Boost a Hero puts vets in business
Navy veteran purchases local Meineke franchise with a little help from his many online friends
Jun. 22, 2012
Business owner Tom Perez takes a phone call recently at his franchise-based Meineke automotive repair chain. Perez got the business started with the help of Crowd Funding. / Ben Twingley / firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Carlton Proctor
When Sprigster CEO Mark Mohler began looking for someone to launch his “Boost a Hero” program to help veterans start their own businesses, he got lucky.
Mohler found Pensacola’s Tom Perez, a decorated 10-year Navy veteran who had served four tours in Iraq, earned a business degree and was a family man with a wife and three young children. By his own account, Mohler said he could not have done better had he called a Hollywood casting agent; the 32-year-old Perez was the ideal candidate. Mohler’s Orlando company specializes using the Internetbased concept of “crowd funding” to help veterans raise capital in small donated increments by putting out the word online. “We’re very proud of Tom,” Mohler said. “He proves that crowd funding can be leveraged to help vets obtain capital to buy into established franchises.” By teaming with Sprigster, Perez was able to raise more than $10,000, which helped him purchase a Meineke automobile service center on Michigan Avenue in Pensacola Perez, whose last duty was in Pensacola, got out of the Navy in March and decided to remain here and start a business. “Most start up businesses fail, so I decided I would be better off buying into a franchise because they already have a business plan in place,” he said. “I wanted something with a successful, proven business model.”
An Ohio native, Perez approached four franchises, including Meineke, which was the first and only company to reply. “They got right back to me the same day I contacted them,” he said. Internet appeal worked Fortunately for Perez, Meineke, a division of North Carolina-based Driven Brands, Inc., had established a relationship with Sprigster, which deals exclusively with veterans. “Driven Brands is very interested in having veterans as franchise owners,” Mohler said. Meineke executives suggested Perez get in touch with Sprigster, and the Navy vet and Mohler began a crowd funding campaign that featured a video on Sprigster’s website. The video, which Perez produced himself, highlighted his military service and his family while making a pitch for financial help. It worked. “If you want people to donate, you’ve got to promote yourself and tell your story,” Perez said. “So I didn’t hold back. I told my story, and it’s a good story.” What followed was a steady stream of donations, ranging from $5 all the way up to $1,000 from a former Navy buddy. By pooling his savings, plus the $10,000 generated by Sprigster, less its 5 percent commission, Perez was able to convince Meineke to finance the balance of the franchise cost at very favorable rates.
After reaching an agreement with Meineke, things began to fall into place rapidly for Perez. He opened the Meineke service center in May and his new business has gotten off to a fast start. “I’ve hired five vets so far and I’m looking to hire two more,” he said. “The business is going really well, and we’re doing three times our original (income) projections.” Finding the right mechanics Ironically, Perez has no experience, in or out of the Navy, repairing automobiles. In fact, his last tour of duty was as a member of JSOC, or Joint Special Operations Command, undertaking classified missions in Iraq. As a result of his lack of automotive experience, Perez said he adopted a different strategy for making his repair shop successful. “Basically I stole the best mechanics I could find in Pensacola,” he said with a wry smile. “What I did was drive my vehicle around to the different repair shops and make sure there was one thing wrong with it that was hard to find. “And whichever mechanic found that one thing, I invited them over and offered them a job,” he added. One of those astute mechanics who impressed Perez is former Pennsylvania resident and U.S. Army veteran Joe Powers who moved to Pensacola last fall.
“I was one of the guys who found Tom’s leaky shock absorber,” Powers said. “I had a job here with an auto repair shop, and we were busy, but the problem is I was limited. They wouldn’t allow me to do what I am capable of doing. “There’s nothing I can’t do as far as repairing automobiles,” he said, adding, “I really like working here with Tom. We stay busy. I’m averaging 10 cars a day.” As Perez enters his second month in business, he said he is pleased with its growth. “After I bought the business I’ve had three people who’ve approached me wanting to buy in, and I am thinking about it,” he said. “If I do sell part of the business it would be to another veteran, and they would a working partner. “I got a really good deal, so if I can help another vet out, that would be good thing for me and for him.