Originally Published: November 8, 2015 12:31 a.m.
Take a disabled veteran with the right drive, motivation and a couple hundred grand to invest and you might get someone like Larry Curell.
Curell is a small business owner and franchisor based in Prescott. He started constructing a print advertising company in 2001 and began franchising that business in June of this year. He personally has customers in 21 countries on four continents and expects to have nine franchises up and running by the end of 2015.
"We're growing fast; really fast," Curell said.
Here's how he did it.
Curell returned home from service with the U.S. Army in 1997. His arm was 40 percent paralyzed and he had some hearing loss. Such injuries were enough to qualify him with a disability rating from the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and impeded him from getting certain types of jobs.
"I couldn't be a police officer, which is what I originally wanted to be, because they have a concern that you can't pull the trigger when you're partially paralyzed," Curell said.
He already had training and experience in electronics from his time in the military, so he began working for technical companies before starting what became a 14-year career at Century Link in 1999.
While he was working at the phone company, he decided to start building a print advertisement company from his home during his spare time.
When he realized he was making just as much money doing his print advertising as he was at Century Link, he decided to go full-time with building his own business in 2013.
"It's hard after 14 years with a company to just leave," Curell said. "But then again, I saw my peers working 35 to 40 years and still not having anything; so I thought, 'Am I going to let somebody else control my future or am going to do it myself'? I chose to do it myself."
He'd known of a federal initiative (PL 106-50) first signed into law in 1999 requiring that 3 percent of all federal dollars be spent with Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses (SDVOSB), so he started thinking how he could use such an opportunity to his advantage.
He started working with SCORE here in Prescott. They helped him fine-tune his business plan, which he brought to the VA saying he was a disabled veteran who just lost his job and wanted to open his own business.
The VA said he qualified for their vocational rehabilitation program, so he took them up on it. They paid for him to go back to school and helped him buy equipment (such as a commercial printer) to get started.
"Overall, the VA invested just shy of $40,000 in me," Curell said.
Two of the requirements of the program were that he'd have to be able to hire veterans in the future and he'd have to be able to do government work. Neither has been an issue. In fact, they've been an advantage.
Since he is a disabled vet, the company is federally-certified and can capitalize on the 3 percent goal federal agencies are required to meet through PL 106-50.
Therefore, he easily procures contracts from the Navy, the Army, Homeland Security, VA hospitals and the like.
"It's an odd monkey working with the government, but it's not uncommon for us," Curell said. "We just wrapped 10 vehicles for the VA hospital in Portland, Oregon, and we're just finishing shipping banner stands to 63 locations worldwide, all army bases. So it doesn't matter to us what they want. If it fits our equipment and what we can do, we do it."
Additionally, a lot of companies that are either veteran-owned as well or specifically prefer hiring veteran-owned companies quickly turn to Curell for their printing needs.
"AT&T is one of our big customers," Curell said.
AT&T is one of the largest contractors in the U.S. with veteran-owned businesses, according to the National Veteran Business Development Council. Specifically, the company is aiming to spend 1.5 percent of its dollars with Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises (DVBE) as part of its diversity goal.
The franchising that he does now was somewhat of an afterthought to getting his business going. It was also a complicated matter considering he wanted to be a federally-certified franchisor.
"Franchising is a highly regulated industry," Curell said.
So he threw $80,000 at a large CPA company in California and said "make it happen."
They told him it was feasible and began plugging through the legal work to get him federally approved. However, they had never worked to get (or even known of) a disabled veteran approved to be a franchisor before.
"It was supposed to take 6 months, but it took 15 months before I finally got all of my FTC (Federal Trade Commission) approvals to start selling franchises because there are no laws pertaining to what we do," Curell said.
Much of his success is justly credited to the tremendous support the country has begun to show and construct in recent years.
"It's a lot different than the Vietnam era," Curell said. "When you look at all of the pieces of the puzzle, the government really supports vets, the public really supports vets big time and more and more companies are supporting vets."
It was that help along the way and the support he continues to receive on all fronts that has encouraged him to hire and help other vets make their ambitions become a reality.
"People helped me along the way, so let me help other vets," Curell said. "So whether that's bringing them in for a part-time job or saying 'Hey, do you want to own your own business? You can make as much or as little as you want. You can be a millionaire or go bust.' It depends on them. But we'll give them that training, because the government, your tax dollars, paid for me to go back through school and start what I have today."
Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein. Reach him at 928-445-3333, ext. 1105, or 928-642-7864.