That first Jeep he used to cart away customers' junk had 80,000 miles on it and was 10 years old. "The transmission dropped out of it in my third month of business. It wasn't funny at the time, but it is funny now," he says.
But, as he did more jobs for people in his neighborhood, he noticed that he had an edge on competitors.
"I realized that my background in the military stayed with me. When you say 'Yes, sir' and 'Yes, ma'am' to a customer, you're on time, you show respect, integrity and trust, it makes a big difference," he explains. "I got a reputation in my neighborhood that if you want a junk removal service or something hauled away, you need to call this military guy."
Although he had his nephew and some friends occasionally helping out, the amount of work started to grow to three or four jobs a day, beyond what he could handle.
"I needed employees," he explains. "I wanted to hire a veteran to work with me because our brand was a veteran-owned business."
So Flanagan's first stop was the Coatesville, Pennsylvania, Veterans Affairs Medical Center to try to find any vets that needed work. There he learned about the Veterans Health Administration's Compensated Work Therapy program, which helps veterans living with mental illness or physical impairment find jobs.
In 2012, when Flanagan started hiring, the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty after September 2001 was 9.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2016, that number was 5.1 percent, the BLS reported.
Through the Veterans Affairs program, Flanagan found one of his first employees — a U.S. Army veteran who had served overseas in Iraq. Flanagan said the experience working for JDog helped the man acclimate to life as a civilian.
"You're doing six jobs in a day, and you're lifting things and people are tipping you and paying you and putting their arms around you, for not only doing a great job in their home, but for your military service," he says. "I think that really resonated."
For Flanagan, that was eye-opening.
"It led me to my purpose," he says. "It made me feel like, wow, I just potentially have changed this guy's life."
He hired more veterans, and in 2014, the business also took on outside investment from Julip Run Capital, allowing Flanagan to scale the business as a franchise, selling locations only to service members and their families. The estimated initial investment costs to buy a JDog franchise amount to between $45,100 and $95,000, according to the company. There is no real estate or storefront required; franchisees just need a truck and trailer.
JDog also has a national agreement with the Veterans Health Administration to help veterans get jobs at the company through the Compensated Work Therapy program across the country.
For Andrew Weins, a U.S. Army Reserve veteran who completed two tours, buying JDog franchises has been a success: From Nov. 1, 2016, through Oct. 31, 2017, the most successful of his three franchises, one in Menomonee Falls, Wis., did over $750,000 in sales. He has 22 employees and 11 trucks.
According to a survey of franchise owners published in JDog's 2017 franchise disclosures, on the high end, owners who had been in business over a year reported making an average of almost $30,000 per month in gross revenue. That means those high performing franchisees are looking at roughly $360,000 in gross revenue per year, putting Weins well above average.
Although starting another business was a risk after his retail company failed, Flanagan, who now leads the company as the CEO, says he'd do it again.
"To me, I would keep taking chances," he says. "If you believe that you can get up earlier than everybody else, and work later than everybody else and work harder than everybody else, eventually you're going to get it."
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