Local military veterans are working on their own

Find success by opening businesses

Vincent Romandine always wanted to work on his own.

The corporal in the Marine Corps Reserves said he wanted to try to start his own personal training business, rather than working for another gym after his former strength and conditioning coach decided to close her business.

“I wanted to run things my own way,” the 23-year-old Romandine said.

The trained mixed martial arts fighter now runs his own gym, All American Training in Crystal Lake.

People who served in the military tend be driven and prefer to work for themselves rather than have a job. And many of them have learned to manage other people and how to work around risks.

Being in the military helped Romandine, of Crystal Lake, to develop his work ethic and to be persistent.

“I’m a firm believer in hard work and dedication,” Romandine said. “Starting a business takes time and effort.”

Mary Margaret Maule is an instructor at McHenry County College, where she teaches business and marketing. She has veterans in her classes who have entrepreneurial ideas.

“A lot get frustrated,” Maule said. “The opportunities they are able to secure are not challenging. ... They realize they want to control their own destiny. It’s not that they can’t find a job.”

Maule added that many veterans want be in business for themselves.

“Entrepreneurs figure out where risks are and figure out how to get around them,” Maule said. “[Veterans] have gained more confidence in themselves, are able to think on the fly, have great situational awareness.”

• • •

Robert Lopez, 27, was in the Army until 2011, when he left as a sergeant. The former tank commander came home to Wonder Lake to start looking for jobs while he took classes at MCC.

He applied many places but never got any return phone calls.

So Lopez started a Facebook page to connect with other tankers, and the idea came up that there were many military clothing lines, but none geared toward tankers.

“It was a matter of time before someone came up with the idea,” Lopez said.

Lopez started the Kilo Clothing Co.

He started mocking up some shirts, and sent designs to shirt printing shops on the East and West coasts. He designed a website and handles all of the sales.

When Lopez, who also is attending DePaul University to pursue a degree in finance, started selling shirts, he was able to limit the risk by making sure he had enough pre-ordered before printing them.

Lopez is starting to design shirts for other branches of the military. He has customers currently in the armed forces, those who are retired, and military spouses. In the past four to five months, he’s had $45,000 in sales.

“I’m hoping for six figures next year,” Lopez said.

• • •

Curt Ames, 52, of Johnsburg always had a dream of starting up his own brewery. After leaving his post at the Pentagon in 2010, he had a business plan and tried to get financing, but that fell through.

The retired Marine colonel worked for a few years for Northrop Grumman Corp., but still held onto his dream of running a brewery.

So he left his job in July to open up Chain O’ Lakes Brewing Co. in McHenry in August. And planning the brewery led him to work with officials in both city and county government to help move the project forward.

“The Marine Corps teaches you how to deal with people and build relationships,” Ames said. “The Marines taught me to persevere.”

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