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New Initiative Offers Veterans the Keys to Business Ownership

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2003 – What the VA loan program did to help veterans acquire a piece of the American dreamtheir own home, a program called "The Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative," or VetFran, is helping retiring vets obtain an even larger slicetheir own business.

Don DeBolt, president of the International Franchise Association, which sponsors the VetFran program said that veterans can now go from "defending the American dream to owning it."

"It's the one way we can focus attention to our veterans who are leaving the military and would like to have their own slice of the American dream and would like to have their own business to operate," he said. "And the beautiful thing about franchising is that there are no glass ceilings, there are no barriers to success.

DeBolt said the IFA first introduced VetFran in the early 1990s and has since worked to attract and educate members of the armed forces about the opportunities through business ownerships and franchising. He said that VetFran works closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer franchise opportunities for retiring veterans transitioning back into civilian life.

He noted that one thing VA "is very high on is finding business opportunities for former military and franchising is one of the areas they've identified for the military to look at."

For example, franchises participating in VetFran have agreed to help veterans acquire franchise businesses by providing "best deal" programs and financial incentives not otherwise available to other investors, according to DeBolt. Veterans can acquire business franchises with down payments of 10 percent or less of the initial franchise cost, which can range from $45,000 to $150,000 for a small business.

Franchises are available across a wide range, from the food service field to hotel and automotive services. DeBolt explained that to date VetFran has 113 companies participating in the program.

"There is a large menu in franchising we'd like to think that there is something for everybody," he noted, "not only in terms of their skill sets, their interest and their passions, but also from their pocketbook standpoint." He said that veterans can find franchises for a few thousand dollars in initial investment to a few million dollars, "if you're interested in a Ritz Hotel."

DeBolt said that veterans must realize that owning their own business is a real possibility -- that "where there is a will, there is a way." But he also suggests that before making a decision to own a business, veterans must take a "personal inventory" of their business interests.

"They need to know their skills sets, what they feel passionate about. They need to know the interests and desires of their families, what their families would be supportive of," he said.

DeBolt put the idea of owning a business into a simple context: "When you go home at the end of the day and you look into the mirror and you have that smile on your face it's because you've been some place that you enjoyed being and you did something that you enjoyed doing," he said, "that's the kind of franchise you should look for."

He also suggested before going into business that veterans identify an experienced franchise attorney and a business consultant -- "someone who can help you understand the finances of the deal." He also advised veterans to talk to banks and franchisors about financing alternative that are available.

"Seventy-five percent of many franchise initial investments can usually be financed through commercial sources or the Small Business Administration."

To learn more about franchise opportunities, visit the VA's Center for Veterans Enterprise Web site.

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