Wild Birds Unlimited's Chief Development Officer explains how his passion for bird feeding and the outdoors led him to the franchising industry.
1851 Franchise: Can you describe your journey into franchising with one word?
Paul Pickett, Chief Development Officer of Wild Birds Unlimited: Unintentional - I had no intention of getting into franchising, but it turned out to be one of the best things that happened to me. It all started by accident. I attended the Indianapolis Flower and Patio show one weekend, and while perusing through the many booths I met my current bosses, Jim and Nancy Carpenter. They founded Wild Birds Unlimited and told me to stop by the Indianapolis store after I asked for some weekend employment hours. It all began there.
1851: What were you doing before that?
Pickett: Well, I got my pre-grad degree in biology and finished my Master’s in 1988 with a concentration in Ornithology - the study of birds. At this point, I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life teaching on a college campus. I was wrong!
I fell in love and moved to Indianapolis following that love. That relationship fell through, but I stayed in Indianapolis working at the Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) anatomy laboratory dissecting rat brains all day. I’m so thankful for meeting the Carpenters. I do not know what I would have done if I stayed in those laboratories.
On a lighter note, I also involved in my passions, which are bird watching and being outdoors.
1851: Did you go to Wild Birds Unlimited seeing the position you hold right now?
Pickett: Yes, I did. I brought a resume too. I remember it being a Friday and I went to the store and introduced myself again. At that point, the Carpenters were a little preoccupied with customers and unpacking, so I began to walk around and browse through the store. After a few minutes, I found myself speaking with a customer and helping them choose the right bird feed for their yard. I carried the supplies to the counter and ended up selling about one hundred dollars of supplies.
From there, the Carpenters understood my abilities and knowledge for the subject and offered me a job with the franchise. At that point, they had about 30 locations and were developing a franchise expansion team. I can proudly say that I was hired as the first full-time employee in the Wild Birds Unlimited brand.
1851: And that brings us to where we are now, 27 years later. Did you find it difficult to adjust to a new field?
Pickett: It’s funny that you ask that because it was quite different, but I then realized that franchise sales is very similar to science. There is research. From that research you create data, which then can be analyzed. Once you analyze your data, you know what you need to be doing differently and what should stay constant. From there, you take that newly developed plan and repeat the whole process again. I did have to learn a lot of business practices, especially for drawing and mapping up the FDD, but that comes with time.
1851: Can you describe your role as Wild Birds Unlimited’s Chief Development Officer?
Pickett: It’s great that I just mentioned the FDD because I manage much of the legal and real estate clauses in that document. It can be quite tedious at times, but it’s one of the most important parts of the franchise sales process. These two sections of the FDD can be difficult to decipher and understand, so I need to be the expert eyes when trying to sign a prospective franchisee.
Other than that, my number one responsibility is to attract and manage the franchises we are trying to sell. I need to make sure they go to great franchisees in markets that will benefit the brand.
1851: Do you have advice for anyone in the franchise development and sales industry?
Pickett: Believe in the brands you work with. If you personally don’t believe in what you’re trying to sell, then how can you sell it to others? I am so lucky to have found Wild Birds Unlimited. It lets me work in a field that I am compassionate about. The brand and I have grown together and I love what I do.