A year ago today I was driving back from a Veterans unemployment conference in Detroit. The VA sponsored the conference because Veteran unemployment was still double the national average, with disabled Veteran unemployment off the charts. After several days of speeches, seminars, political photo ops, and glad-handing, all the good intentions in the world hadn’t come up with anything like a solution.
Traffic was backed up, so I spent a lot of time staring out at the billboards as they inched past. “Shop for the Veterans.” “Twist a cap for Veterans.” “Grill sausage to welcome home the Veterans.” and dozens of others imploring others to do something (namely, buy their product) in the name of Veterans.
The disconnect was offensive.
Never had the “Veteran brand” been more popular; American big businesses recognized it, and were cashing in on it. Trouble is, they’re making money on the backs of Veterans, even as Veterans are breaking their backs simply trying to find employment.
Some advertisers were making token contribution to Veterans causes (a small fraction of the cost of the advertising campaigns proclaiming their support), while other advertisers made no attempt to support Veterans. All were using our brand to entice consumers to feel better about their brand.
I felt we needed to take back the Veteran brand, and make it the property of those who earned it. With a background as a senior executive in the alcohol industry, I conceived of a beverage company intended to be like no other. Veteran owned, and 100% staffed. From brewers to truck drivers, executives staff to sales force. The products would reflect our service and the company as a whole would be akin to the military–unit above self, and mission over all.
A year later, we’re on the verge. Our products are in final development and in their last stages of market screening. The feedback has been overwhelming. Distributors have lined up asking to carry our products because they believe in what we’re trying to achieve. Still, there’s a lot to do before we go to market, and these next 128 days (but who’s counting?) are going to be hectic. I’ll be posting regularly with updates.