Prior to finding Wild Birds Unlimited, present-day WBU Chief Development Officer Paul Pickett started his career in Indianapolis working with the anatomy department at a local university. Pickett ultimately discovered that working in a laboratory and running chemical tests on rat brains wasn’t the career path for him, and wanted to find something he was more passionate about.
Being an avid gardener and bird person, Pickett ended up attending a local “flower and patio show” in which multiple vendors and experts tied to the gardening and outdoor space were exhibiting. Here, Pickett discovered Wild Birds Unlimited. Being an ornithologist with an MA in Ornithology, Pickett was very intrigued by the company and the work they were doing.
“I met Jim and Nancy Carpenter at the patio show that day,” said Pickett. “We chatted for a while and discovered that we both travelled to the same places to watch birds. I told her how I grew up watching birds as a kid. As I learned more about the company from Nancy and Jim, it was clear I needed to find a way to work with them. I asked them if I could work part-time at the local store on the weekends and we exchanged numbers to continue talking further.”
After connecting with the Carpenters, Pickett went to their local store to speak with management about potential opportunities.
“The team was receiving a big shipment that day,” said Pickett. “While the staff was finishing taking care of the delivery, I spoke to some customers and ended up selling them a bunch of items. When management finished with the shipment I explained how I had tried to help out with customers and they really liked the ambition they saw in me.”
At the time, Paul was focused on working part-time in the Carpenter’s retail store, but Jim and Nancy had other ideas. They thought that Paul would be a great fit for their franchise organization. At the time, they had a part time office manager, but were doing all of the support and development work themselves. They were in the middle of a buy-out of an off-site partner in the franchise and knew that they needed to ramp up the support team in order to grow and develop the Wild Birds Unlimited brand.
The Carpenter’s invited Paul to come back for a full interview and instead of offering him a part-time job in their WBU retail store, they offered him a full time position at the Franchise Support Center. Jim and Nancy Carpenter were both educated in the life sciences and knew that business acumen was based in science. They knew that Paul’s scientific background, energy and love of people would be a great match for the brand.
“I took the role immediately and although I didn’t know much about business, I loved the brand, I loved that I could turn my love of people and birds into a great career that helped people realize their dream of owning a business that filled both their passion buckets and met their financial needs” said Pickett.
Thirty years later, Pickett now serves as the Chief Development Officer for Wild Birds Unlimited and has seen some great success with the company, as well as changes in his roles along the way.
“There were 29 locations when I first started out,” said Pickett. “The early ‘90s were amazing as the company had lots of open markets to fill. We now have 350 franchise agreements with over 340 locations currently open.”
Pickett has had to adjust to managing the business by the numbers over the years. It’s become easier with technology, but there is always a strong desire to put emphasis on culture as well, which is very important to Pickett and Wild Birds Unlimited as a whole. The systems the company has in place have also matured and there’s increased support across the board for franchisees in terms of marketing, day-to-day operations and more.
One thing that Wild Birds Unlimited truly prides itself on is the culture they have developed over the years. Pickett believes this is a big reason why so many individuals have stayed with the company for more than two decades.
“We’ve seen incredible innovations in terms of technology, but our culture has remained steadfast,” said Pickett. “Integrity, honesty, respect and a focus on delivering exceptional customer service have always remained. We have an incredible leadership team with our CEO and President Jim Carpenter, Jim’s wife Nancy and our Chief Operating Officer Pat Perkinson. It is a magnetic culture and one that I really respect.”
With that culture comes the obligation to protect the way the company does business. This is why Wild Birds Unlimited always works closely with potential franchisees to ensure the brand is a strong fit for them in advance of signing.
“I have never been asked to award a franchise to someone who I didn’t believe would be successful or a fit with the brand,” said Pickett. “Myself and the rest of leadership take the culture very seriously and that passion has resonated with those with whom we work on a daily basis. That is why I also stay close to franchisees once they open and assist any way I can.”
The premier birding brand is also a strong supporter of a good balance between work and personal life, which has allowed many employees like Pickett to remain passionate in their work.
“The most inspiring thing to me is that I get to have fun and fill my own passion bucket,” said Pickett. “I have what I call my ‘passion bucket’ and I fill it every day. The fact that Wild Birds Unlimited allows me to do that is a true testament to the culture that has been created and why so many of us have been here for as long as we have.”
According to Pickett, the future looks bright.
“Wild Birds Unlimited took a chance on me when I had no background in business and 30 years later, I couldn't be more thankful that they did. I look forward to seeing all that is still ahead for both myself and the company.”
Wild Birds Unlimited is the original and largest franchise system of backyard bird feeding and nature specialty stores with more than 300 locations throughout the United States and Canada. The investment level to open a Wild Birds Unlimited location is $130,837 to $240,991. To learn about franchising opportunities with Wild Birds Unlimited, please visit www.wbufranchise.com.