WACO, TEXAS — It was at the end of the first Gulf War when The Dwyer Group late founder Don Dwyer, an army veteran, had an inspirational idea: empower military veterans to get into business for themselves yet not by themselves. That vision grew into VetFran, a program designed to incentivize former veterans to become new franchise owners.

“My dad believed that we have the freedom to live the American Dream because of these men and women that protect us, and something needed to be done to give back to them,” said Dina Dwyer-Owens, CEO and chairwoman of The Dwyer Group.

Since VetFran’s inception in 1991, there are more than 400 participating franchising companies, and more than 2,000 veterans have purchased their own franchises with the help of the program. Approximately 240 U.S. veterans have purchased a Dwyer Group franchise (Mr. Rooter is largest of The Dwyer Group brand).

Mr. Rooter LLC President Mary Kennedy Thompson has been chairwoman of the International Franchise Association’s (IFA) VetFran Committee since 2011, as well as one of the faces of its campaign.

“Mary is an amazing person and was a franchisee herself,” said Dwyer-Owens. “She was president of Cookies by Design, then we (Dwyer) hired her to run Mr. Rooter. She is a true leader and has taken the VetFran program to a whole new level. The committee has done amazing work.”

After serving eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps and then owning multiple franchises, the VetFran program is near and dear to Thompson’s heart, and gives honorably discharged U.S. veterans incentives and discounts on purchasing franchises. 

“Helping veterans transition into entrepreneurship is a great way for us to tell them ‘thank you’ for serving our nation,” said Thompson. “I became accustomed to following systems in the military, and it’s helped me succeed in franchising – where systems are the foundation of success.

“I love that our company started the VetFran group back in 1991,” added Thompson. “Veterans are looking for opportunities, not handouts. They want to serve, lead and have opportunity to settle down in a community and create a life for themselves, and this is what VetFran helps with. Being chairwoman of VetFran has been a wonderful and exciting experience. We had a lot of growth in the last year that I am proud of. It’s been a team effort.”

Late last year, The Dwyer Group and IFA partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama as part of Operation Enduring Opportunity, which is part of the White House Joining Forces Initiative, the largest industry veteran hiring commitment to date. Since the program was launched in November 2011, more than 2,100 veterans have become team members or franchise business owners, according to Thompson, and dozens of International Franchise Association members have made hiring commitments totaling more than 3,000 jobs.  

“We went to that event and pledged to hire 75,000 veterans through her program and 5,000 wounded warriors by 2014 through the franchise companies belonging to the International Franchise Association,” said Thompson. “We have the chance to make a difference in the lives of veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country. After they fought to protect the American Dream we want to give them the opportunity to live that dream by owning their own businesses.”

Thompson believes that Marines and plumbers are very much alike.

“I felt like I was coming home when I came to this company,” said Thompson. “Plumbers do a really hard job people don’t want to do and so do Marines.

“When we (Mr. Rooter Plumbing) go to someone’s home they are not having a good day, and our job is to turn it around for them. Our mantra is we make it right by creating outstanding and courteous experiences. We make it right when we show up when we tell them we will, we put down a mat before we lay tools out, we clean up before we leave, we explain everything to them so they understand what is happening. All of that shadows and mirrors what I saw in the Marine Corp.”

Thompson also believes that veterans make really good franchisees.

“I always say franchising is good for vets, and vets are good for franchising,” said Thompson. “I live that. When I got out of the Marines I knew I needed to be in a group and be a leader, and franchising was the perfect place for me to be.” 

Public protectors

The Dwyer Group is now pioneering Public Protectors Franchise Advantage, a program similar to VetFran, but designed to salute law enforcement officers and firefighters. PPFA awards a 20% discount on the initial franchise fee for the base territory (100,000 population) for qualified future franchisees looking to open a franchise within The Dwyer Group’s family of brands: Aire Serv, Glass Doctor, Mr. Appliance, Mr. Electric, Mr. Rooter, Rainbow International and The Grounds Guys.

“There are so many incredible heroes in everyday life,” said Dwyer-Owens. “The Public Protectors Franchise Advantage Program is there to salute them and help them venture into business ownership. We are hopeful many other franchise brands will support this initiative, much like how they supported VetFran. My Dad would have been so proud to see how far VetFran has come, and the Public Protectors Franchise Advantage Program is the next logical step to help more great people own their own business.”