Helping Military Members Move

November 10, 2006
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CASCADETOWNSHIP — Depending on which Kissinger is asked, the family moved 18 to 19 times during Dale Kissinger's 30 years in the Air Force. The moves included 14 states, three countries, 19 schools, thousands of boxes and very few relocation resources.

Their experience is typical. On top of the obvious challenges of military life, member families move farther and more often than traditional families. One in four military families move across county lines in a given year, compared to one in 12 civilian families, according to federal statistics. The average military family can plan to move every 30 months, generally across state lines and sometimes across continents and oceans.

And while there are public and private resources available to military families, most of these are directed toward life on the base, with little application to the outside world.

"When you move into a new area, just finding a theater, pizza or anything outside of the gate is always very hard," said Kissinger, a retired full-bird colonel.

Some of these concerns can create dire situations, he said, such as finding housing for the family. Military housing on base is often at capacity, with long wait lists. When this happens, finding a Realtor can become a critical situation. Once a house is found, there are the cable and power companies to deal with. A doctor or dentist can be found on base, but likely not a veterinarian. The same can be said for Internet service, hair salons, day care and other staples of family life.

Building on their experience, Dale Kissinger and his son, Dan, have launched MilitaryAvenue.com, an online resource for relocation, travel and lifestyle needs for military members.

"We recently had a Marine spouse that sent us some feedback," said Dan. "She said, 'I'm really nervous about moving, and you have made this so much easier for me, so much less stressful.'"

On the afternoon the father and son duo met with the Business Journal, the site and its operating entity, MilitaryAvenue LLC, had just been featured on the federal page of The Washington Post. In the hours following publication of the article, hits to the site skyrocketed. Local Congressman Vern Ehlers sent a letter of congratulations.

Not yet a month past its Oct. 16 launch, the fledgling Web site has already made a splash within the military community. In addition to the Washington Post, it has been featured on DefenseLINK, the official Web site of the Department of Defense, as well as the Military Times chain of service-specific newspapers.

The company launched in April with a simple business model: to link local and national businesses with the 1.4 million active duty military members, 702,000 civilian employees, and the millions of dependents, retirees, veterans, reservists and guardsmen who make up the military community.

In accomplishing this, the site is intended to become the largest database of military discounts in the nation, and as it expands internationally, the world.

Currently, there are over 800,000 listings on the site for facilities surrounding 218 military installations and the Pentagon. A basic text ad is free, as is access to the site. Similar to the model practiced by traditional search engines, advertisers have the option of purchasing preferential placement in listings, banner ads and printable coupons — the company's primary source of revenue. This will include a program called MilitaryAvenue Partners, which will provide companies physical signage denoting their participation.

"The government can't endorse a commercial product unless they have some kind of contract," explained Dan. "They can't really do anything outside the gates, but we can. We can combine both the inside the gate and outside the gate data. It becomes a ready resource for the military member."

The younger Kissinger was involved in the development of a similar real estate Web site in 1998 that was later sold to media conglomerate Primedia's CSinter@ctive division. MilitaryAvenue will also lean heavily on the real estate industry and is working toward a partnership with the National Association of Realtors. Coincidentally, the office of the 2007 NAR president, Cascade Realtor Pat Vredevoogd Combs, is less than a mile from the Kissingers' office.

"This could be a great opportunity for national companies to introduce themselves to the market," said Dan.

"We hope to build a network of companies around our business," added Dale.

The two believe local companies could find valuable access to this market through their company, particularly those with related products such as Wolverine World Wide's Bates brand military boots and shoes.

The current edition of the site also features non-commercial content for military members, including a base overview, community calendar, maps, weather, employment and worship opportunities and articles. The company plans a major update of the portal in the coming months, once it has been vetted by the national market. It first launched this summer with a pilot specific to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio

While the site has primarily marketed itself as a relocation service, its founders emphasize that it will be equally valuable to settled families and short-term visitors to a base.

It could also provide a unique employment opportunity through its partner program. The Kissingers hope to enlist sales and community representatives for all its military installations, likely a member spouse.

"There aren't many jobs that spouses can keep from one base to another," said Dale. "My bride was a teacher, and there was a different certification requirement for every state."

The site was built with technical support from Grand Rapids software firm PEC Technologies, and start-up support from DaVinci Capital. MilitaryAvenue sublets a space in DaVinci Capital's Cascade office. The fund does not have a direct investment in the company, but some of its principals have privately invested.

The company currently has satellite offices outside of Washington, D.C., and in Minneapolis, where vice president of marketing Jason Weimer is based.     

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