Tali Burton: I wasn’t sure what I would do after the Marines. Opening franchises set me up for success. - Open for Opportunity

This op-ed originally appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune on March 9, 2022. Read the full piece.

Burton is a Marine veteran and local franchise business owner in San Diego. He lives in Carlsbad.

When I left the Marines after serving as a helicopter pilot, I wasn’t accustomed to working alone. Throughout my time at Annapolis, Maryland, during two deployments and while training new pilots, I was used to collaborating with a team of highly driven service members all working toward a common goal. Like the millions of veterans who have come before me, the transition from active duty to civilian life was not an easy one. I am continuously thankful to my family for pushing and supporting me.

When I thought about what I wanted my post-military career to look like, I wanted to do something that honored the legacy of service. I was not ready to stop giving back to my community and to my country. I found the opportunity to continue that work through the franchise business model. And today, I own and operate 12 local Dunkin’ franchises in San Diego, with two on the military bases on which I proudly served. Dunkin’ is a taste of home for many on base — I know it was for me.

The responsibility of owning a local franchise business is not one I take lightly — and it takes a lot of work and determination. For so many — especially veterans — the barriers to business ownership can be burdensome, from a lack of access to adequate capital to an absence of critical support systems to a lack of business ownership experience. But the franchising system has provided me, and other veterans, the confidence, the resources and the support systems essential to becoming a successful entrepreneur.

My life experiences from a career in the military influence the way I conduct business every day. Each one of my Dunkin’ stores is dedicated to a fallen service member from the local community. A plaque with that service member’s name hangs on the wall, where patrons and staff see it every day. When we dedicate the plaque, we make a one-time donation to the family’s charity of choice. We continue to remember and honor the service member’s sacrifice by giving 10 percent of the store’s sales to the same charity on that person’s birthday each year.

As a franchise owner, I also find that veterans and spouses of active-duty military make some of the best employees, and I will go out of my way to hire individuals who have served. The skills that you learn and sharpen in the military — leadership, discipline, teamwork, integrity — are the qualities that make employees successful enough to eventually operate a business of their own.

In franchising, you find thousands of local business owners who started out as line cooks, cashiers or assistant managers. In many ways, there is no better entrepreneurial workforce training program than the franchise business model.

However, misconceptions about the franchise model remain pervasive in the public view. Although I own a number of quick service restaurants, data shows that restaurants like mine make up only a small fraction of the franchise ecosystem.

Far more prominent than quick service restaurants like mine are local retail stores, your favorite amusement parks, the home repair services you use, the spas where you relax, senior care facilities and fitness clubs, among many others. These local businesses serve customers here in San Diego every day. And they’re not owned by corporate entities in a distant land. They are owned and operated by people like me: veterans, parents and neighbors committed to serving the communities we live in and love.

Personally, franchising has always been about more than me. The franchise business model empowered me to continue giving back to the San Diego community — where you can find me at your favorite Dunkin’ or at my kids’ soccer and lacrosse games. Like other local businesses, my stores provide stable employment, good pay and benefits, upward mobility and opportunity for the people I employ — veterans or otherwise — from all walks of life.

Ultimately, franchising represents more than just earning a living, supporting your family or supporting other families. Franchising gave me the opportunity to continue living out my commitment to service by giving back to the people around me in substantial and meaningful ways.

My businesses enable me to lift up those who have given their lives to protect our freedom and our way of life. Thanks to franchising, I will continue honoring their legacies.