Maid Brigade's new program helps veterans clean up

One of the most oft-cited benefits to military service is that it gives members training and skills that they can use in private life. But few companies seem eager to help veterans convert these disciplines to civilian employment. In fact, a stint in the military is often not a career salvation but a job killer.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about Leon Batie, an Army reservist and Subway restaurant franchise owner who lost his shops while serving in Afghanistan.

Although many deserve some blame for the loss of Batie's business and his credit rating -- including his brother and his business partner -- the fact that one Subway executive pocketed $100,000 from the sale was more than a little disturbing.

So I was reassured by the story of Maid Brigade's Veterans Franchise Giveaway program. Between now and November 11, the Atlanta-based cleaning company is waiving its $14,500 franchise fee for qualified veterans seeking to open their own business. At the same time, it's running a contest for new veterans looking to go into business; the grand prize is a full franchise, valued at $45,000. Second and third prizes are similar packages, worth $27,500 and $17,000.

Don Hay, Maid Brigade's president, explained why the chain is so eager to recruit former soldiers: "We've had good experiences with veterans. They have good training, and know how to follow a system. Also, many are used to managing personnel."

Beyond this, the company uses a quasi-military system to maximize the effectiveness of its employees. As Hay noted, Maid Brigade is top-ranked in support training, and much of its organization -- from the way it divides geographical regions to the awards it gives its employees -- is based on a military model.

One Top Gun/Blue Angel award-winning franchise owner, Bob LoFranco, noted that his Marine training made the transition to Maid Brigade easy: "Everything was structured. Coming from the military, I was able to relate to that. The company wants you to succeed and stands behind everything. They are there for you."

LoFranco, who served in Beirut in the 1980s, worked for various defense contractors and financial institutions after leaving the military. After repeated layoffs and job re-trainings, he decided to go into business for himself. In the four-and-a-half years since he started his Maid Brigade franchise, he has had steady growth, including a 45% revenue increase over the last year.

As Hay noted, even with support from the corporate office, it's a tough time to start a new business. Major banks aren't lending money to new business owners, making it difficult to raise the money to cover start-up costs. Maid Brigade is working with prospective owners to find lenders and often calls on community banks for support.

Still, with franchise fees waived and a business that seems relatively recession-resistant, it looks like Maid Brigade may be a solid option for many veterans.
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