Kellie Watts and Amy Legg know that you can’t be in multiple places at once. The multi-unit franchisees own three Wild Birds Unlimited stores in three different states, so keeping each of their locations busy and profitable without being on-site is one of their highest priorities. Watts and Legg knew in advance how important assembling a trustworthy and motivated staff would be to their success.
The two nailed down some must-have attributes that they needed to hire to, recruited employees who possessed those traits, trained them extensively and replicated their hiring model in each location they have purchased since, helping them build a strong enterprise within the Wild Birds Unlimited system. Watts and Legg’s commitment to upholding the Wild Birds Unlimited brand standards, even in their physical absence, have resulted in strong individual store performance and allowed them to expand into new markets.
After spending a large part of their careers in Dallas, TX, Watts and Legg now call Branson, Missouri home. It was there they were first introduced to the Wild Birds Unlimited brand.
“When we moved here in 2010 for Amy’s new job, there was a Wild Birds Unlimited right down the street,” Watts said. “We decided to check it out one day, and I fell in love as soon as I walked in. We adopted the hobby and got to know the owners quite well over the next few years. They were the ones who convinced us to look at the brand’s franchise process.”
With both Watts, an attorney by education and career, and Legg, a business executive, wanting to leave the corporate environment, the opportunity to embark on a completely different endeavor was enticing. After getting into contact with the Wild Birds Unlimited Franchise Development team and exploring opening a location near their former home of Dallas, TX, the couple couldn’t find suitable real estate and put the brakes on but told the brand to keep them in mind.
“A location near Seattle became available not long after and Paul Pickett, Wild Birds Unlimited’s CDO reached out,” Watts said. “We went to visit, loved it and made the deal to become owners in Lake Forest Park, Washington in October 2015.”
As Watts and Legg purchased their first location and subsequent Wild Birds Unlimited stores in Warson Woods, Missouri and Austin, Texas, they knew they had to hire with great care because they were entrusting a big investment to someone else. The most important characteristics they seek in employee recruitment include similar interests with their customers, interest in the hobby and retail experience.
“First and foremost, we seek relatability,” Legg said. “We’ve had a lot of success when we’ve found someone who can connect with our customers and establish instant credibility. Interest in birdwatching and feeding is also important. We pride ourselves in bringing joy to people’s lives, so someone who loves nature and can get excited about the bird they saw in their yard over the weekend is an excellent candidate.”
Watts agreed, adding, “Customers come to Wild Birds Unlimited to learn more about the hobby and ask questions, so we personalize our services to offer educational tools and solutions. Our team is built by finding people who excel at this and can also call our customers by name when they walk in the door. A lot of what attracted us to the brand is how happy the stores are, so our role is heavily based on being a sounding board and education point for building customer relationships.”
Retail experience is another area of emphasis in the recruitment of new employees for Watts and Legg. Watts pointed out that the ability to work with customers and sell a product is just as important to store success and customer satisfaction as knowledge of the hobby, with one key difference being the hobby can be taught.
“We taught ourselves about bird watching and feeding, but it's much harder to teach business acumen,” she said.
Legg’s career as a business executive charged with opening and running multiple businesses across several different industries taught her a lot about building and training teams across multiple states. One of the key takeaways she’s been able to apply to her work with Wild Birds Unlimited is making sure to hire those with the expertise she doesn’t possess herself.
“We are capable of running and managing businesses successfully, but the retail-based, consumer-facing piece is a big chunk of what we have had to hire,” Legg said. “The strongest indicators of success as a Wild Birds Unlimited staff member or store manager are being people-centric, warm and personable because of the large role one-on-one customer interface plays in our business.”
As far as finding the candidate who fit this mold, Watts and Legg said the process of finding a great fit takes time. In their experience owning and operating three locations, the pair have found word of mouth as effective a recruiting tool as just about anything. Additionally, the pair makes a point of asking their customers if they know anyone interested in filling positions.
“A lot of our part-time store employees are retirees who are hobbyists and oftentimes, have been customers,” Watts said. “They are well-versed in what we do and are excited about it. We try to make our stores a fun place to work and shop, so if people fit with our customer base and can lead a team in a positive manner, they can make a great addition to our team.”
As for the single most important piece of advice for new franchisees starting the hiring process for the first time, Legg drove home the importance of adequate training to build and sustain long-lasting leaders.
“Spend the time on the front end training your people,” she said. “They won't get better unless you put in the time, set the appropriate goals and make them understand what you want them to accomplish. It’s an investment well worth your time.”