By Cary Albert
For many, returning to civilian life after serving your country poses significant challenges. A sense of confusion, frustration or uncertainty about your next career move is not uncommon.
Entrepreneurship, however, proves to be a great option because many of the military principles you learn while serving translate to successful business ownership.
After serving four years in the United States Air Force, I transitioned to a standard 9-5 job with Honeywell Test Instruments Division as a calibration technician for electronic equipment — something I felt comfortable and confident in from my military experience. From there, I started my own firm, growing it to a multi-million-dollar business before selling. Through this journey, I began to see and understand the parallels between military principles and entrepreneurship and was ready for my next venture.
That’s when I found franchising. Not only does this provide the opportunity to achieve the American Dream in the form of business ownership, but you’re also handed a proven playbook to success. Similar to military life, follow the playbook and conquer the mission.
Over the past nearly three decades, I’ve grown my franchise business portfolio to include 25+ Schlotzsky’s restaurants, one of Focus Brands’ iconic brands, while also building a retail empire.
Serving your country provides countless life lessons, and in return, there is a vast opportunity to launch your entrepreneurial chapter of life — from VA loans, SBA 504 loans and VetFran discounts, that in the case of Schlotzsky’s offers $15,000 off the initial franchise fee and more.
Take the leap — lean into the resources available to you and rely on military principles to guide you toward success.
Embrace Your Team as Your Greatest Asset
Whether in the Air Force or business, you must understand the value of your people — your team. In the military, you surround yourself with a strong squadron you trust with your life. In business, you must surround yourself with team members you trust in making key decisions and acting on them successfully. Build your team with that mentality — when you have a specialist in each role, collectively, you become an accountable team all aligned on the same mission, ultimately becoming an unstoppable force. Understand this and commit to investing in your team.
Break Down Obstacles
When an obstacle is too big, it can be overwhelming. A useful technique I learned during my time in the Air Force is to break up each milestone, so it becomes more manageable — win battles, not the war (i.e., payroll, overhead, vendor partnerships, etc.). Once you have a set of manageable pieces, you can tackle each one individually. You may already know what tools you need to apply or what solutions to avoid because they are not appropriate. Only once you understand the obstacle in its entirety can you determine the best course of action.
Follow Instructions & Routine Process
Without this, you can’t scale. Every Soldier (or Airman) gets the same training so that if something breaks down, you can easily detect it at the highest level. Now, from how we identify sites, to hiring staff, to getting clients in the door — it’s all about keeping those systems dialed in so we can see where we’re successful and where we’re missing opportunities.
Veterans bring a sense of resourcefulness, boldness and leadership not seen in employees with civilian backgrounds. They’ve been faced with the challenge of getting a job done without access to the resources that would ideally be available. Veterans also bring to the table a keen ability to be self-disciplined, stick through challenging tasks and see them through to completion.
Understand Leadership is Earned by Working Hard
From basic training to rising in the military ranks, veterans understand the value and payoff of hard work. You learn, you train, you succeed. In basic training, I was given the opportunity to be the Dorm Chief Leader, my first true leadership experience. It was in this role I gained confidence, learned how to earn respect, lead fairly and work together to achieve greatness. The same lessons apply to business. Work hard, gain accolades and opportunities, grow support from your team and they’ll want to perform at their highest level too. It was through this hard work that I was able to go from Dorm Chief Leader in Basic Training to Airman of the Year at Plattsburgh AFB in 1988.
With the right mentality and the right resources, franchise entrepreneurship is absolutely attainable for determined military veterans.
Be sure to do your research and align with a brand you are passionate about — whether that falls in a particular industry or is one that honors and celebrates the military community. When I found Schlotzsky’s, I saw great growth potential. Now, it’s immensely rewarding to see the brand’s commitment to supporting U.S. military members and their families through its Hometown Heart philanthropic platform and partnership with Blue Star Families.
Identify your goals, set a focused strategy and execute — soon, you’ll be well on your way to entrepreneurship.
Cary Albert and his wife Jacquelyn have been franchisees of Schlotzsky’s since 1994. With 26 locations in operation, the Alberts and their impressive team (now 500+ strong) believe the sky is the limit with this brand as they continue to grow their robust multi-brand franchise business portfolio.