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Veterans

Lawn doctor

VetFran program helps land former military franchise deals

By Drew Dixon for the The Florida Times-Union

As Rick Maffei rides his “turf tamer” lawn treatment machine in St. Augustine, it’s a reminder of the long years that separates his military service from his current occupation as franchisee for the Lawn Doctor.

While Maffei has to stand to ride the turf tamer that resembles a riding lawn mower, it was his days standing tall in the Air Force that helped land him the franchise deal. Maffei, 53, is now in a semi-retirement career and he has a program called VetFran to thank.

“The VetFran program was really a financial incentive that allowed us to move forward with the Lawn Doctor,” said Maffei, who owns the franchise with his wife, Peggy. “Without the VetFran program support, I’m not sure we’d have been able to accomplish this.”

VetFran is an acronym for a national program called Opportunities for Veterans in Franchising, started 21 years ago through the International Franchise Association. The program helps military veterans by reducing the cost of starting a business through about 500 participating companies. Several military groups and veterans organizations are also assisting.

Maffei got a $12,500 discount for starting the Lawn Doctor franchise in St. Augustine. He still had to pay the company $50,000 for the franchise agreement, but he acknowledged he likely wouldn’t have been able to close the deal without the break.

“It gave me the sense that Lawn Doctor was welcoming and supportive of veterans,” Maffei said.

Maffei had an extensive military and civilian career before retiring to St. Augustine. He worked on the Titan and Delta rocket programs for the Air Force at Cape Canaveral. He also was in the National Guard and in the facilities department at Yale University for 17 years before he retired to the First Coast in June.

Maffei’s deep involvement in systems environments is the prototype for the VetFran program, said Mary Kennedy Thompson, chairwoman of VetFran and president of Mr. Rooter plumbing service company in Waco, Texas.

“Veterans are very much brought up on systems, it’s part of what makes somebody good in the military,” Thompson said. “To be a good franchisee you need to have a good sense of discipline and the military instills a good sense of discipline.”

Many military veterans have also had exposure to leadership positions, which makes them attractive candidates for franchisees, Thompson said.

The VetFran program continues to grow and three First Coast-based companies have already joined including Davis Restoration in Jacksonville, Ice House America in Jacksonville Beach and The Spice & Tea Exchange in St. Augustine.

All offer discounts to veterans seeking a franchise ranging from $5,000 off franchise fees, 20 percent off the franchise fee to waiving the first 12 months of royalties and no upfront franchise payment, as is the case with Ice House America, which manufactures ice-making machines.

Michael Little, Ice House vice president of marketing, said the company just joined the VetFran program this year, and they are already in discussions with several veterans about franchise discounts. He’s eager to see the program work.

“We try to advertise and market that to other veterans,” Little said. “My dealings with VetFran have always been extremely positive. They’re willing to go out of their way to help you in setting up and determining what’s the best offer to provide.”

While VetFran tries to match military service members with the right company, Maffei said the program also provides the right environment for former veterans.

“Beyond the systems, I think the familial feeling of Lawn Doctor does sort of remind me of the military,” Maffei said. “You do feel like you’re going to be taken care of, there’s someone there to help you.”

Drew Dixon: (904) 359-4098 Read more at Jacksonville.com: http://jacksonville.com/news/m