Third-party validation is a crucial component of the franchise development research process for every prospective candidate. Getting the story straight from current owners while also deep-diving into neutral system assessments can shine an important light on what franchisee life could be like should they decide to sign on.
At Wild Birds Unlimited, that light is especially bright.
“We believe in building trust, and our relationships with franchisees are built on a high level of transparency,” said Paul Pickett, Chief Development Officer at Wild Birds Unlimited. “Our candidates are impressed that we actually practice what we preach—it’s not just one of our values and our culture, we live it.”
Wild Birds Unlimited puts its in-depth validation process front and center for potential owners. Franchisee validation is No. 3 on its “Next Steps” checklist, a tool that helps candidates know exactly what to expect throughout the development process. Candidates are given contact information for every franchisee in the system, a list of key questions to ask and a visitation courtesy document filled with best practice recommendations.
“At that early stage, we want candidates to visit at least two to three stores and talk to at least that many owners,” explained Pickett, adding that Wild Birds Unlimited also routinely shares profiles of owners to further put franchisee faces at the forefront of the brand. “By the time they get through the entire development process, they will contact and have a substantive conversation with at least 10 existing store owners.”
Internally, Wild Birds Unlimited keeps existing franchisees clearly up-to-date with exploring candidates’ statuses should they receive a phone call from one. That way, franchisees are able to easily distinguish contact from serious candidates who are already engaged with the franchise development team from those just fishing around for information.
“Our franchisees have all gone through this process themselves, so they understand the importance of our touch points,” said Pickett. “They’re selfless in their commitment to helping grow our brand and crucial in sharing feedback on their interactions with candidates, such as what our team may need to clarify in future conversations, and ‘This person seems amazing; do what you can to get them in the system as my co-franchisee.’”
Another third-party validator deployed by Wild Birds Unlimited is Franchise Business Review (FBR), the independent market research firm specializing in ranking franchisee satisfaction.
Based on comments and rankings by franchisees, Wild Birds Unlimited has been in FBR’s Top 50 Hall of Fame every year since the brand’s founding. It has ranked No. 1 in retail nearly every year, and for the last two years, the franchise has been ranked No. 2 overall.
Wild Birds Unlimited owners can choose to identify themselves or remain anonymous while giving feedback about every aspect of the business, including quality of support available, what coaches and consultants they use and overall job satisfaction commentary. Wild Birds Unlimited then shares its findings with the entire system, using the tool to advance and improve support systems and meet annual goals.
“The rankings are lovely, but it’s more about how we use the information gained,” said Pickett. “We welcome critique from franchisees, and we apply that honesty to improving our support systems and other processes.”
Wild Birds Unlimited candidates are given exclusive access to the brand’s most recent FBR annual franchisee satisfaction survey, allowing them to see each and every individual franchisee comment—a true rarity in the franchise industry. Candidates can even sort the data by region, community size and other general demographics to focus relevance on their exploration.
“That special access is above and beyond the public ability to view our overall results. We want our candidates to get a clear picture of what’s expected of franchisees, and what it’s really like to be an owner with Wild Birds Unlimited,” said Pickett.
“Good, transparent validation is just ‘keeping it real,’” he added. “If you keep it real, people are usually pretty happy.”