Wild Birds Unlimited


Wild Birds Unlimited’s franchisees spread the joy of bird feeding

to customers across the United States and Canada.

By Jim Harris, Knighthouse Media

Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) is spreading the joy of bird feeding and bird watching one franchise store at a time. “We are very passionate about the hobby, and  help our customers  enjoy it,” Chief Development Officer Paul Pickett says. “We believe in providing an exceptional customer experience.”

WBU  sells bird food, bird feeders and bird baths as well as handing hardware, optics and unique nature and garden gifts. There are 335 stores now open across the United States and Canada, with an additional 10 stores in development. 

Each store offers products and expert advice specific to the geographic region in which they are located. “We know the hobby of bird feeding is different in the Southwest versus the Midwest in terms of the birds you’ll be able to attract,” Pickett says. “Our Certified Bird Feeding Specialist are trained  to help each customer best enjoy the hobby in their own backyard.

“We provide customers with expert advice as well as find out which birds in their neighborhood they want to attract, he adds. “We offer a level of service you can’t get in a big box store or even in a garden center.”WildBirds fact box

In addition to its in-store experience, WBU also offers online shopping. “Brick and mortar retail has significantly changed over the years – some retailers will thrive and grow in the current environment, while others will become obsolete,” Pickett says. 

Each WBU store has the ability to offer online shopping to have products delivered to their door or easy in-store pick-up.. “We knew we had to stay relevant and provide our franchisees with the tools they need to be convenient to customers 24/7,” he adds.

Supporting Franchisees

WBU seeks new franchisees who share the company’s passion for birds and nature. “Our franchisees come to the table with a desire to share the hobby and make a difference in their communities,” Pickett says. “What we are really selling is joy – the excitement when someone comes into the store who has been able to solve a problem or who shares the excitement of seeing bluebirds hatching in their backyard.

“We’re looking for people who want to put smiles on people’s faces and develop a successful business enterprise,” he adds. 

The company provides new franchisees with a number of tools to help them succeed, including helping them with a business plan, site selection and lease negotiation. WBU’s six-person New Owner Development team also assists in full on-boarding of a new store including store layout, product ordering and pricing, hiring, budgeting and marketing. Franchisees also have business coaches assigned to them who help them one-on-one with strategy and planning. “The amount of support we provide is intense,” Pickett says.  

WBU offers a number of ways for franchisees to communicate with the franchise support center long after their locations open. “Collaboration between franchisees and the franchisor can be challenging for some brands, and not setting up systems and pathways that make it easier for franchisees to complement or complain will provide challenges to franchisors,” he adds. “We were early adopters of the advisory council concept and have had one in place since the early 1990’s, but we are very clear that any one of our franchisees can directly communicate any issues, positive or negative to us directly and not be dependent on their Franchise Advisory Council member to express their concerns or comments with us. ‘Us against them’ has never been how we do business.”

Sharing the Joy 

CEO and President Jim Carpenter’s path to starting the company began when he didn’t get into medical school after earning a master’s degree in plant physiology from Purdue University in the mid-1970s. 

While contemplating his next steps following the rejection, Carpenter learned the basics of retail while managing two garden centers that included a bird feeding section. “He fell in love with bird feeding and quickly identified an opportunity to provide people with the necessary supplies and information for attracting and feeding backyard birds,” Pickett says.

Using a small inheritance from his family, which had owned five-and-dime stores in Indiana, Carpenter opened the first WBU store in Indianapolis in 1981. While working at the store, Carpenter was approached by the nephew of one of his employees, who was in town from Michigan for a visit. “He told [Carpenter] that he looked happy and was doing what he wanted to do, and [the employee’s nephew] wanted to do the same,” Pickett says.

Carpenter reached out to a few college friends who owned a furniture franchise to help him develop a franchising agreement. Wild Birds Unlimited Inc. was established as a franchisor in 1983, and four stores were open by the end of that year. 

WBU continues to grow its services as well as its franchise footprint. The company recently launched a concept called “FeederScaping,” which involves franchisees visiting customers’ homes to give recommendations and assessments of their backyard bird feeders and bird baths. WBU is also adding more than 30 new bird feed products to its offerings. “We are constantly looking at new ways to engage our customers and help them experience the joy of backyard bird feeding,” Pickett adds. 


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