One Woman’s Journey From the Marines to Franchising Stardom

IFA’s @OurFranchise spoke with Mary Thompson, CFE, to discuss how she exited the military and found her place as franchise owner and then a multi-location franchise owner, and then a franchisor president and today the COO of Dwyer Group.

*This story originally appeared on, a website highlighting the positive impact of franchising on communities around the country.

@OurFranchise: How was the transition to civilian life and specifically franchising?

Ms. Thompson: Franchising helped me transition from the Marine Corps to being an experienced and successful business person. After leaving the service, I went directly into a sales position for my first few years as a civilian. The adjustment was difficult at times because not only was I learning a new job and new company, I was also learning how to navigate a world where healthcare, housing, and even the language of business were vastly different than the military.

My dream was to be an entrepreneur as I was driven to build and lead a team toward a common mission. While I had the financial backing to open a business, I did not have the business experience to do so. Since franchising is built on systems and processes designed to create success, it was a logical solution to my challenge. I liked the Cookies by Design business model and product. Franchising was the solution that allowed me to meet my goal and I knew with hard work I would follow the system to success. Within three years I was a multi-unit franchisee meeting my goals and fulfilling my dream of small business ownership. Franchising and the systems that it brought to me helped me as a veteran with – no business experience – to have a system to follow. It also provided me the support of the franchisor who drilled down on unit level economics helping me grow both personally and professionally faster than I would have without the systems.

@OurFranchise: What advice would you give to military veterans looking to get involved in franchising?

Ms. Thompson: Do your homework. Study the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD) to understand the health of the franchisor you’re considering. Talk to at least 10 franchisees in the system to best understand what is good and bad about the organization.  If possible, talk to at least one former franchisee to know what failure looks like. First search for those franchise models with the best unit level economics to help you have the best chance to see a good return on your investment. Another top priority is knowing the culture of the franchise the veteran is considering. For veterans in particular, having a close cultural match makes a difference how well they will fit into the organization and enjoy belonging. Lastly, ask the franchisor you are considering for a list of existing veterans in the franchise on both the franchisee and franchisor level. They can help you navigate the transition and will speak your language.

@OurFranchise: You’re also involved in IFA’s initiative VetFran. Why did you join and what has your experience been like?

Ms. Thompson: A strategic initiative of the International Franchise Association, VetFran was founded in 1991 by the late Don Dwyer Sr. – founder of Dwyer Group – to say thank you to our veterans returning from the first Gulf War. It has grown into a large network of more than 650 franchise brands that voluntarily offer financial discounts, mentorship, and training for aspiring veteran franchisees and veterans seeking employment. Their most recent survey shows that 238,000 veterans and military spouses found opportunities in the franchise world since 2011.

Franchising had been so impactful to me as a veteran transitioning to the business world and I wanted to return the favor. I joined VetFran to give back and offer assistance to the service men and women returning from overseas deployments and transitioning to civilian life. They have earned the power to prosper and I believed by joining VetFran I could be part of the solution.

As chair of VetFran in 2011, in partnership with the White House’s Joining Forces Initiative and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the International Franchise Association and its members launched Operation Enduring Opportunity — a franchise industry-wide effort to hire 75,000 veterans by the end of 2014, as well as to recruit and develop thousands of veterans to be franchise small business owners. We beat that goal by more than double. The programs and assistance available through VetFran make a difference for our veterans. Today I am a sitting member of the VetFran Committee to help continue the good work.

@OurFranchise: How does the Dwyer Group support veterans?

Ms. Thompson: To date, Dwyer Group of franchise companies has awarded more than $2.1 million in discounts to 374 veteran franchise owners. Our mission is simple: We strive to become the leader in franchising with transitioning military personnel and current veterans in order to help them achieve their dreams and goals by being in business for themselves.