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Wild Birds Unlimited Was One of 2020’s Best Franchise Success Stories

Thanks to some key pivots, the backyard bird feeding brand awarded 22 new franchise agreements and recorded record same-store sales increases across its system.

By Ben Warren1851 Franchise Managing Editor
SPONSORED 7:07AM 01/19/21

2020 was a challenging year for businesses in virtually every industry. But there were some brands that managed to adapt to those challenges in a way that allowed their businesses to not only survive but thrive in a quickly changing landscape. Backyard bird feeding franchise Wild Birds Unlimited was one of those brands, opening new stores in new markets and recording increased sales across its system.

Wild Birds Unlimited started off the year with more than 300 locations across North America, but the ever-growing franchise brand didn’t pump the brakes when the COVID-19 crisis all but shut down large swaths of the economy. Instead, the brand’s corporate team instituted a number of savvy pivots to ensure that Wild Birds Unlimited remained a lucrative opportunity for existing and aspiring franchisees.

Among those pivots was a shift to online ordering and curbside delivery, which Paul Pickett, Wild Birds Unlimited’s chief development officer, said allowed the brand to take advantage of a marked increase in bird watching in 2020.

“Right away when the pandemic hit, we saw a huge surge in interest,” Pickett said. “People are spending more time at home than ever before, and they want a safe and socially distanced way to enjoy nature.”

In the first half of 2020, Wild Birds Unlimited saw an average eight-percent jump in same-store sales across its system, and that’s with the majority of the brand’s in-store showrooms closed to the public.

Those gains did not slow down as the pandemic stretched through the summer. As the year progressed, Wild Birds Unlimited owners saw double-digit sales increases as customers continued to look for opportunities to make the most of their backyards and outdoor spaces, ending the year with a system-wide same-store sales increase of over 20%.

“There’s been a real shift in perspective from our customers,” said Manuel Pena, who owns a Wild Birds Unlimited store with his wife Anna in Dripping Springs, Texas. “While they’ve been stuck at home, they’ve really gotten into backyard bird feeding. They’re looking at it as a type of escape mechanism. Being at home has been really difficult for some people, but the response that we’ve received from customers is that they have a new appreciation for the joy this hobby brings.”

As Wild Birds’ franchisees continued to find success throughout 2020, the brand continued to expand, onboarding eight brand new franchise partners, transferring 14 existing stores to new owners and opening seven new stores in markets across North America.

Multi-unit Wild Birds owners Phillip and Shelly Edge opened their third store in 2020, and Phillip said the pandemic ultimately proved only a minor setback for their grand opening in the summer.

When the pandemic hit, Phillip said he and Shelly “had basically just signed on the dotted line for the real estate. It was scary at first, but the biggest issue was getting the permits because everything was on lockdown. Although we weren’t able to start with construction until mid-May, we were able to open only a little behind schedule on June 10.”

Much of Wild Birds Unlimited’s success in 2020 can be attributed to its continued prioritization of franchisee support. In the spring, the brand’s corporate team rolled out a suite of resources for franchisees to leverage as they navigated the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis.

“My store was one of the few stores in the Wild Birds Unlimited system that was forced to do a 100% workforce stoppage due to mandated closures here in New Jersey,” said Scott Gunther, a 14-year Wild Birds owner in Paramus. “I ended up being the only person working the store, and I was only able to package online shipping. Since I couldn’t do it all by myself, the leadership team reached out to my suppliers and had them help me fulfill those orders.”

Wild Birds’ corporate team also helped Gunther and other franchisees secure Paycheck Protection Program loans and other valuable but potentially confusing resources offered to small business owners as part of the spring’s federal stimulus package.

“I don’t know how some small businesses that are on their own are ever going to come back from this,” Gunther said. “I would not have survived this shutdown without the support of the home office. Just being able to call the leadership team at all hours of the day and night has been hugely beneficial, not just for my store but also for moral support.”

Now, as a difficult year comes to a close, Wild Birds Unlimited is preparing to build on its momentum in 2020 for an even stronger 2021.

“We recognize that we’re one of the few businesses fortunate to see success in such a challenging year, and we’re not taking that for granted,” Pickett said. “We’re going to remain focused on supporting our franchisees and making it easier for our customers to connect with nature. We see a lot of opportunity for growth in 2021, and we’re excited to make the most of it.”

The startup costs for a Wild Birds Unlimited franchise range from $170,382 to $281,606, which includes the $40,000 franchise fee. To learn more about franchising with Wild Birds Unlimited, visit https://franchise.wbu.com/

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.

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