U.S. veterans are a proud part of American heritage and an ongoing source of wisdom, leadership, and business acumen. It should come as no surprise that they make up a significant portion of our best and brightest business founders. While many vets are heading up small business and startups, some of our best-known brands were started by those who once served in our armed forces. Their impact is significant, owning more than 2.4 million – or 9% — of U.S. businesses and paying over $210 million in wages to over 5.8 million workers.
Have you heard of these companies? Of course! Some of the most notable businesses ever were started by vets. Some of the best up-and-coming, small companies are run by them, too. Check out this list of notable, veteran-owned companies that you may purchase from regularly in the course of your day.
1. Black Rifle Coffee
With some snarky marketing methods and a bold, black brew blend that’s become popular among home brewers and coffee shops nationwide, Black Rifle Coffee is a veteran success story that’s newer than most. Green Beret veteran Evan Hafer started the company with just $1,800 in personal seed money and took the business from $1.37 million sales the first year to an impressive $30 million just four years later!
While his results aren’t typical, they do show what hard work and some marketing know-how can do for a small startup. Hafer’s partnership with other veterans who help sell the coffee, create and market apparel and gear, and promote the message of unashamed pride in the military way of life has led to a loyal fan base and a fair bit of controversy (which has only led to more buzz and bigger sales numbers.)
2. Sports Clips
Proving that not everyone wants (or deserves) the same, old hair cutting experience, Sports Clips founder Gordon Logan took his experience as an Aircraft Commander in the U.S. Air Force and his years of financial planning with Price Waterhouse & Co., to start the perfectly profitable salon franchise for boys and men. The graduate of MIT and Wharton School of Business had salon experience but knew that something was missing for guys in the grooming services category.
With a heart for community, and a focus on serving other vets, Logan and his wife have used the growth of 1,600 stores to support initiatives such as VFW Foundation “Help A Hero” fundraiser American Red Cross Blood Services, Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the Aleethia Foundation, Honor Flight Austin, and many more.
Food shopping, preparation, and enjoyment have changed so much over the last decade, and much of that has been due to startups like Plated making it easier to get quality ingredients without ever leaving the house. This innovative gourmet service was founded by Nick Taranto, a veteran of the US Marine Corps, and Josh Hix, who were rejected by Shark Tank and other startup competitions before finally making their mark in 2012. While the company has since sold to Albertson’s for an enormous sum, Taranto credits his military experience as training him for the grueling days that entrepreneurs face.
4. Bottle Breacher
A Shark Tank success story, the Bottle Breacher company was started by husband-wife duo Eli and Jen Crane. Eli was a former Navy SEAL, which inspired much of the heart behind the products they sell, which include personalized bottle openers made from recycled, authentic decommissioned .50 caliber ammunition. A hit at weddings, parties, and anywhere that custom gifts in large orders are needed, the Bottle Breacher line has expanded, thanks to the support of Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary, their enduring hard work, and their largely veteran employee base.
5. Sperry Shoes
The world’s most comfortable (and stylish) boat shoe was the brainchild of a sailor in the Navy Reserve. While Paul A. Sperry only served a year, his influence on the branch was lasting, when he founded Sperry in 1935 and made the non-slip boating shoe that everyone still loves. The Sperry Top-Sider was a staple for Navy members during the 2nd World War, and it’s a favorite among even teenagers today.
People have had their choice in nutritional energy bars for years, but what about dogs? The need for a portable, balanced, and high-calorie dog treat inspired TurboPup founder Kristina Guerrero to come up with one of her own, so that her pup could accompany her on hikes and not go hungry. The former U.S. Air Force Lieutenant served in active combat missions and even became a qualified occupational therapist before starting her business. She kept her small business going well on her own and even earned the designation as the official dog-food for the National Association of Search and Rescue. She then reached out to Shark Tank judges and landed a deal with Daymond John who helped propel her product line to sellers like Chewy.com, where you can find a wide assortment of her products today.
These are just a handful of the more recent and notable businesses dominating their industries with the ingenuity and dedication of veteran owners. There is a long history of these companies doing well, including big names such as Walmart, FedEx, GoDaddy, Amway, Re/MAX, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and even Nike. With veterans having experienced something that the rest of us can’t always understand, they have a unique position in the marketplace and have consistently come out ahead. It will be exciting to see what other winners emerge from the small business world with a military background.
Do you want to support more veteran-owned businesses or learn how vets from all walks of life have used their savvy and dedication to launch companies in industries near you? Consider using the BuyVeteran.com website to search for businesses in your area, by service type and specialty! You will find even the smallest, local businesses – from dry cleaners to restaurants – have a history in serving our country before going on to serve their communities with high-quality goods and services.