When Traci Kilman decided she wanted to join the Wild Birds Unlimited franchise system, she knew exactly which existing Wild Birds Unlimited store she wanted.
Today, she is the franchisee for the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Conroe, Texas, which she officially took over from a previous franchisee on July 21, 2018. Located approximately 40 miles north of Houston, Conroe is a city within the Houston metropolitan area, which has more than six million people.
Kilman had a background in big box retail, but the more intimate, specialty feel of the Wild Birds Unlimited concept is what ultimately drew Kilman to the bird feeding brand.
“I call this store the ‘Cheers’ store of bird feeding,” she said. “The customers come in and shop and stay to share stories about their bird feeding hobby experiences. Customers and employees know everyone by name.”
Before franchising with the bird feeding brand, Kilman worked in retail management, specifically in sales and operations for big box stores such as Macy’s and Kmart. She quit her corporate job at the end of 2017, unsure of what to do next. All she knew was that she was tired of grueling hours and extensive work travel, so she decided to give herself “six months to detox and become a human being again.”
While her husband had been a customer of Wild Birds Unlimited for 17 years, Kilman herself had never shopped there, and she didn’t know it was a franchise.
“I reached out to Wild Birds Unlimited and started talking with them and doing research on the business,” she said.
She learned that the Conroe store was already owned by a franchisee who was a year or two away from retirement. Kilman met with the franchisee, who wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to sell the business just yet.
Kilman had no qualms about waiting for the Conroe store to become available.
“We wanted this store because it was our stomping ground for work and play, and it also gave us the opportunity to be involved in the community,” she said. “We knew we wanted Wild Birds Unlimited as our business, but I passionately wanted this particular territory.”
Ultimately, it all worked out with the existing franchisee.
“The owner felt like my husband and I were the type of people who would be good to take over the store,” she said.
Kilman appreciates the support the Wild Birds Unlimited corporate team has provided and how thorough they are.
“They guide you in how to put together your small business plan and work with you and help you put it together,” she said. “There’s never been a time when I have reached out and they’re not immediately there for me.”
She noted that extensive research on her part was not only a necessity but a requirement before she was able to franchise with the brand.
“You reach out to the franchise support center team and they start giving you research to do,” she said. “You have to visit a minimum of 10 stores and call franchisees. The franchise support center team even provides sample questions to ask. The franchise is mindful and thoughtful and wants their franchisees to be happy. You can tell that’s really important to them. You are really forced to think through everything in advance. They gave us templates to use for a financial plan and have you review everything with your CPA so you can get a plan in place. You also meet everyone in person before the final papers are signed to make sure everyone is the right match.”
This helped make it easy for her to decide to franchise with the brand. Kilman still gets to use her retail know-how, but in a decidedly different industry, and she is absolutely loving the change of pace.
“It wasn’t hard to pull the trigger at all,” she said. “The franchise itself is so supportive and giving of information. They have a firm structure in place.”
In addition to strong franchisor support, Kilman also had the advantage of working with the store’s existing employees. She has nothing but praise for them.
“The store came with incredible employees who knew the business and who know the regular customers very well,” she said. “We’re also making changes and doing things differently to stay up-to-date and refreshed. It’s been incredible.”
Kilman wants her store to be a top-performer in the franchise system.
“I went to college for buying and I worked in a buying office in my early 20s for a few years,” she said. “I love that I get to buy for the store. I love the merchandising aspect, the ownership and the creativity.”
Of course, Kilman also greatly enjoys the small-store, community-centric feel.
“One of the things I found in meeting other Wild Birds Unlimited franchise owners is that it’s just such a pleasant place to come to work,” she said. “This little business is such a unique and special spot. When customers come into the store they’re excited to talk to someone who knows and understands the type of product they want to buy. They’re happy to be here and spend their money and talk to you and build a rapport. My store is not unique in this. This is the nature of our business.”
The startup costs for a Wild Birds Unlimited franchise range from $146,516 to $249,956, which includes the franchise fee. The franchise fee is $30,000. For more information about franchising with Wild Birds Unlimited, visit https://franchise.wbu.com/.