Friday, April 30, 2010

Urge Congress to Help Veterans

At The Dwyer Group we support the fine men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces, and we are happy to spread that message and encourage others to do the same. Yesterday, Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter, testified in Washington D.C. before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. Here’s the very important message she shared in urging congress to help more veterans get into business for themselves.
For her full testimony:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

VetFran: An Entrepreneur’s Idea Becomes the American Dream for Veterans

From April 2010 Franchising World Magazine

What began as the idea of one entrepreneur who had served in military uniform today has become a path to the American Dream for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Watching the events of the Gulf War unfold in 1990, the president of The Dwyer Group, Don Dwyer, decided he had to do more for veterans than just cheer them on from the safety of his living room. He considered the traditional ways of support, but saw nothing that captured the spirit on the scale he envisioned.

A short time later, while attending the International Franchise Association’s 1991 annual convention, he conceived the ideal solution: help veterans live the American Dream by owning their own franchised small business.

Initially, his idea drew skepticism, but he persisted, even funding a lobbying and information campaign with his own finances. As franchisors learned more about the idea, they signed on to support the “Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative,” today known as “VetFran.”
Just before Veterans Day, 1991, the program was officially launched during a press conference in Washington, D.C. and soon, more than 100 franchise systems were participating as partners in the effort, providing financial incentives for honorably-discharged veterans.

Fortunately, the conflict in the Gulf was short-lived, but when the attention on military action and returning veterans waned, so did support for the program.

But the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, re-ignited military action in the Middle East, this time on a much larger scale. Leaders of IFA quickly revitalized the program and VetFran was activated with the official support of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Since its re-launch in 2002, VetFran has become a popular path to smallbusiness ownership by more than 1,700 veterans who use financial incentives and support services offered by nearly 400 franchise systems and numerous members of the IFA Supplier Forum.

The participating companies and the discounts they offer can be viewed at   under “Businesses for Veterans.” Incentives range from reduced initial franchise fees to waivers of training costs and free product inventories.

VetFran gets no government funding but is officially endorsed by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs’ Center for Veterans Enterprise which helps promote small-business ownership for veterans and named IFA a “Champion of Veterans Enterprise” in 2003.

The award-winning program was also tapped by the American Society of Association Executives to receive its Award of Excellence for creating an “outstanding program which has resulted in significant benefit to American society.”

Congress is also displaying interest in helping veterans become franchisees. New legislation designed to aid veterans in buying franchises was introduced recently by U.S. Reps. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) and Aaron Schock (R-Ill.). The Help Veterans Own Franchises Act, H.R. 2672, would provide a tax credit for franchise businesses that offer qualified veterans a discounted initial franchise fee. See page 14 for more details.

VetFran, like the ideas of entrepreneurs that become global business enterprises, began as the idea of one franchise entrepreneur–Don Dwyer–whose concern about the postmilitary futures of those who serve to protect and defend their nation propelled him into action.

Fittingly, not only does the VetFran program continue to grow and achieve its original mission, but the program originator’s daughter, Dina Dwyer-Owens, CFE, who now serves as chairwoman and CEO of the franchise system he founded, has long been a strong supporter of the initiative and recently announced a significant milestone reached by The Dwyer Group. In February, the holding company of six residential and commercial franchise service brands topped the $1 million mark in VetFran discounts awarded to veterans.

“Don Dwyer truly had a million-dollar idea,” said Dwyer-Owens. “Providing careers for veterans has been the best way to honor the men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces for the service they have given to our country. And my father would be very proud of the opportunities that have been created in our franchise family to help them transition to civilian life as business owners.”

The Dwyer Group has also expanded its resources to veterans through its own Department of Veterans Entrepreneurship and the introduction of its complementary P.A.V.E. (Program for Assisting Veteran Entrepreneurship) Program, which offers educational and financial resources to veterans and transitioning military personnel who want to buy a franchise.

SBA’s Patriot Express Loan Initiative Available

Program focuses on military community, including veterans, service-disabled, active-duty in transition, Reservist and National Guard, as well as spouses and related groups.

The U.S. Small Business Administration offers the new Patriot Express Pilot Loan as the latest extension to the financial, procurement, and technical assistance programs the agency provides to the military community. Patriot Express is a streamlined loan product based on SBA’s successful SBA Express Program, but with enhanced guarantee and interest rate characteristics.

With military activations and extensions having a profound impact on entrepreneurs in the military community, SBA is committed to helping America’s service men and women. Patriot Express, supported by SBA’s other services, goes directly to the needs of those who wish to start businesses, and in the process encourages job creation and growth.

Patriot Express is available to military community members including veterans, service-disabled veterans, active-duty service members participating in the military’s Transition Assistance Program, Reservists and National Guard members, current spouses of any of the above, and the widowed spouse of a service member or veteran who died during service, or of a service-connected disability.

The Patriot Express Loan is offered by SBA’s network of participating lenders nationwide and features SBA’s fastest turnaround time for loan approvals. Loans are available up to $500,000 and qualify for SBA’s maximum guaranty of up to 85 percent for loans of $150,000 or less and up to 75 percent for loans over $150,000 up to $500,000. For loans above $350,000, lenders are required to take all available collateral.

The Patriot Express Loan can be used for most business purposes, including start-up, expansion, equipment purchases, working capital, inventory or businessoccupied real-estate purchases.

Patriot Express Loans feature SBA’s lowest interest rates for business loans, generally 2.25 percent to 4.75 percent over prime depending upon the size and maturity of the loan. Local SBA district offices will have a listing of Patriot Express lenders in their areas. Details on the initiative can be found at SBAs’ Web site under “Patriot Express.”

SBA has expanded through an expansion of its Veterans Affairs Office, increased local outreach and goaling in its district offices and participation in U.S.Department of Labor job seminars.

The small-business agency provides programs and services for veterans and members of the military community wanting to establish or expand small businesses.

SBA has veterans’ business development officers in district offices in every state and territory able to provide military community members full access to the SBA’s range of programs and services. There are also five Veterans Business Outreach Centers located in Albany, N.Y; Pittsburgh; Lynn Haven, Fla.; Edinburg, Texas; and Sacramento.

In addition to district offices, SBA’s resource partners SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Business; Small Business Development Centers; and Women’s Business Centers provide local and online assistance with: writing a business plan, financing options to start or grow your business, managing the business, expanding the business and selling goods and services to the government.

For those who are already small-business owners and expect to be recalled into active duty, SBA and its resource partners have expertise to assist with preparing their businesses before deployment, managing their businesses, selling goods and services to the government, obtaining other SBA financing and financial assistance, and obtaining loans for economic injury–Military Reserve Economic Injury Disaster Loans–loans of up to $1.5 million are available for small businesses sustaining economic injury because an owner or essential employee has been called to active duty as a military reservist.

The SBA and its Office of Veterans Business Development provides comprehensive assistance, outreach and support to veterans. Each year the SBA assists more than 100,000 veterans, servicedisabled veterans and Reserve Component members. The Center for Veterans Enterprise is an organization within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that reports to the Director of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization who is the department’s advocate for small-business concerns. The mission of the center is to improve the business climate for veterans, to minimize access barriers and to inform the public about the benefits of working with veteran-owned small businesses.

CVE creates opportunities for veteranowned small businesses by collaborating with like-minded individuals and organizations who passionately believe that veterans in business are still serving the United States. Its partner organizations provide local support to veterans through local business and face-to-face meetings on the belief that such encounters are imminently better when considering business ownership, seeking financing or making marketing calls.

CVE supports acquisition teams through procurement coaching, free market research, awareness briefings and awards for noteworthy achievements.

With its strategic partners, the center continually seeks to stretch performance and improve benefits for veterans in business.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Sunshines in Waco

Last week, I had the pleasure of giving my Design Your Life seminar at new franchise owner training, and Peter van Stralen was among my guests. Peter’s family started a business in Canada that The Dwyer Group is now franchising across the United States as The Grounds Guys. Here’s a little story of how our businesses got together:

Peter van Stralen is the president and CEO of Sunshine Grounds, a landscaping business headquartered in Caledon, Ontario, Canada. One of 10 brothers, the whole van Stralen clan has been involved in what is now a growing franchise. But like the Dwyer family, the van Stralens experienced the trials of wanting to be big while still maintaining that closeness that existed from day one. And how do you do that when the company evolves to include more than your brothers?

“In the last five years, we began franchising,” Peter said. “And that was a new dynamic for us. Now we had locations that ran across a large geographical area. We needed our code of values to be more clearly stated.”

That’s about the time Mike Bidwell, The Dwyer Group’s President and COO, read a story about Sunshine Grounds and shared it with me. We called up the company and met with Peter. What we heard was déjà vu. The family was growing up. And so was the company.

I sent Peter a few copies of my Live R.I.C.H. book for his team to see how The Dwyer Group addressed its growing pains over the years.

“I got it in the mail and started reading and couldn’t put it down,” Peter said. “We always tried to live by our code of values but never formalized it or wrote it down. Her book came right at the right time for us.”

With 24 locations and a reach that had extended into the U.S., the van Stralens were looking to safeguard their culture. Like so many great leaders, Peter and his team already had a strong sense of self. In their marketing materials, they said the very thing that made them special: We CARE. After reading Live R.I.C.H., they used their own motto to formalize values and action items that would make sure every franchisee and every employee knew what it meant to CARE as well. Today, they have a Code of CARE that says:

We show that we CARE, by putting the needs of our
Customers first, by always having a positive and helpful
Attitude, and by treating everyone and everything with
Respect. By living our code of values we
Enjoy Life in the process.

The connections that The Dwyer Group made with the van Stralens during this free exchange were too strong to ignore. They knew grounds care and we knew franchising. More importantly, it was clear how much our companies valued a strong, ethical corporate culture. We knew we could do more together that would be mutually beneficial to both of our organizations. Earlier this year, The Dwyer Group announced that it would begin marketing The Grounds Guys franchise opportunity across the United States. It’s the seventh franchise concept for The Dwyer Group. And each new franchise owner who joins the system will receive the superior technical training that the van Stralens have perfected. Together we are doing great things to Live R.I.C.H.

Business Ethics Start With What You Believe

The ethical recession is not new. Corporate America was founded in the 1600s on the backs of slaves and indentured servants. But it was also founded on cottage industries, small family-run businesses. Corporate America’s challenge that it has never quite been able to solve is how to translate family values to the large-scale corporate workplace.

At The Dwyer Group we’re working to help make America a better place specifically as it relates to business ethics. First you need leaders who believe ethics are important. Then you have to have clear written values. And once you have clear written values how do you integrate that through your organization? That’s something we’ve been practicing at The Dwyer Group since 1981. When my father, Don Dwyer, founded the company he had a clear Code of Ethics. His ethics were emotionally based beliefs. If you could walk into our main office building on the wall you would see the original Code of Values as we call them. They are sayings like, “We believe loyalty adds meaning to our lives.” I see them every day as I walk to my office. My favorite is, “We must re-earn our positions every day in every way.” So as I see my father’s face in the picture on the wall and I read that value I say, “OK today I’ve got to re-earn my position today.” It doesn’t matter what I did yesterday - what am I going to do today to make a difference in the lives of my employees and my customers?

I challenge you to define what you believe. Start with one thing, the most important thing. At The Dwyer Group, our most important value really could be considered our vision statement, “To be a world class company admired for the excellence that customers, franchisees and associates experience with The Dwyer Group.” You can copy that for your business if you want (download our belief statements here). But you have to define what you believe, or it will not stand up to the winds of change that always sweep across America.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Ethics Recession

Do you believe the current recession that we’re in has something to do with the lack of values in corporate America? I sure do. In fact, I think that we’re in an ethical recession that’s resulted in a financial recession.

I truly believe if more corporations did something more with their values than wrote them on a piece of paper and tucked them away, we’d have better decision making in corporate America, decisions that are the right decisions for the right reasons versus for greedy reasons.

I don’t think it stops at corporate America either. We actually have an ethical recession at the consumer level as well. Consumers have made some pretty bad decisions. They have not made prudent decisions because they have used fast credit and easy loans to get in way over their heads and now they can’t afford it. Now they’re stuck with debt, now they can’t pay the banks, and it just becomes this vicious cycle that has turned into a financial recession for all of us.

Here’s the solution. In franchising we create systems that entrepreneurs can implement to build a successful business. We need to systematize values in business the same way we systematize finance, marketing and operations. But it starts with leadership. You have to have good strong leadership. You have to believe in values and believe in doing the right thing for the right reasons. Then you have to stand up for what you believe. Do you believe? If you do, stand with me.