Why Wild Birds Unlimited’s Chief Development Officer Keeps Up with Franchisees Once They’ve Joined the System
Why Wild Birds Unlimited’s Chief Development Officer Keeps Up with Franchisees Once They’ve Joined the System

After returning from his Evergreen Tour where he visited 12 stores in two states, Paul Pickett explains why staying in touch with existing franchisees is a critical part of the franchise development process.

As the end of one year approaches and the start of a new one begins, it’s easy for people to get bogged down in the stress of the busy season—especially in the retail industry. That’s why members of Wild Birds Unlimited’s Franchise Support Center team make an active effort to remember what the holiday season is all about: bringing people together. To make those priceless connections a reality, the brand sends a team out on a Mistletoe Tour, where spirited staff members from the brand’s Franchise Support Center travel to a handful of stores to connect with franchisees in person. But this year, that team isn’t the only group that embarked on a journey to meet with—and thank—franchisees. Paul Pickett, Chief Development Officer for Wild Birds Unlimited, also set off on his own Evergreen Tour.

“For me, setting out on the Evergreen Tour was driven by a three-fold purpose. First and foremost, I wanted to get out there and spend some quality time with our franchisees so that I can thank them for the hard work that they do to fulfill our mission on a daily basis. Second, I was able to see customer interactions in person—it’s wonderful to see our franchisees and employees knock it out of the park and bring the joy of backyard bird feeding to others. Lastly, I decided to embark on this tour because I’ve been in the system for 29 years. It’s exciting to go out and visit store owners who had young children when I first met them, and now be able to see their kids working in their stores,” said Pickett. “I called it the Evergreen Tour to symbolize a commitment to longevity and to freshness. Our franchise support team is committed to helping our franchisees succeed, and I wanted to make that point known throughout this trip.”

Even though Pickett was only on his Evergreen Tour for a few days, he was able to cover a lot of ground. Pickett visited 12 Wild Birds Unlimited stores in Maryland and Virginia, driving nearly 1,000 miles to do so. His mission was simple: he wanted to check in with existing franchisees to see first-hand how things were going, and also receive feedback for opportunities to improve. Spending time with existing franchise store owners, both new and old, allows Pickett and his franchise development team to recalibrate their focus on exactly the right skill sets, motivations and drive that they need to look for in new franchisees that they are recruiting to the WBU franchise system.  And now that he’s completed the trip, Pickett says that mission was absolutely fulfilled.

“My biggest takeaway from the Evergreen Tour comes directly from our franchisees. I was able to collect little ideas from each owner that I can bring back to our corporate office and integrate into our development process. Being there in person allowed me to watch how things work from a functional standpoint, not just a theoretical one. It’s fascinating to see what works in one store, what doesn’t in another and why there’s a difference,” Pickett said. “Now I have that list—and franchisee feedback—here at our headquarters in Indiana, which will play a big part in our growth going forward.”  “Replicating the profile of our successful WBU franchise store owners and learning more about what makes them so successful is invaluable to our franchise development team and our franchise community as a whole.”

To ensure that Wild Birds Unlimited continues to be successful in its ongoing expansion initiatives, the brand is focusing on store organization. While on the road, Pickett was able to identify how things can fall through the cracks, enabling him to provide a solution that can now be implemented system-wide. Wild Birds Unlimited is also making multi-unit development a part of its growth strategy, with Pickett receiving feedback from some existing multi-unit owners while on the Evergreen Tour.

After receiving franchisee feedback in person, Pickett—and the rest of the Wild Birds Unlimited team—are taking that data and turning it into actionable insights that will improve the brand’s franchise system for both existing and new owners going forward. And according to Pickett, that ability to move the brand forward following this tour is exactly why high level development executives in the franchise industry need to stay connected to their franchisees, even when their day jobs require them to constantly focus on new or prospective owners.

Pickett comments, “If you’re in development and you’re in charge of it, but you don’t know what’s going on in the minds of your franchisees who are out there running their businesses, you’re making a mistake. Connecting with your existing franchisees enables you to hear about their pain points and leads to opportunities to improve. Plus, spending one-on-one time with your franchisees and hearing their feedback in person means the world to your local owners – it is just plain fun. Making the effort to visit franchisees is a small personal touch that goes a long way, and it’s absolutely something that will continue to be a part of Wild Birds Unlimited’s culture."