VETFRAN MOVING FORWARD STRATEGICALLY

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joe linemayer

The best strategic initiative is to look at the veteran community as an extremely strong and loyal customer base.

When a program is built that can withstand nearly a quarter century of political turmoil, several recessions and

economic cycles, and countless changes in leadership, you know it has a culture and life of its own. The International Franchise Association’s VetFran program has done just that since its establishment in 1991.

After having served on this committee for nearly seven years, the past two as chairman, it’s easy to see why VetFran

has not simply survived, it’s thrived.

Today, the program includes more than 640 IFA franchisor members. Nearly 5,200 new veteran franchises have opened since 2011 as part of Operation Enduring Opportunity.

As we work to update and establish a sounder strategic plan, I wanted to share some of the ways we’ve found to help your brand move forward with VetFran in a more strategic fashion.

The most common question I get is: “I want to help and bring VetFran into my system, what should I do?” We certainly  want to have every eligible franchise system fly the VetFran banner, but it goes well beyond simply enrolling, though that’s the first step.

As in any strategic planning session, you must first understand the goal and what you want to see as a result of your

investment in time and treasure to achieve your objectives. For new and long-standing participants in VetFran, I suggest these steps to help you identify ways to help veterans, as well as getting your brand aligned strategically with a phenomenal program:

1. Identify current veteran owners, managers, employees and spouses within your system.

2. Measure the performance of these owners to your non-veteran community.

3. Look at ways your brand can help support veteran customers or causes.

4. Build the system to engage and keep an open dialog with veterans and their spouses.

5. Establish long-range goals for system growth and potential business expansion to veteran’s groups.

Let’s look at these key steps in more detail along with a few suggestions for optimizing both the input and the output of this great initiative.

Identifying Your Current Veteran Community Within your system’s ranks sounds simple, but most brands we talk to have no idea how many veteran owners they have, nor do they have any metrics on how many have joined under the VetFran umbrella, how much in grants or franchise fee discounts have been given, nor how many spouses or veterans work for their owners.

This is a key first step because knowing this community within your brand’s ranks will help you understand how well

you are aligned with recruitment and growth among your veterans. We hear that anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent or more of some brands’ ownership is comprised of veterans with 10 percent being a very common target for many.

Given that veterans in the United States are approximately 7 percent of the overall population, this range of ownership is a solid figure. If your brand aligns well with veterans, you have the system in place to introduce and educate them about your brand, including strong unit economics, then the sky is the limit.

What We Measure, We Move We’ve all heard this axiom, and with many brands I talk with, they have no idea how

well their veterans are doing compared to their average unit volume. In a report in 2013 by Franchise Business Review, the average unit volume among all veterans reporting was similar to those of any civilian-owned unit; however, the vast majority of veterans owned single units relative to the industry, therefore, deeper examination of the data is warranted.

Take the opportunity as you prepare your franchise disclosure document and gather information on average unit sales, gross profit or even net profits of your veteran community, as well as their hiring practices. Again, in this FBR report, veterans are much more likely to hire other veterans (30 percent more likely) and to support veteran’s programs. This is not to say veterans will certainly out-perform non-veterans, but while most entrepreneurs are known for being competitive, that’s very much the case with franchise owners.

Veterans are also extremely competitive and want to do better than their benchmark in most cases.

Align Your Brand With Veterans There are many ways to help. We’ve seen and heard many stories from brands that offer a discount to veterans. I’ve personally benefitted from the occasional

hotel discount, complimentary meal on Veterans Day or an ongoing discount from brands that honor our veterans. This means a lot to the veteran community and they are extremely loyal to those who take care of them. If you have locations on or near military bases or around veteran communities, you already know this. But do you know you can go after more business in this channel? There are some great sites to potentially integrate your brand into, like these

(among others):

• Mylitter.com

• Military.com

Veteransadvantage.com

There are also some fantastic causemarketing aspects you can support that involve all of your owners and allow them

to express their patriotism. For example, Sport Clips supports the VFW each year with donations made by customers, as well as their stores.

Many systems have seasonal or time sensitive promotions on Memorial Day or Veterans Day that their owners can get behind, but be careful of getting caught in the clutter and consider other days where your brand can potentially stand out. For example, November 10 is the Marine Corps Birthday and means a great deal to Marines (of which I am one). If you own a dry cleaning, baby-sitting or home services (maid, window washing and so on) franchise, you could offer an incentive leading up to or after this great day. This would inspire the Marine community to utilize your business and not get lost in the clutter of the “big” veteran holidays.

A regular dialogue and discussion with your veteran community including spouses and employees not only helps you keep a finger on what their issues or individual challenges may be (health care, tax credits, financial incentives and others), but it will also help you understand how to better support and communicate to them. With TSS Photography for example, we conduct a breakfast meeting during our convention and occasional conference calls. We try to mentor new veterans with existing veterans and support causes they feel are important to them or their territory.

Don’t End Your Support of VetFran with the Initial Franchise Fee Discount Engage your vendors or suppliers, make

sure you have some interaction with veterans on your social media presence and most importantly, create a conduit

for discussing issues as they arise. For example, honoring local veterans as they come home from deployment (think of the National Guard or Reserve units that could also use help while on deployment) can be very beneficial to men and women who balance a civilian and military career.

These are very real opportunities to align your brand with a cause and customer base that will appreciate you and help you grow your business.

Perhaps the best strategic initiative is to look at the veteran community as an extremely strong and loyal customer base.

Whether it’s owners of your franchise, employees or spouses and children of veterans, having your senior leadership

team engaged in this initiative and active with VetFran (www.vetfran.com) is the right thing to do, for our veterans, your brand and your bottom line.

Joe Lindenmayer is president and chief operating officer of TSS Photography.