How This Army Vet Went from Bankruptcy to Successful Entrepreneur

Army veteran Jerry Flanagan, CEO and Founder of JDog Junk Removal and Hauling

In 2010, Army veteran Jerry Flanagan was bankrupt and out of luck.

His company, a chain of kids’ birthday party stores, was hit hard by the recession.

"[My wife and I] went from having a successful retail business, to the economy crashing, to having to file bankruptcy in 2010," Flanagan, 50, said in an interview with CNBC. "We literally hit rock bottom."

Grit Makes the Difference

Bankrupt but with a heaping helping of Army grit, Flanagan vowed to find a business model that was immune from recessions. He stumbled on junk removal and hauling, scrimped and saved to purchase a jeep, and used his military nickname, JDog, as the name for his company. Flanagan got his nickname, in part, from his military occupational specialty as a cable runner, otherwise known as “wire dog.”

Flanagan’s nickname wasn’t the only carryover from his military days. He also brought the values that he learned from his Army service. He quickly gained a reputation for showing up on time, treating everyone with respect, keeping a clean-cut appearance, and being a trustworthy neighbor.

“Customers not only value these attributes, but they also look for ways to support veterans,” Flanagan says. “It became obvious early on that being a veteran boosted my credibility and increased my referrals.”

JDog started out as a two-person operation—Flanagan hauled junk and his wife, Tracy, managed the back office. Within a year, he had more business than one person could handle. He began hiring local veterans who embodied the brand’s values of respect, integrity and trust.

Today, JDog Junk Removal is an American-owned, veteran-operated national junk removal franchise system that empowers veterans through entrepreneurship. In seven years, it has grown from that local, two-person operation to cover over 500 territories and 130 locations.

JDog’s Franchisees Howl Their Praises

Army veteran Andrew Weins and his brother Isaac are JDog franchise owners in Milwaukee. “We wanted to be part of something bigger than just ourselves,” Andrew says. “This allows us to hire more veterans locally. We’ve been able to hire fellow veterans from the Milwaukee area, giving them opportunities that they may not have otherwise had.”

The brothers enjoy having fellow military veterans on our team because they understand the military values – respect, integrity and trust -- that Jerry has infused into the DNA of his brand. And with 130 active locations in 35 states, more than 1,000 veterans and veteran family members and overwhelmingly positive online reviews, it’s clear customers are benefitting from these military values as well.

JDog’s Transition from Doghouse to CEO

Flanagan’s military transition was a rocky one. After he left, he struggled to find his purpose; working stints as a dishwasher, a bouncer, and gas station attendant. It’s a cautionary tale for transitioning service members and one that Flanagan wants to help eliminate.

“I’d tell veterans who are starting their own company to look and ask for help. Knowing how to work hard is only one half of the equation,” Flanagan says. “I tried to do everything by myself for the first three years, including carrying every single piece of junk, like old pianos and couches. You’ll be better served if you put a team in place with strengths that complement your own.”

Flanagan also says that he initially didn’t figure out how his military occupational specialty (MOS) would translate to the civilian world, which led to numerous failures when he tried to get a job right out of the military. While hard work and tenacity got him through, he recommends veterans to seek help, and seek it often, throughout their transition.

JDog’s Top 5 Transition Tips for Veterans

  1. Be with other veterans as you transition out of the military. Find where your buddies are, see if there are job opportunities, and work alongside them.

  2. Research every veteran-owned business in the country and find one that fits what you want to do. Veterans look at you differently than civilian employers do and they understand your challenges, so they’re your biggest resources.

  3. Follow the same routine you did in the military, including your physical training. If you continue to work as hard as you did in the service, you’ll do well.

  4. Try to leverage your soft skills as much as possible. Sometimes it’s not easy to translate your military job or MOS to the civilian world, so finding ways to demonstrate your other skills is imperative to opening up career opportunities.

  5. If you’re going to leverage your veteran status and start a business (which I recommend), focus on these three things: People — Believe in your customers and the people you work with. Passion — To get up every day and do the same thing over and over again, you have to love what you do. Purpose — Find what makes you tick.

What’s Next for JDog?

Flanagan plans on additional businesses under the JDog brand and wants to create as many opportunities for veterans as possible. His vision is to empower veterans through entrepreneurship, and by creating business ownership and career opportunities for veterans and veteran family members. “One thing people should know is I’m always happy to have a conversation,” Flanagan says. “Anyone can contact me directly via email, phone, or LinkedIn for open advice at any time.”

Follow the link to learn how to start your own JDog junk removal and hauling franchise.

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