A sign of a franchise’s strength is more than the size and spread of its system. Many brands can boast a national footprint, but if they are constantly revolving ownership of locations between franchisees, how strong is the brand?
Wild Birds Unlimited can claim both. With 350 locations approaching 100 different markets in the United States and Canada, that growth has been combined with some of the top franchisee satisfaction in franchising. Much of that is due to the connection franchisees have built within the family, or as WBU likes to call it, “growing within the flock.”
While so many brands find their franchisees through broad research, Wild Birds Unlimited has a demonstrated history of developing connections into lasting relationships. That includes both the long history of loyal customers becoming franchisees and an emerging group of multi-unit franchisees who started small before building their presence within the WBU family.
Two of those multi-unit franchisees are Kellie Watts and Amy Legg, who joined the brand more than five years ago and now own four stores in total.
“I had never heard of Wild Birds Unlimited until we moved to Branson, Missouri and lived in an area with a store,” said Watts. “It piqued our interest, and we went in one day. About two hours later we walked out with about $200 or $300 worth of products! We eventually became friends with those owners, and after traveling so much for work over the years, we decided to really look into the franchise.”
That story is similar to so many of their fellow franchisees. In fact, about 90 percent of Wild Birds Unlimited franchisees were customers before they were store owners.
Kathy and Lisa Massey-Williams, owners of a store in Odessa, Florida, are in the same boat. But while so many franchisees have the shared experience of once being customers, they bring a variety of resumés to the franchise.
“We told the leadership team ‘You realize we don’t have a business background?’ and they said ‘That’s fine, you have everything else we want. Just focus on your relationships with customers,’” Kathy said.
“Everyone at headquarters has been so phenomenal to work with,” Lisa added. “They are passionate and dedicated. Kathy and I came from a non-business background and the leadership team has made it so easy to learn about the business.”
That support has been key for franchisees who enter with limited business experience, but recent franchise development efforts have combined that assistance with new systems to support franchisees with a more wide-spread portfolio.
“It’s been historically single-owner, mom and pop kinds of businesses where the owners work in the store every day. Our model is a bit different because of our backgrounds,” said Legg, whose locations with Watts stretch from Seattle to Austin to St. Louis. “We had a great experience and that’s a lot of why we continued to grow with them. They impressed us right out of the gate and showed us they were committed to choosing good franchisees that were a fit for the model. When we started the first one, the support was great and we kind of got the bug.”
Legg and Watts, despite operating multiple stores throughout the country, say franchising with Wild Birds Unlimited has allowed them much more freedom in their lives. Much of that is thanks to the brand’s commitment to improvement in supporting franchisees from all backgrounds.
“It’s a great franchise.” Watts said. “They’re incredibly openminded and hopeful and loyal. It’s not ‘we’ve got your money, now good luck.’ They aren’t those kind of people at all. They do an amazing job of asking how they can improve and how they can attract different franchisees.
“The fellow franchisees are great. People with hearts and want to help you. It’s a really cool group of people.”
The Massey-Williamses, though newer to the franchise, are also thrilled they decided to join the flock as Wild Birds Unlimited franchisees. They say they are considering opening more stores in the future as well.
“This is our next adventure and the next phase of our lives,” Kathy Massey-Williams said. “We just know we are doing the right thing because we’ve felt this peace about it every step of the way.”