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Franchise Development Leaders: Wild Birds Unlimited’s Paul Pickett

The thriving backyard bird feeding retail franchise’s Chief Development Officer weighs in on the state of the industry and how he’s been able to cultivate such a strong franchise system in his time with the brand.

By Madeline LenaStaff Writer
9:09AM 10/01/19

Award-winning specialty retail franchise Wild Birds Unlimited* has consistently been recognized by industry experts and its own franchisees alike as a top-tier opportunity that prioritizes operational efficiency, franchisee support and customer satisfaction, all in the name of furthering its mission to bring people and nature together. It’s no wonder, then, why the brand has more than 300 locations across the U.S. and Canada—and why its Chief Development Officer, Paul Pickett, is one of the franchise industry’s most prominent development minds. 

1851: How did you first get into franchising?

Pickett: I celebrated my 30th anniversary at Wild Birds Unlimited this April—it’s been my only real job, really. I came to the table with a passion for and education in birds due to my Master’s in ornithology. I ran into Wild Birds Unlimited founders Jim and Nancy Carpenter at a consumer trade show, we started chatting and they told me about their store. I asked them if I could work weekends on the retail side of the business, and they said they had a different idea, which was to get me involved in their franchise business. I was hesitant at first because I knew nothing about business, but Jim said confidently that business and science are very similar and the skill sets needed for each are actually quite transferrable. Between my passion for birds and my ability to analyze data, it was exactly the fit they were looking for. I became Wild Birds Unlimited’s first full-time employee, and here we are. 

1851: What do you love about the industry?

Pickett: Being a small part of making someone else’s dream come true. Franchising is such an amazing business model where you can tap into candidate’s and franchisee’s passion, focus and intellect and give them the pathway to be successful. It helps bring joy to them personally and also to share your brand’s promise with a new group of people. For us, that’s bringing joy to our customers and fulfilling our mission of bringing people and nature together. 

1851: What do you wish that you could change about the industry? 

Pickett: In some cases, the legislation around the level of support you can provide, especially as it relates to the joint employer issue, is limiting—we’re not able to dive as deeply as we could to give great advice to help individuals who have never managed a team before. Franchisors have to provide support and resources and yet still remain a bit hands-off. 

1851: What is the biggest challenge franchisors are currently facing in franchise development and what are you doing to overcome it? 

Pickett: I think that right now, lead generation is a big challenge industry-wide. The franchise landscape is so variable, and it moves with the wind. Right now with very low unemployment and a strong economy, there are a lot of people with stable situations—getting people to make the decision to take the risk to start a new business when they don't know what they don't know has been a challenge.

As always, my operations team is my savior—they’ve made such significant systemwide changes that have been so beneficial to our existing franchisees that they’re in an incredible position. As a result, our multi-unit development has been substantial this year, which has been a wonderful landing place in light of the fact that fewer new leads are coming in. 

1851: What do you think will be the biggest trend in franchise development will be in 2020?

Pickett: Creatively navigating through the noise that candidates are dealing with. Right now, we’re all—and I mean everyone in the world—is faced with a 24-hour news cycle, countless emails, calls and texts, not to mention social media, so it’s hard to break through the surface. How do you really shine and take ownership of your brand’s message and promise? Generating engagement, in general, is a constant battle to get in front of the people who are the right match for your brand at the right time, but it’s one I'm excited to be facing. 

1851: What makes a great franchisee?

Pickett: Someone who’s passionate about the brand and delivering the brand message. Someone who listens and follows best practices, but also makes best practices of their own. There's been a big systemic change in franchising—a lot of franchisors used to say they wanted people who do what they say, when they say and how they say, but that doesn't fuel the fire in the belly of a franchisee to continue to grow and expand with your brand and capture more market share. A good franchisee takes the best practices a franchise provides and makes the business their own and effective in their community, for their team. 

1851: What's the No. 1 thing that sells franchises?

Pickett: Relationships. Having a scalable business aside, you need a certain level of understanding and trust between your team and candidates, which gives them the opportunity to validate. Validation comes from your operations team and owners being on the same page—make sure to set clear expectations between brand and candidate, because if a candidate’s expectations aren’t met, your validation efforts are shot.

Think about today all the time, but also think about the future. Make sure what you're saying now is consistent with your vision for the future.

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.