A custom window-covering franchise, Home Franchise Concepts brand, announced the launch of its “Troops in Transition” program, which provides veterans who have left active duty within the past two years an opportunity to own a franchise with no initial entry fee.

Veterans selected to participate in the program begin a six-month trial period as a franchisee, where they are required to meet milestones set by the Budget Blinds corporate team. Upon meeting these goals, veterans will be signed as Budget Blinds franchise owner, a news release said.

“We launched the Troops in Transition program as a way to further support our country’s heroes in achieving the American dream of independent business ownership,” said Chad Hallock, CEO and co-founder of Budget Blinds. “Post 9/11 veterans have the highest unemployment rate among all veterans, and this program is our way of giving a little something back to them as they’ve selflessly given so much to us. ”

Walt Byars, 40, originally from the Carolinas, enlisted in the Navy more than 23 years ago and has served aboard the USS Philippine Sea, which completed multiple deployments as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the USS Halyburton and USS Taylor.

While in the Navy, Byars earned his undergraduate degree in computer science and a master’s degree in business administration from Southeastern Louisiana University.

His wife, Melissa, and her family, are from Livingston Parish.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to own my own business,” said Byars. “We looked and looked, trying to find the right fit for us, the right franchise business. I actually sent a request for information to them, and that’s when they contacted me, telling me about Troops in Transition.”

Byars was the first veteran accepted into the program, and since completing his training, three other veterans have signed on.

By alleviating the Byars of the $75,000 start-up fee, they launched the in-home consultation and blinds installment business last week.

“We’ve got something like 29 zip codes in our service area, including Baker, Clinton, Jackson, Pride, Slaughter, St. Francisville, Zachary, the Pointe Coupee area and beyond,” said Byars. “For now, we’re just trying to get the word out that we’re here and open for business.”

To reach their goal of becoming franchise owners, the Byars will work with a mentor, another veteran who is also a franchise owner, to achieve several financial milestones. If all goals are achieved, they’ll become official business owners.

One of the milestones is $100,000 in gross sales, but Byars said his personal goal is $125,000 in sales, “just because.”

“Honestly, I’m a little nervous. I mean, it seems too good to be true. They’re giving me a business and the money to operate it,” said Byars. “I want to succeed and be the first veteran to do so in this program. It’s such a great opportunity, and we’re very grateful.”

Since Zachary is in the heart of their service area, the Byars are looking to relocate from Denham Springs.

“We love it here. We have a 12-year-old daughter and have fallen in love with Zachary, so I think we’re going to move. It seems like such a close-knit community, and that’s what we want,” said Byars.

Knowing meeting the financial milestones will be a lot of work, Byars says he’s ready for the challenge.

“This business is a lot of referrals and repeat customers, and for now, that’s we’re focusing on. Then we’ll get involved in the community and find ways to give back,” he said.

“We’ve worked closely with numerous veteran organizations to refine the details and logistics of this program prior to its launch, and we look forward to its success and the success of our veteran business owners,” said Todd Jackson, COO of Home Franchise Concepts, parent company of Budget Blinds.