Getting Involved and Giving Back- the Journey

By Paul Pickett: CDO/EVP of Franchising

A foundation of Wild Birds Unlimited is the act of giving back.  Giving back to our franchisees, our franchising community, the Strategic Partners that share our mission, such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Wildlife Federation, and encouraging our franchisees to give back to their customers and communities has been paramount to our success as a brand and to being the #1 system of backyard bird feeding retail stores in North America.  Not only is giving back the right thing to do, it also creates a flow of positive energy and benefits that could never be realized in any other fashion.

When we start working with a new potential Wild Birds Unlimited franchisee, we always talk about their intentions for the business.   This can manifest in many ways, but one of the things that we listen for their desire to make a positive impact in their community.  As a new business owner, getting out into the community, sharing the joy of the bird feeding hobby and collaborating with other nature-focused organizations that share a similar mission is not just the best way to grow their business, it is the right thing to do.  That commitment to elevating the role of responsible and enjoyable bird feeding is important to our franchisees’ success.

The best way to make this happen is to lead by example.  Getting involved as a franchise professional has been very important to me over the years.  Early in my 35-year career at Wild Birds Unlimited, I knew that one of the best ways to improve my skills was to connect with those who had the experience, knowledge, and desire to help me.  The question was how to find those people.  What I knew was that the only way to connect with others who wanted to give back to me was to start giving back to others.

I started out slowly, opening myself up to saying “yes” when asked to be on panels, moderating roundtables and volunteering at franchise events, whether it be an International Franchise Association (IFA), Franchise Update or other franchise organization event.  I had always shown up- but now I was contributing.  That “giving back” approach turned into mentoring new, younger franchise professionals, spending time with friends from younger brands who were experiencing growing pains and eventually being asked to be on more committees and boards within the franchise space.

One of the highlights of this journey was being asked to chair the 2018 Franchise Update Leadership and Development conference.  It was an opportunity to not just give back my time and experience, but to really make a difference.  I was given the opportunity to ensure that there was representation of underserved communities in each event, panel, and roundtable during the whole conference.  I have always been passionate about making the world a more diverse and equitable place and chairing this event, with the strong support of the Franchise Update leadership team, gave me the power to make this happen.

This effort and my work on the IFA Franchise Relations Committee, IFA Franchisor Forum, Franchising Gives Back task force and work with the IFA Franchise Women’s Committee ended up with being awarded the very important Crystal Compass Award from the Women’s Franchise Committee.  Being one of only three men to have received this prestigious awards made it even more special and inspired me to continue my efforts to help the franchise community be more educated and welcoming to those from underserved communities.

With the help from my dear friend and mentor, Mark Jameson, I co-founded the Franchise Pride Leadership Council.  I had seen the amazing work that was being done by the Franchise Black Leadership Council within the IFA Foundation’s Diversity Council and wanted to expand that effort.  It has been a huge success and made such a difference to the whole franchise community.

It is so wonderful to be able to give back to this wonderful group of individuals, feel like I have made a little bit of difference and opened some eyes about the power of giving back that all the hard work associated is more than worth it. Moreover, the focus on diversity and inclusion has spurred a cultural shift within the industry, promoting a more inclusive environment where diverse perspectives are valued and celebrated. This has led to innovative solutions and services that cater to a broader audience, thereby expanding market reach and fostering a more resilient and adaptable industry.

The support from the Wild Birds Unlimited community, from both the Franchise Support Center Leadership and from our wonderful franchise store owners has been amazing and instrumental in shaping my approach to leadership and service. WBU’s commitment to enhancing the lives of our franchisees, customers and birds/nature has taught me the importance of accessibility, empathy, and inclusiveness in every aspect of my work. It has been a source of inspiration, reminding me of the power of perseverance and the impact of collective action.  It takes a whole community, working together, to make a difference and WBU does that so well.

It is now with profound humility and immense pride that I share my recent accolade: receiving the Ronald E. Harrison Award at the International Franchise Association (IFA). This honor not only symbolizes a milestone in my professional journey but also the collective effort and vision shared by my peers, mentors, and the wider community within and beyond the IFA.

Receiving this honor has reinforced my belief in the importance of giving back to the community. It is a conviction that has guided my actions and decisions throughout my career. Whether through mentoring emerging entrepreneurs or supporting initiatives aimed at empowering underrepresented groups within the franchising community, giving back has been an integral part of my journey. It is through these efforts that we can inspire positive change and create opportunities for others to succeed.

Winning the Ronald E. Harrison Award is not just a recognition of my individual contributions but a testament to the collaborative spirit of the IFA, the support and guidance from the WBU, and the indomitable will of those who strive to make a difference. I am filled with gratitude for the opportunities I have had to impact the franchising industry positively and the broader community. I am reminded of the responsibility that comes with this honor – to continue pushing boundaries, inspiring change, and giving back, with the hope of leaving an enduring legacy that others can build upon.

Thank you to Wild Birds Unlimited, the IFA and whole franchise community, and everyone who has been a part of this incredible journey. Let us continue to work together towards a future where franchising is not only about business success but also about making a meaningful contribution to society.