News: Behind every small business owner is a story worth hearing
Story by Aquita Brown
VIRGINIA - Starting a small business or franchise is not an easy task. Marine veteran Cpl. Kevin Blanchard can attest to that. He spends his time assisting veterans and other wounded, ill and injured service members with understanding the steps to being a successful franchisee.
Blanchard joined the Marine Corps in 2001 as a combat engineer. Shortly after joining, he was injured in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.
“I was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device) in 2005,” said Blanchard. “I lost my leg below the knee and had about 30 surgeries on my other leg because of the damage.”
Like many other transitioning Marines, Blanchard needed time and assistance identifying what he was going to do for the long term.
“I tried a lot of things out. I gained as much experience in many different things so I could figure out what I wanted to do.”
Blanchard continued to gain experience through various individuals and organizations including the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment. The Regiment’s transition cell was able to provide Blanchard with resources for education, vocational training, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities.
“The Regiment prepares wounded, ill and injured Marines for opening their own business by setting them up with such resources as financial planning guidance, Entrepreneur Boot Camps, connecting them with a mentor, arranging shadow opportunities and more,” said Maj. Brian Bilski the transition cell officer in charge. “The goal is to ensure that Marines are confident about transitioning out of the service and into his or her own successful franchise or independent start up.”
After Blanchard’s end of active service date in 2006, he decided that he wanted to be a co-owner of a green roofing company. However, he quickly learned that his heart was in supporting his fellow Marines and other service members in understanding the pitfalls and successes of starting a business. He eventually found a job as a project coordinator at International Franchise Association, working on a program called VetFran.
“I went to a public affairs conference and I met many people there. I kept in touch with one of the guys who emailed me an opportunity. I interviewed for that position and two weeks later was hired,” said Blanchard.
The VetFran program provides discounts to veterans who want to go into a franchise. Resources that Blanchard and his team provide range from franchising 101 online course, skills and attributes assessment, finance assessment, and partner links and access to the VetFran mentor network. In addition to the VetFran program, he also helps coordinate trade missions for member companies across the globe.
The purpose of these programs is to build confidence and financial stability.
“You have to trust in yourself. It is not always easy to start a business venture yourself. Have confidence in your abilities and be fearless because you are taking a shot in the dark.”
Blanchard is currently finishing his Master’s in Management. His future goal is to “be a multi-unit franchisee, possibly in the fitness industry, and [continue to] help other veterans get into small business ownership.”
His advice to other wounded, ill or injured Marines looking to start their own business or franchise is to, “stay focused, identify a long-term vision as clearly as possible, and communicate that vision frequently to your team. They should also remember that businesses need to grow, and in order to grow a business you need a clear vision, financial stability and to work "on" their business, and not always "in" their business. This means constant sales and marketing, improving operational procedures and innovation. Think about it this way, if the goal is increased profit, then everything you do should directly increase profitability, if it doesn't, then you should reevaluate.”
Established in 2007, the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment was created to provide and enable assistance to combat and non-combat wounded, ill, and injured Marines, and sailors attached to or in direct support of Marine units and their family members in order to assist them as they return to duty or transition to civilian life. The Regimental Headquarters, located in Quantico, Va., oversees the operations of two Wounded Warrior Battalions located at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., as well as multiple detachments in locations around the globe.
For more information about the Wounded Warrior Regiment, please visit www.woundedwarriorregiment.org, http://facebook.com/wwr.usmc, or call the Sgt. Merlin German Wounded Warrior Call Center 24/7 at 877-487-6299.