Industry Wooing Military Vets, Firefighters


Franchisers offer veterans, public safety pros sweet deals

The 2008 recession and the wobbly economy it’s spawned have seemingly re-ignited interest in green industry franchise opportunities. Green industry franchisers, seeking to establish their brands in more markets, are now targeting military veterans and public servants, such as firefighters and lawn enforcement officers, as potential franchise owners.

Career firefighter Charles Baldwin and his son, C.J., plan a July grand re-opening for The Grounds Guys, Evans, Ga.

Franchisers such as Spring-Green Lawn Care, The Dwyer Group and the recently launched Lush Lawn are offering discounts to attract individuals from these groups to their operations. While it’s difficult to judge to what extent these groups of professionals will become green industry business owners, some have already taken the plunge. This is starting to look like an industry trend.

Jeff Anderson of Waukomis, Okla., was in the Army National Guard for eight years. He liked the fact that Spring-Green “is family-owned and the business model fit what I wanted.” He opened his franchise in 2007.

Anderson says that his military experience has proven valuable to him as a lawn care company owner by instilling the self-discipline and persistence necessary for his business to thrive.

“I was in the artillery and they had a saying: ‘shoot, scoot and move.’ Basically, it was all about preparation. That really fits well with this business. It’s all about preparation; so that whatever your product or service is, you have to be prepared to handle sales when they happen, be able to produce when you need to, and make the operation work.”

Research your options

Anderson advises other veterans considering lawn care businesses to “really search out what opportunities are out there. Really think about what you want to be doing or can be doing on a daily basis. Look at what you would enjoy.”

National Guardsman Jeff Anderson has run his franchise since 2007.

Anderson researched companies and made his decision. “Spring-Green is a great down-to-earth company to be associated with. They are very willing to help you out no matter what it takes to help you succeed in the business, and they are very fair.”

Jim Hoelsworth, a franchise owner from Cape May Courthouse, N.J., was in the Navy (submarine service) for 10 years where he specialized in electronics. Hoelsworth, who opened his business four and a half years ago, chose Spring-Green because he was looking for a franchise, which exemplified “high standards and quality services.”

He’s convinced his military experience sharpened the “organizational, goal orientations and personnel management” skills that have added to his success as a franchise owner.

Not one to waste time, his advice to veterans considering the business was simple: “Just do it.”

Hoelsworth abides by two great philosophical mottos in his job: “Get it done and KISS,” which is short for “Keep It Simple Stupid.”

Navy veteran James Hoelsworth believes in keeping it simple.

Spring-Green Lawn Care is noted for its role in promoting veteran-friendly programs. One of the top five lawn and tree care companies nationwide, Spring-Green employs hundreds of veterans and reservists and has multiple veteran-owned franchises. The company sports a rich military history – its chairman, Tom Hofer, is a Navy veteran.

According to Spring-Green, Hofer’s military background played an integral role in its participation in VetFran, a subsidy program that aids veterans in buying a franchise (offered through the International Franchise Association).

Through its alliance with VetFran, the company applies up to $5,000 of the initial franchise fee toward start-up expenses approved by the company and reinvests another $10,000 back into new owners’ second-year local marketing efforts. named Spring-Green Lawn Care as a “Most Valuable Employer for Military” finalist, and G.I. Jobs recognized it as a military-friendly franchise.

Firefighter to landscape pro

Charles Baldwin, 51, a career firefighter, became a franchise owner from a different route. He is the first public servant to take advantage of The Dwyer Group’s new Public Protectors Franchise Advantage (PPFA) Program. As such, he received an 18 percent discount on the fee to become part of The Grounds Guys national franchise network.

Baldwin is no newcomer to the landscape industry. He started his own landscape company, DesignScape Landscape Service in Evans, Ga., 12 years ago. For almost a decade DesignScape offered primarily design/build and installation services. In 2010, he shifted the company’s service focus heavily into landscape maintenance.

“I never had the systems in place to take my company to the next level,” admits Baldwin. “I had no idea how to create these systems. In fact, I didn’t know they existed.

“The green industry has gotten progressively competitive and, looking back, I realize I was leaving a lot of money on the table. You have to have systems to manage your money, your employees, and to provide quality service to your customers,” he adds.

Baldwin, who has planned a July grand re-opening for his new company, The Grounds Guys, Evans, Ga., is a lot more optimistic about his company’s success and growth, especially now that his son, C.J. Baldwin, a U.S. Air Force Reservist, is now part of his team.

It doesn’t hurt that his market, Columbia County with nearby Augusta, site of the annual Masters Golf Tournament, the second largest metropolitan area in the state and one of its most affluent.

He’s confident that his customers (both the ones he has and the ones he expects to get) will appreciate the service his uniformed technicians will be providing in the company’s daily-washed service vehicles.

To start the season, he bought three new John Deere Z-Trak mulch-on-demand mowers to handle the mostly zoysiagrass and bermudagrass lawns, and a new GMC three-quarter-ton, trailer and spray tank.

Baldwin expects to add a crew sometime during the season. “The biggest challenge will be to attract and keep the right employees. Employee retention will be very important,” he adds.

It was at the end of the first Gulf War when franchising visionary and The Dwyer Group founder, Don Dwyer, had an inspirational idea: empower military veterans to get into business for themselves, yet not by themselves. That vision grew into VetFran, a program designed to incentivize former veterans to become new franchise owners. Today, his daughter, Dina Dwyer-Owens, CEO and chairwoman of The Dwyer Group, has expanded that program to include more than 400 franchise brands across the country and is extending the vision again.

This time, however, she is pioneering a program designed to salute law enforcement officers and firefighters and to help community heroes get into business for themselves through franchise incentives.

Dwyer-Owens’ program, Public Protectors Franchise Advantage Program (PPFA), offers 20 percent off the minimum franchise fee for any current or former full-time law enforcement/fire person with a minimum of two years of full-time service.

“My dad would have been so proud to see how far VetFran has come,” Dwyer-Owens says, noting that she, along with the International Franchise Association and other franchisors, have helped 2,100 veterans get into business, including 236 by The Dwyer Group. “The Public Protectors Franchise Advantage Program is the next logical step to help more great people own their own business.”

Pamela Walton is an experienced reporter and editor that lives and works in Gainesboro, Tenn. Contact her at