By SHANTEÉ WOODARDS for the Capital Gazette
Gregory Williams tinkered in real estate before taking advantage of his 20-plus year military career.
The 43-year-old has invested in real estate, but is looking for additional income. A program geared toward military veterans is allowing him to own a franchise for a discount.
This fall, Williams will open a roaming repair business for Annapolis. As a veteran, he received a 20 percent discount on starting the business, which he said results in a savings of more than $1,000.
“Franchises are a proven system and that to me corresponds with the military,” said Williams, a retired naval commander and current reservist who plans to debut Mr. Appliance on Nov 1. “The business model they have is very similar to the military. I’m used to getting trained. If its something I’m unfamiliar with, I’m used to following a system.”
Williams’ work comes through the VetFran program, which provides financial assistance and training to link veterans with franchise opportunities. The Waco, Texas-based Dwyer Group, which is a holding company of seven franchises including Mr. Appliance, introduced VetFran in 1991. The International Franchise Association relaunched it after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The program includes more than 400 entities that offer incentives and mentoring opportunities to veteran small business owners.
That effort is one of several ongoing initiatives designed to aid veterans. Locally, Homes for Our Troops, which helps disabled veterans get housing through donated labor, has completed a project in the county and is helping a county resident find land in Queen Anne’s County.
Gambrills-based Atlantic Lighting & Irrigation joined GreenCare for Troops four years ago, when Nathan Smith saw an advertisement for it on HGTV. This national effort connects green industry professionals with military families in need of various lawn and landscaping services while they’re overseas. Through that program, Atlantic Lighting workers provide the aeration and seeding.
Atlantic Lighting doesn’t receive many requests through GreenCare and Smith doesn’t know if that’s because the public isn’t aware of it. But as a veteran, Smith is pleased to be able have it available. He did two overseas tours of duty that called for him to leave his wife behind with four children and a dog.
“People tell me ‘thanks for going overseas.’ I tell them I had the easy part; my wife was stuck with the kids for a year with nobody to help her out,” said Smith, Atlantic Lighting’s director of sales and operations. “My own experience is that it’s good to do, just as a company to say ‘hey thanks, we realize you’re doing something that a lot of people can’t do.”
This year, the Dwyer Group has given 236 veterans what has amounted to discounts of more than $1.4 million. Twenty-four veterans have brought into the program in 2012.
“Veterans are used to following rules and procedures and that’s part of what the military is all about. And that’s what franchising is all about too,” said Doug Dixon, a spokesman for the Dwyer Group. “The economy is tough right now and veterans are having trouble finding jobs when they come back and they’re well-trained people.”
Williams has to buy a truck and get his staff together. Once he’s up and running, he will hire a team that will include a technician and a administrative assistant. Aside from Annapolis, his territory will also include Bowie and Crofton.
“I know electricians, plumbers, HVAC guys — it’s highly competitive whereas the appliance field is not as competitive and doesn’t require formal training or certification,” Williams said. “I’ve bought appliances and I know they’re easy to diagnose. I think the return of investment will be good in that trade.”