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From Selling Cars to Pizzas: A Vet's Success Story

John Brenneman

Marine Corps veteran John Brenneman spent 14 years on active duty and six in the reserves before he retired and became a cars salesman. He currently owns five Hungry Howie's Pizza restaurants. We asked 1st Sgt. Brenneman about his transition experiences and the path that led him to career success.

Can you tell us about your military background and experience?

I entered the Marine Corps in June 1982, and after bootcamp, I attended Administrations School at Camp Johnson, Camp Lejeune, NC and was then assigned as a Personnel Clerk at Marine Barracks, Naval Weapons Station, Yorktown, VA. After 3 years and reaching the rank of Sergeant and I was assigned as a Drill Instructor at A Company, 1st Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC. Eventually I was promoted to First Sergeant and accepted orders to 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines in Brookpark, OH as the Company First Sergeant where I completed my 20 years in the Marine Corps (14 active duty years and 6 reserve years).

As a veteran, what were some of the challenges you faced when you were making the initial transition to a civilian career?

The biggest challenge was deciding what I wanted to do next and the lack of structure and challenge during my daily life.

To some, it might seem like a huge jump from selling cars to owning Hungry Howie's pizza restaurants. What was it about Hungry Howie's that attracted you, and what led you to decide to make the change?

I wanted to get into business for myself and Hungry Howie's Pizza is a great product that is unique (the flavored crusts) compared to other pizza franchises. Their system is great and the people at corporate are wonderful people who help their franchisees succeed. I had never worked in the food business before and I missed the challenge of doing something different.

What were the biggest challenges for you as you opened your first restaurant? Were there skills you needed to pick up that you didn't have previously?

My wonderful wife Karen, who is a CPA, thought I was crazy for wanting to do this, but after she evaluated the numbers and went through the interviewing process at Hungry Howie's corporate (us them and them us), she realized that this is a great opportunity, but she made things straight by telling me, "John, I already have a full time job and I don't need another one. I will teach you what you have to know, and then you are on your own!" So she taught me how to do general bookkeeping and payroll and other accounting work, so when she did my quarterly and year-end taxes, things would be organized. Accounting services are now available at an affordable price through a recommended firm for franchisees who have no accounting experience. I rarely make meals at home and I never made pizza before, but Hungry Howie's four-week training program was outstanding and taught me what I needed to know and how to train my employees. The biggest challenge was coming up with the financing but with a good business plan and great local lender, it all came together.

What skills and experiences you had in the military would you say have been helpful in your current career?

Everything that I learned as a Marine has been helpful: communication skills, leadership, overcoming and accepting challenges, and just having fun.

Do you have a few tips to give transitioning veterans who might be interested in getting into franchising? Any thoughts on the pros and cons of your job?

Seek advice and services from a good accountant and lawyer – it is worth the money. If you want to do it, you can do it. You have the confidence and the abilities that are now instilled in you from the experiences that you have had working for and with the best leaders in the world. Being a franchise owner is like everything else – what you put into it is what you will get out of it!

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