for jobs working on aircraft, something I have experience in.”
Kosnitch considered opening a bar or restaurant. “I wanted to be my own boss. I had worked hard in the Army, moving from private to sergeant; I didn’t want to go back to the bottom rung on the ladder.”
Then he saw an ad for Snap-on Tools, the Kenosha, Wis., company that operates 4,200 franchises worldwide — and suddenly it all came together.
“We used Snap-on in the Army, so I knew Snap-on’s reputation in the field,” he said. “And before the Army, I was an auto mechanic. Then I saw the deal they were giving veterans, and it was a no-brainer.”
The total investment necessary to begin operation of a Snap-on standard franchise will range from $146,783 to $295,796, including inventory, according to Snap-on. The Veterans Discount provides a $20,000 discount on the initial inventory.
Kosnitch was released from the Army last July. By October, he was in his wife’s hometown of Clarksville, Tenn., driving a truck full of Snap-on tools and introducing himself to customers on his route.
Snap-on Tools is one of several franchises that have been offering financial discounts and special training for veterans who are looking to transition back to civilian life.
“The franchise industry has committed to hire as employees, and recruit as owners 75,000 veterans and their spouses by 2014," said Matthew Haller, senior director of communications for the International Franchise Association.
Since January 2011, 2,007 veterans have been brought into franchises across 43 companies in its VetFran Enduring Opportunity initiative, among them Bach to Rocks, a music education program; The UPS Store; Meineke; and Sportsclips, a hair-cutting salon.
Snap-on has a secret weapon in its recruiting arsenal: Jon Rucker, a retired Air Force veteran who, as regional director of recruiting in the Atlanta area, knows a thing or two about selling a business.
As the military program manager for Snap-on, Rucker is dedicated to finding the men and women who are passionate about the product. While the common refrain about veterans is that they are a good fit for franchises because they are trained to follow a system of rules, it goes beyond that for Snap-on, said Rucker.
“There’s something inherently cool about tools,” said Rucker. “And in the military, if someone worked on a tank in the middle of the desert, it was quite possible they were using a Snap-on tool. Our world knows Snap-on.”
That was the case with George Hamilton, a 21-year Air Force veteran who served in Operation Desert Shield, Bosnia, the Second Gulf War, and Iraq before officially retiring just last month. Hamilton, 40, spent the last two years of his time in the Air Force carefully considering his next career move.
An aircraft mechanic, he considered employment with the airlines, but his wife is an international flight attendant, and he didn’t want both their paychecks to be dependent on the airline industry. Besides, he said, “I wanted to work for myself. I thought I’d make a pretty good boss.”
A story in Air Force Times about franchises giving veterans incentives led him to Snap-on, and a request to ride along with a franchise owner. His due diligence paid off in an opportunity to buy a franchise near his hometown of Chicago, just as his retirement kicked in last October (he was able to leave early because of saved leave time.)
“I know tools, I know cars, and I know how to talk to mechanics,” said Hamilton. "I think I would have taken this step even without the incentives, but the discount made it that much easier to make the decision.”
For Kosnitch, the incentives helped, but so did the memory of how Snap-on dealt with him as a customer when he was an 18-year-old mechanic starting out.
“The thing that made me feel me most comfortable, realizing I could do this, was remembering being that guy who needed to build a set of tools,” he said. “Without the Snap-on guy helping me work through a payment plan, I would never have made it as a mechanic.”
Now, he gets to be that guy, riding around in a truck full of tools. It couldn’t have worked out better, he said. “In the Army, I was doing something good for my country. Now, I’m building something for my family. It’s a great feeling.”