Finances, lack of experience and fear of failure are all very real deterrents when it comes to following one’s dream of business ownership. But Jim Carpenter, the Founder, CEO and President of Wild Birds Unlimited, didn’t let anything keep him from investing in his dream or the concept he had created.
What started off as a hobby for Carpenter eventually evolved into one of the most reputable franchise systems in the country. Between ranking in Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500 list for the past 30 years and receiving a slew of other prestigious rankings and awards over the past few years, one thing is clear--today, with more than 300 locations and counting, Carpenter’s dream has become a thriving business that entrepreneurs want to be a part of. But perhaps even more impressive than the awards themselves is the reputation of support and integrity that runs deep throughout the system. And that’s something Carpenter instilled in his brand from the very beginning--and it’s something that continues decades later.
But before Wild Birds Unlimited grew into the industry-leading company that it is today, Carpenter first had to overcome a few obstacles to get his business off the ground.
“There was a lot that I didn’t know about running a business, even after Wild Birds Unlimited had been open for a few years,” said Carpenter, who worked as a scientist in his early career, having earned his degree in biology and his masters in horticultural science. “At first, Wild Birds Unlimited was just a hobby. I didn’t get serious about the concept until seven or eight years after I first started, and I found managing all of the elements to run a successful business to be overwhelming.”
In 1990, nearly a decade since the launch of Wild Birds Unlimited, Carpenter attended a weekend retreat, not realizing it would substantially impact the trajectory of his business. Called Birthing of Giants, the event was incubated in the halls of M.I.T., and with the partnership of Inc. Magazine, it has helped guide hundreds of the world’s leading entrepreneurs to where they are today. It was there that Carpenter experienced business training for the first time, attending workshops that focused on topics ranging from what it means to be a leader, to how to successfully brand an emerging concept. The retreat, says Carpenter, opened his mind to relating with other young entrepreneurs who were also dealing with the fast growth rate of their companies, but didn’t necessarily have all the capabilities or experience to keep up.
After accruing more business know-how, Carpenter created a strategic advisory group in 1995, comprised of three people who’ve now been members of the group for 22 years. The purpose of the group was to provide guidance across the board, such as finding identifying areas for improvement within the business to establishing a mentor system and helping franchisees make decisions in their market using the assets available to them.
“When it came to running a successful business, what made the difference for me was deciding I needed mentors,” says Carpenter. “I cannot say strongly enough how important it is to find a knowledgeable mentor, someone who has been down the path and can help you make good choices amongst the hundreds of choices you’re faced with.”
With Carpenter relying on mentors, he had to ensure that he was surrounding himself with the right people. Bringing on employees with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, Carpenter successfully built a team of individuals whom he trusted and depended on to enhance the business in areas where he lacked knowledge or skill. Today, it’s clear that tactic has paid off in a big way--backed by an industry-leading team with decades of franchising experience, more than 300 locations and a unique vision and culture that franchisees flock toward, Wild Birds Unlimited continues to lead the way in booming industry.
“Over the years, I learned that bringing in outside talent enhances your ability to propel your business forward in a much more sustainable way,” said Carpenter. “I was fortunate in my hiring decisions. Paul Pickett, our chief development officer, has been with us for 28 years. And there are a few others who go back over 20 years with us, too. Pat Perkinson, our chief operation officer, helped the brand immensely by bringing a world of retail operations experience unlike anything else. I realize the imperativeness of mentorship from knowledgeable individuals, and genuinely believe an entrepreneur can’t thrive without it.”