Within the first three months of 2017, Wild Birds Unlimited already has a lot to celebrate.
So far, the brand is already on track to sign 14 new franchise agreements by April of 2017—an important number that puts Wild Birds Unlimited one step closer to its end-of-year goal of awarding 20 new franchises. This impressive development comes after Wild Birds Unlimited saw its best year of franchise development in a decade—in 2016, the brand awarded 20 new stores, 10 of which are already open. And according to Lisa McGill, the Manager of Franchise Development at Wild Birds Unlimited, the secret to the brand’s continued growth is all about fostering relationships.
“From 2014 to 2015, we experienced 50 percent growth in new franchises. In 2015 to 2016, we experienced 25 percent growth. That kind of development can only come from getting to know every single person that’s interested in growing with Wild Birds Unlimited. On our end, it’s so important to ensure that prospective franchisees will be a good fit for us. It’s equally as important to ensure that Wild Birds Unlimited is a good long-term fit for them, too,” McGill said. “That’s something you can’t figure out overnight—it takes time and patience to really make sure the right folks are in our system.”
McGill notes that at Wild Birds Unlimited, attracting qualified franchisees starts with giving people all the information they need to make a sound decision. This meant perfecting a development process that provides a clear path of discovery to help potential Wild Birds Unlimited owners completely understand the brand’s system, how they support their individual stores, what it takes to be a strong franchisee, and ultimately answers that important age old question—“Is this franchise the right match for me?” This starts with the brand’s franchise development website and quickly progresses to giving prospects the freedom to speak with existing franchisees about their experience.
“It’s all about filling our pipeline with stronger franchise development prospects. Beyond financial requirements, Wild Birds Unlimited has specific culture that comes into play, and we want to make sure that all of our owners are on the same page with us before signing on the dotted line. That’s why transparency has been a focal point of our franchisee selection process,” McGill said.
It’s clear that tactic works for Wild Birds Unlimited—the brand’s franchisees are consistently ranked as some of the happiest and most satisfied within the franchise industry. For the past four years, the brand has been ranked #1 in the Retail Category by Franchise Business Review in their annual “Franchise 50 Franchisee Satisfaction Awards.”
“Most of our candidates come to us out of careers that they are no longer fulfilled by. They’re looking for a joyful business, and many don’t think it exists. Then, they walk into our stores, talk to our owners, and they say, ‘I can actually make money doing this? How incredible,’” McGill said. “It’s the fact that our store owners are happy that draws in more franchisees. Our store owners are happy and love being a part of this brand, and that shines through the second you walk into a store. That’s something that prospects want to be a part of.”
The commitment to cultivating relationships extends to Wild Birds Unlimited’s corporate team, too. This started with honing the relationship between the development team and the brand’s operations department and encouraging better collaboration.
“We work closely with operations. This ensures that by the time we get a candidate that is ready to sign a franchise agreement, we know them so well that we can provide a very in-depth review to operations about the prospect and why we believe he or she is a good fit,” McGill said. “The operations team will then conduct an interview prior to approval. If they come back to us and say they have concerns about a candidate, we have the opportunity to then coach the candidate further to help them prepare for ownership.”
In the year ahead, Wild Birds Unlimited plans to continue its impressive momentum by strengthening and refining its processes and systems to remain the brand to beat within its industry. It’s a never-ending evolution, McGill said, and it’s what keeps Wild Birds Unlimited at the top of its game within the industry.
“We’re just scratching the surface. Think of all of the communities where we don’t have a presence. Think of the opportunities for expansion. That’s what excites me. And we’ll keep working hard every day to ensure that we can keep bringing joy to more to more people by delivering the best experience possible to both our franchise candidates and our customers,” McGill said.