• Pizza Outlet among franchises helping vets launch businesses

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The franchise industry is reviving a program to help retired military personnel start their own small business.

According to the Washington Times, the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative program, or VetFran, allows service personnel to pay 10 percent or less of the initial franchise investment fee, which generally ranges from $45,000 to $150,000 for a small business start-up.

Don DeBolt, president of the International Franchising Association, said that participating franchisors pay the difference.

VetFran has 60 franchise companies operating on an initial investment of $150,000 or less. (The Small Business Adminstration also participates in VetFran, and can help with a wide range of loans from $25,000 to $2 million.) Among those companies is Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Pizza Outlet, a 105-store delivery-carryout chain.

VetFran originated during the Gulf war to ease the costs for veterans interested in starting businesses through franchising. More than 100 franchisor participants joined, but it was dropped when interest in it waned during the mid-90s economic boom. An increase in small business franchise owners combined with heightened military action in the past year prompted the renewal of the program.

"You always see franchising become more popular during a recession, when people want to be the masters of their own destiny," DeBolt said. "People often suffer a cutback or a layoff before they consider becoming their own boss, and that generally happens during a recession."

Expetec Technology Services, a technology supplier headquartered in Garden Grove, Calif., was the first to sign on the program. Jennifer Roberts, vice president of sales for Expetec, said the company's founders are Army National Guard veterans and were eager to help other vets make the transition to civilian life and business.

"We started franchising in 1996, and by then, the program wasn't really available," said Roberts, who noted that one-third of Expetec's corporate staff is active or retired military. "So when IFA brought it up again, the company immediately jumped at the idea."

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