CENTRAL FEATURES


Industry Offers Vets Career Opportunities

Franchisors The Grounds Guys and Spring Green Lawn Care put out the welcome mat for ex-military
By Cindy Grahl


With the winding down of America's two most recent wars, about 160,000 active service members and 110,000 National Guardsmen and reservists transition to civilian life yearly. In today's economy, this has resulted in a high unemployment rate among veterans. In 2010, the latest data available, showed an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent. There are nearly 1 million unemployed veterans in the U.S.


The Dwyer Group says that 17 military veterans now run The Grounds Guys landscape franchises.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE GROUNDS GUYS.

One solution is the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. This comprehensive legislation combines provisions of the Hiring Heroes Act, Veterans Opportunity to Work Act and veterans' tax credits. The goal is to help transition the military to civilian status in today's job market; expand training; help translate military skills and training into the civilian sector; and provide tax incentives of up to $5,600 to companies for hiring veterans, and up to $9,600 for hiring disabled veterans, if the veteran has been looking for work for six months or longer.

In addition, the Joining Forces White House campaign, launched in 2011 to support veterans and their families during their employment search, education and recovery, has resulted in a 20 percent decrease in veteran unemployment over last year. More than 2,000 companies have hired or trained 125,000 vets and military spouses through the program.


Michael and Rebecca McMahon served together in the U.S. military before joining The Grounds Guys of Southlake (Texas).
The International Franchise Association (IFA) is another resource that aids veterans in buying franchises. Operation Enduring Opportunity is one of its initiatives that recruits veterans and military spouses as team members and franchise business owners. The initiative is working on a goal - employing 75,000 veterans and military spouses and 5,000 wounded warriors by the end of 2014 - with 8 percent of those hired so far in the residential services category.

Vets have the right stuff

Spring-Green Lawn Care has a military background and a history of attracting veterans, with some of them filling corporate roles. The company offers specific programs to attract veteran franchise owners and encourage vet hiring.

"Our franchise owners with military experience are some of the most successful owners in the system," says James Young, president of Spring-Green, who sits on the advisory board of G.I. Jobs. "Veterans know how to follow a system, and they possess the right skills and mindset to thrive as small business owners."

Spring-Green participates in VetFran (www.vetfran.com), a subsidy program through the IFA, which applies up to $5,000 of the initial franchise fee toward start-up expenses designated or approved by the company. Spring-Green then reinvests another $10,000 back into the new owner's second year for local marketing efforts.

From the Guard to the green industry

Jeff Anderson, a Spring-Green franchisee, served in the Army National Guard in Oklahoma for nine years. When his post-service career seemed stalemated, he went online to look for career ideas that would let him be his own boss and enjoy the outdoor environment he was used to as a farm boy. He was attracted to Spring-Green six years ago because of its management's service backgrounds. He knew he could bond with the "military mindset."

Anderson says, "My military experience suits this job so perfectly. We learned to have executable goals, to be disciplined and carry through. It sounds so simple, but it's drilled into us to have goals, benchmarks, structure, a pattern."

When his business, based in Enid, Okla., grew enough to add employees, he used his service-honed skills of leadership, motivation and communication to instill company pride. He likes to hire fellow vets.

"When I can get someone with a military background it's a plus," he says. He adds that subsidies made his franchise more affordable, and the Spring-Green support, which includes the option of a flexible approach to starting a firm while still working on the former job, reduces the fear factor and the risk, while maximizing rewards.

Spring-Green also participates in GreenCare for Troops, a nationwide outreach program through Project EverGreen that connects local lawn care firms with families of service members deployed away from home to provide free lawn and landscape services. Spring-Green has also received recognition from as a Most Valuable Employer for Military finalist and from G.I. Jobs as a Military-Friendly Franchise.

The Grounds Guys Step Up

Another landscape company with heavy veteran participation is The Grounds Guys (www.groundsguys.com), a relatively new franchise specializing in commercial and estate residential landscape management services. It's part of The Dwyer Group, an international franchise company based in Waco, Texas. Some 14 military vets now serve as Ground Guys franchise owners, and 42 percent of the franchises have hired a vet.

Two of these franchise owners are Dan and Brandy Prettyman, who met while serving in the Army in Iraq. They wanted to build something together, so they opened The Grounds Guys landscape management franchise in southwest Omaha, Neb. The Prettymans received a 25 percent discount off the initial franchise fee.

They actively recruit veterans, and Dan says part of the Grounds Guys culture is like the military's, as it is always in recruitment mode, looking for prospects that will serve and grow with the team.

"We want people, as does the military, who are willing to do any kind of work to get the job done, know the value of a uniform in looking professional, are reliable and uncomplaining, and who offer feedback," Prettyman says. "They want to serve as part of a team. I really think this approach sets us apart."

Rebecca and Michael McMahon are another Grounds Guys couple. The Marine Corps veterans have a combined 12 years of service and three deployments. Both are Wounded Warriors as well.

After attending an Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Disabled Veterans at Texas A&M University in 2011, they researched business opportunities and decided on the Grounds Guys, as they connected well with the company's mission and values and had always been interested in the green industry. In the summer of 2012 they opened The Grounds Guys of Southlake, in Texas.

Dwyer is immensely supportive of its franchisees, says Rebecca. "From the very first we felt like we were part of their family. They are always calling to check on us and give guidance. That means a lot."

She adds, "They give you a system to follow, which is great for vets, who are used to order and discipline. Military service provides the skills, leadership abilities, integrity and professionalism business owners seek. And owners who hire vets say there is a day and night difference between the skill and trustworthiness level of vets versus those of others."

The McMahon's are seeking employees from the ranks of vets. According to McMahon, who is active in advocacy and transition education for vets, there are a vast number of resources for those who want to see more veterans in the industry, both for the vets themselves and for the business owners doing the hiring. Many universities offer the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Disabled Veterans, she notes.

Don't discount disabled vets

The needs of disabled vets are given even more support, says McMahon. "People are intimidated by the idea of disabled vets, but it can mean all kinds of disability other than a major impairment, from breathing problems to deafness to back problems to mental health issues. Most don't need special accommodation, though there are many kinds of accommodation that can be made," with subsidies for companies that can cover costs. State unemployment offices, she says, all have veterans services, as do the state departments of labor, and both of these agencies can guide vets and business owners in finding jobs or finding service members to fill available jobs.

For business owners, Home Depot has classes in dealing with employees with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which McMahon says is not as scary as is it made out to be. She advises business owners to keep an open mind and look into the benefits, both financial and operational, of hiring former military service members.

Owners should also know about the Department of Veteran Affairs' Veterans Benefits Administration's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR & E) program, a national employment resource for employers. The VR & E program provides effective vocational rehabilitation services to veterans with service-connected disabilities. Program participants are mature, motivated and disciplined workers prescreened for specific employment needs.

Former service members are proven to be reliable, dependable, and able to perform in stressful situations, and they are dedicated team players. They have served the country in the military, and they have the skills needed to take on civilian jobs and perform above and beyond expectations.

The author, Cindy Grahl, is a business editor based in Cleveland, Ohio. She has reported on projects and trends for the construction and landscape industries for more than 25 years.