Veterans Take on a New Mission: Franchise Ownership

By Small Business FOXBusiness

Lowell Hester (l) and his son, Scott (r), became franchise owners after leaving the military. They run Mr. Transmission repair shops in Georgia.

Lowell Hester (l) and his son, Scott (r), became franchise owners after leaving the military. They run Mr. Transmission repair shops in Georgia. (Photo credit: Lowell Hester)

Lowell Hester and his son, Scott, are both veterans of the U.S. military. Today, they are both franchise owners, and the Georgia businessmen say their military experience plays a key role in their success.

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The Hesters believe franchising is a great fit for veterans eyeing a new path as entrepreneurs. Franchises already have a system in place, training is provided and owners have the support of a larger team. An estimated 66,000 franchises in the U.S. are owned by veterans, equal to 14% of all franchises, according to the International Franchise Association.

The Moran Family of Brands, whose portfolio includes auto repair franchises Mr. Transmission, Milex and Alta Mere, has 13% veteran ownership. Lowell and Scott, who each own a Mr. Transmission shop, have received Moran’s Mr. Franchisee Award of Excellence every year for achieving outstanding customer service, satisfaction and loyalty. This year, Lowell was named the Mr. Transmission Franchisee of the Year for the second time.

Lowell, who served in the Air Force from 1966 to 1969, said the military gave him the “discipline and go-do-it attitude” that is necessary to succeed in business, especially as a franchise owner.

“When you own a franchise, you’ve got a team. You’re not out there on your own. Your first day as an owner, you don’t know if you’re going to win or lose. But you don’t have a ceiling. You can go as far as you want to go,” Lowell said.

Staff Sgt. Lowell Hester was a jet mechanic in the Air Force, serving as a crew chief and working on fighter aircraft like the F4 Phantom. So, an auto repair franchise seemed like a natural fit. Lowell left the real estate business in 1994 to take a job doing just about every task in the shop. After six months, he entered a training program for managers. Lowell became the owner of the Mr. Transmission store in Sandy Springs, Ga., in 1998.

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Like his father, Scott Hester, an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, has utilized his military training since leaving the service in 1996. He worked as an electronic technician for air-search radar systems on the USS Jack Williams, a guided missile frigate.

Once Scott returned home, Lowell suggested that his son work for him at Mr. Transmission. Scott’s expertise helped him navigate the complex electronic systems in modern cars. In 2000, Scott became the owner of the Mr. Transmission in Decatur, Ga.

“I didn’t want to work for somebody else. I wanted to have my own business, and my father was a big reason why,” Scott said. “When you own a franchise, you are your own boss. That’s something a lot of military veterans want to have. I’m very thankful for that.”

In the military, Scott learned to “have a plan and follow through with it,” he added. Establishing a chain of command helps his business run like a well-oiled machine. “I tell my guys, this is what we’re going to do. Like the military, everybody knows their roles.”

Practical experience gained in the military translates well to the auto repair business, said Pete Baldine, the president of Moran. He also noted that franchising offers an opportunity to become a business owner without having a background in accounting, marketing or sales. Moran and other franchise companies provide extensive training for prospective managers and owners, covering a variety of business topics and day-to-day operations. All first-year franchisees at Moran are also assigned experienced owners who act as mentors.

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As an added benefit for veterans, Moran is a member of the International Franchise Association’s VetFran program and offers a $5,000 discount on franchise fees.

“Our franchisees recognize that they’re joining a proven business system, and veterans have the right mentality and makeup to follow that business system,” Baldine said. “Along with that, there’s obviously a great deal of discipline and leadership ability that veterans have. Those characteristics are important to their success.”

And with the U.S. economy adding jobs at a sluggish pace, military personnel may find it difficult to get a good-paying job, Baldine added. Business ownership is a great alternative.

“They can be their own boss, use the skills they learned in the military and make their own way,” he said.

Scott found franchising to be an attractive post-military career, saying it has all the benefits of being the owner while Moran provides the basics. Of course, running a business comes with its challenges, too.

“When I took this place over, after a month I called my dad and apologized for everything I wanted to do differently. I realized why he did things the way he did,” he said.

Lowell also credits his dad, a gifted mechanic, for sparking his interest in cars.

“I would see his hands all dirty, and I told my dad, I’m going white collar,” Lowell said with a laugh, recalling his departure from real estate to take that first job at Mr. Transmission. “I’m the owner now, but I still get my hands dirty.”

His experience in the Air Force, especially the bonds formed with his fellow servicemen, is something Lowell holds onto to this day.

“I spent a year in Vietnam. The Air Force is a great branch, and those guys in the Army and the Marines are my heroes. I want to say thank you,” Lowell said.

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