Iconic Tour

8 veterans who went from active duty to active business owners

Image source: Mie Ahmt | Vetta | Getty Images

Over the next few years, more than 1 million veterans will be transitioning out of active duty, and most say that finding employment is their biggest challenge. Yet thousands of former service members have found success through franchising. According to a recent study by the International Franchise Association, 1 in 7 franchises is veteran-owned, generating more than $41 billion.

That's no surprise: Veterans are results-oriented and value teamwork, and franchise business models not only enable service members to utilize their leadership skills but provide access to a trusted network of franchise owners willing to share advice and offer counsel — something veterans welcome as they struggle to find quality jobs.

Many have taken this leap through programs such as the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative, known as VetFran. Launched in 1991 to assist military returning from the first Gulf War, VetFran encourages franchisors to provide financial incentives, training and mentoring to veterans interested in franchise ownership or a career path in franchising. Currently, more than 650 International Franchise Association members participate in the program.

"Quite a few retiring military struggle to find quality jobs. Franchising enables them to handpick a career opportunity for themselves," said Eric Stites, a former first-class petty officer with the U.S. Navy and current chairman of VetFran and CEO of the "Franchise Business Review."

Here are eight former service members who went from active duty to active business owners.

Matt and Kristine Hayes, BrightStar Care

Source: BrightStar Care

For six years, from 1993 to 1999, Matthew Hayes and wife Kristine served together in the U.S. Navy as hospital corpsman, seeing firsthand the numbers of military personnel returning home from combat with traumatic injuries. Often, family members were unprepared to deal with caring for their loved one, overwhelmed by the responsibility. Fully understanding the need for adequate in-home care in the Columbia, Missouri, area, the couple decided to take advantage of the franchise's incentives for veterans and purchased a BrightStar Care franchise.

The Hayes' agency provides quality home care, caregivers and medical staffing solutions to families and businesses in the Boone County area.\

Years in business: 3
Number of franchises owned: 1
Start-up costs and fees and/or incentives offered for veterans: Initial investment ranges from $92,371 to $174,032, excluding working capital. The initial franchise fee is $50,000, with a $5,000 reduction for veterans.
Annual revenue: Just over $1.5 million

Pedro Cedeño, Real Property Management

Source: Real Property Management

After Pedro Cedeño was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps, he began thinking about his next career move. Interested in real estate investing, he started looking into Real Property Management, a franchise that provides full-service residential property management for investors and rental homeowners across the United States and Canada. It seemed an ideal fit, he said, as it called for many of the same skills he had acquired in the military, including adhering to processes, working as a unit and understanding competition. It also offered a 10 percent discount off its initial start-up costs for veterans.

So in 2012 he officially opened Real Property Management Dade in Miami. "Solving problems is an inherent quality in property managers. For me it was a natural fit after tinkering with military radio systems in the Marines," said Cedeño on his company website.

His company also provides him an opportunity to give back to his community and fellow veterans through a partnership with Homes for Our Troops, which builds mortgage-free, specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans.

Years in business: 4.5
Number of franchises owned: 1
Start-up costs and fees and/or incentives offered for veterans: Total investment ranges from $79,875 to $103,875, with a 10 percent discount for veterans.
Annual revenue: $150,000

Andrew Weins, JDog Junk Removal & Hauling

Source: JDog

Andrew Weins has been serving in the U.S. Army Reserves for 12 years and has completed two tours. Currently the rank of sergeant first class, he is an army reserve career counselor who advises soldiers on benefit and incentive information as well as career guidance.

Always interested in owning his own business, Weins came across JDog Junk Removal & Hauling, a national junk-removal company that awards franchises exclusively to military veterans and their family members. The attraction, he said, is the fact that it operates under the same core values of the military community: respect, integrity and trust. Less than a year ago, in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, he officially opened for business.

Years in business: 6 months
Number of franchises owned: 1, with plans to open two to three more over the next few years in the greater Milwaukee area.
Start-up costs and fees and/or incentives offered for veterans: $27,500 franchise fee, plus $15,000 to $65,000 in additional start-up costs, depending on the type of vehicle, the cost of advertising in your region and your living-expense requirements.
Annual revenue: At this early stage, Weins has been investing his profits in more equipment and to hire employees as he grows the business.

Pictured: Andrew Weins (right) and his brother, Isaac

Kenneth Rodes, PostNet


Kenneth Rodes, 52, is a veteran of the U.S. Army, having served for five years during the Cold War and rising to the rank of captain. After leaving the military, he worked as an environmental chemist but was eventually laid off. Rodes later took a job as a steelworker for many years, yet he often wished he could venture out into business on his own. Attracted to the opportunity to serve and support his local community, Rodes opened a PostNet franchise in 2008 in Davidson, North Carolina. The company offers full-service digital printing; direct mail; signs; document binding and finishing; graphic design.

Years in business: 8
Number of franchises owned: 1
Start-up costs and fees and/or incentives offered for veterans: Initial investment ranges from $169,767 to $212,275, with a 35 percent discount on the franchise fee for veterans.
Annual revenue: Approximately $425,000

Lou Scola, CARSTAR


Lou Scola served in the U.S. Navy between 1981 and 1987 as an aviation electronics technician working on F-14 Tomcat armament and radar systems. He was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Independence when it supported peacekeeping efforts in Lebanon and military action in Grenada. After leaving active duty, he opened his own body shop in Vrookfield, Illinois. Then in 2003, in order to better grow his business yet remain an independent owner with his name on his shop, Scola became a franchisee, converting his then 12-year-old collision center into a CARSTAR.

Scola said he chose CARSTAR because of the franchise model's discipline, organization and consistency of operations that appealed to his military sensibility.

Years in business: 25 years (13 years as a CARSTAR franchisee)
Number of franchises owned: 1
Start-up costs and fees and/or incentives offered for veterans: Conversion fee: $14,995. (Note: CARSTAR is a franchise where the business model is converting independent repair shops into a CARSAR franchise.
Annual revenue: $3 million

Kris and Michelle Bender, TITLE Boxing Club

Title Boxing Club

Kris Bender served in the U.S. Army from 1994 to 2003, while his wife, Michelle, served from 1994 to 2007, each having been selected for the rank of sergeant first class. After her second deployment to Iraq, Michelle decided to exit the military so she could be at home with her first child, Ava. Then later Kris turned down a promotion in the military in order to start his own business, saying that the idea of creating something that could not only provide for his family but for others as well was incredibly appealing. In 2012 they opened TITLE Boxing Club, in Clarksville, Tennessee, a boutique fitness studio that specializes in boxing and kickboxing fitness classes.

Years in business: 4
Number of franchises owned: 1
Start-up costs and fees and/or incentives offered for veterans: Initial investment ranges from $143,256 to $394,227.
Annual revenue: $600,000+

Rita and Mark McCabe, Sub Zero Ice Cream

Sub Zero Ice Cream

Mark McCabe is a 20-year retired navy aviation veteran and past state commander for the VFW who has lived around the world, working on aircraft carriers. After he and his wife, Rita, saw Sub Zero Ice Cream on the reality show "Shark Tank," they fell in love with the patented concept for flash-freezing ice cream with liquid nitrogen. Wanting to bring it to New England, they bought a Sub Zero franchise and opened their doors in 2013 in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Through their franchise, they are members of the Veteran Business Owners Association and were voted "Entrepreneurs of the Year" through the organization. When a local military veteran had a home built through Habitat for Humanity, Mark and Rita were there serving ice cream.

Sub Zero Ice Cream provides gourmet ice cream made from cream, flavors and mix-ins that are flash frozen with liquid nitrogen to produce more than 2.5 million combinations.

Years in business: 3
Number of franchises owned: 1
Start-up costs and fees and/or incentives offered for veterans: Initial investment ranges from $155,000 to $381,000. The McCabes spent about $150,000, with a 25 percent discount for qualified military veterans.
Annual revenue: $220,000

Pictured: Rita and Mark McCabe with Senator Lindsey Graham at a campaign stop at their New Hampshire location

Jo McCabe, Mr. Handyman of Northern Virginia

Mr. Handyman

A 20-year veteran who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in aerospace engineering, Jo McCabe — no relation to the McCabes of Sub Zero — furthered her education with an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University. Working as an aircraft maintenance officer in the Navy until 1996, she then joined the reserves and later spent eight years in physical security overseeing the Navy's northeast region and managing 1,500 people. Following 9/11, McCabe returned to active duty for two years before returning once again to the reserves.

In September 2008 she decided to go into business for herself and put her management experience to use by opening a Mr. Handyman franchise in Manassas, Virginia.

Years in business: 8
Number of franchises owned: 5
Start-up costs and fees and/or incentives offered for veterans: Total investment fee ranges from $106,500 to $138,100, with a 15 percent discount for honorably discharged veterans who satisfy the VetFran program guidelines.
Annual revenue: $1.4 million