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How This Birdwatching Enthusiast Made a Career out of a Hobby
Wild Birds Unlimited franchisee Chris Petherick opens his first storefront in March 2017.

When Wild Birds Unlimited franchisee Chris Petherick was growing up in Buffalo, New York, he and his family would track birds they saw in their backyard on a big sheet of paper stuck to the side of the refrigerator. Though there were years in his early adult life when he’d let his hobby fall by the wayside, that early appreciation of birds and nature never left Petherick. And now, decades into his career, he’s transforming his passion for bird watching and feeding into an entrepreneurial endeavor. 

Petherick was a Wild Birds Unlimited customer for a decade before signing on with the brand. Working in investment management, Petherick felt a calling to create more balance in his life, which he found through birdwatching. Before moving to Fairfield, Connecticut to open his Wild Birds Unlimited business, Petherick lived in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area for 20 years, where the two migratory flyways make it ideal for birdwatching.

“There were a few years when I wasn’t birdwatching at all, but I took it back up in 2003 or 2004,” says Petherick. “I enjoy backyard bird feeding, as well as checking out wildlife refuges. I get to take my dog with me and simply enjoy being outside in nature.”

During that time, Petherick sought out the nearest Wild Birds Unlimited, located in Mequon, Wisconsin. As he became more of a regular, he built a relationship with the Mequon Wild Birds Unlimited owner, and came to trust in the quality and integrity of the brand.

“When I was only a customer, I’d go there because of the high quality of the bird feed, and the variety of products like houses and feeders,” says Petherick. “The owner would sit and walk through everything with me to make sure I was getting what I actually needed. I never felt like I was being oversold.”

When Petherick began feeling the itch for a career change, he knew that franchising was a solid industry to enter. Based on the knowledge he gained about the industry during his career in finance, he was drawn to franchising for the support provided to franchisees and the proven business model of successful brands. Petherick started a conversation with the owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited Mequon, WI store, and didn’t even consider any other franchise opportunities.

“The Wild Birds Unlimited franchise has a great reputation and it’s always rated one of the top franchises,” says Petherick. “They also have a great franchise support center and help you through the entire process, from making the decision to become a franchisee to opening your store. I’ve been provided with so much training and support that I really feel like I know what to expect. They want to make sure you’re selling your customers the right products so that they can enjoy the pastime and the hobby. That kind of integrity was really important to me.”

Focusing on establishing his first location, Petherick hopes to eventually open multiple locations with the brand. The scalability of franchising is what had him interested in the industry to begin with. Opening a Wild Birds Unlimited business involves start-up costs ranging from $125,978 to $199,172, which includes a franchise fee $25,000 per location. Petherick feels confident about the Connecticut market because of its vibrant birdwatching community and large number of protected land where birds flourish. 

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