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Military Veterans Who Became Great Franchisees: Ethan Gouge, SpeedPro

Gouge was able to leverage his leadership skills, discipline and strategic thinking acquired in the military to become a successful franchise owner.

Veteran Franchisee: Ethan Gouge

Franchise: SpeedPro

1851 Franchise talked with Marine Corps veteran Ethan Gouge, owner of SpeedPro Commercial Graphics in Blountville, Tennessee, about his journey in franchising, his accomplishments in the industry and the advice he has for other veterans interested in venturing into franchising.

“In the military, you do a lot of difficult things that are uncomfortable, and that stretches you personally,” said Gouge. “What I've found is, as you've done those hard things, and you've overcome those and completed those, that stretches your capacity to do more difficult things.”

The transcript below has been edited for clarity, style and brevity.

1851 Franchise: So to get started, can you just share a little bit about your background and talk about your journey from military to entrepreneurship?

Ethan Gouge: Sure. In the military, I was a Marine Corps aviation logistics officer, and that was great. I learned a ton of good things — did that for six years — but found myself in a role that really felt like a middle manager where I was just moving a lot of information and managing people, and yeah, just wanted to try something else. I've got an independent streak in me, and so wanted to kind of get out there and spread my wings, so to speak. So I got out and did a couple of startups — kind of some zero-to-one things — and just found out how hard that was. I did some teaching along the way at a local public school — really enjoyed that — and then joined a local company that had recently been acquired by a private equity group. That gave me the vision for what a little bit larger company could do, or what one of my startups could turn into if it had continued.

At that point, I started looking for a viable, good small business to buy, and the one that I found was actually a franchise resale from a retiring couple that were ready to pass it on. It was a great business. Got the deal done, and here I am.

1851 Franchise: How did your time in the military prepare you for success in franchising?

Gouge: It prepared me very well in some places. I would say probably the most important one was small team leadership. Just being able to work with people in a small team, build that team, build those folks underneath you to get a job done together — that's been really important in the franchise. Maybe some more nuanced things — I think the Marine Corps really drives home just getting things done, like mission accomplishment, so just developing that capacity to just do the work and do what it takes to get it done. 

In the military, you do a lot of difficult things that are uncomfortable, and that stretches you personally; what I've found is, as you've done those hard things and you've overcome those and completed those, that just kind of stretches your capacity to do more difficult things. And certainly, running a small business franchise is a very difficult thing, so it's given me the resilience to stick it out and to persevere through it.

1851 Franchise: What's your favorite thing about SpeedPro?

Gouge: Well, I'm a businessman, and it's just given me a great platform to add value in our local marketplace in so many different ways. And at the end of the day, that just gives me a great opportunity to turn capital into more cash, just really generate cash. It's a creative business, and that's a lot of fun. 

As a business-to-business company, I get to work with local businesses, which is another thing that I enjoy. Some things I've done before were more direct-to-consumer, but working with the business community and getting to see your work out there and deliver a product that helps them and, of course, helps us too.

1851 Franchise: Looking at your franchise journey so far, what are you most proud of?

Gouge: I'm just a little over a year in the franchise-specific journey, as opposed to the entrepreneur journey in general, but I think I'm most proud of just being able to take a business that had kind of been centered around the previous owners and transition it into a business that is just a little more independent from the owners. I'm still certainly involved on a day-to-day basis, but I feel like if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, the business wouldn't fold. We've got a great team, and so we've kind of taken what those founders started and we've put it on a positive growth trajectory. Transitions are hard, so even just getting the business transitioned, I feel like it's something to be proud of.

1851 Franchise: What advice would you give other veterans considering transitioning to franchising?

Gouge: I would say if it's something that you want to do, jump in. Don't be paralyzed by analysis waiting for something to be perfect. You'll learn through the journey, so just start the journey would be my biggest advice. 

Second thing I would say, don't do what I did, which is think you know everything coming out of the military and not covering your, your weak spots and your blind spots. So that's why I would be a big advocate for starting into franchising. That's something I think would have really helped me just to kind of get my feet wet in business. I lost a lot of money and made a lot of mistakes early on trying to do everything myself and, and I learned through those mistakes, but I think franchising would have been a better way to do that where I had some support and had some help along the way to cover those blind spots.

Watch the interview above or on YouTube.

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