Unlike independent business owners, most franchise systems hold an annual get together. Some annual convention stereotypes include the disbursement of gratuitous awards and long corporate lectures. Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) seeks to challenge some of these stereotypes through its upcoming Enterprise Leadership Conference.
At the end of next month, WBU franchisees will flock to the Indiana Convention Center. Surprisingly enough, the focus isn’t usually on the birds. The brand focuses on technology and collaboration, and this year a record number of attendees are scheduled to attend.
“Attending the WBU Enterprise Leadership Conference is a key value for franchisees. Franchisees come to our conference, and they leave so energized. They focus on business and get excited about the future. It’s a great adrenaline shot,” explains Paul Pickett, chief development officer.
The brand states that its franchise conference is an added value it provides. It’s a point of differentiation from that of an independent business. Individual owners don’t get a chance to collaborate in the same way and look forward to the fellowship and feedback an annual get-together provides. WBU says that its franchisees can easily articulate how valuable the annual conferences are to the ongoing growth of their individual businesses.
“Our conferences are not just seminars that talk about best business practices – we talk about where the business is going. There is a lot of time put aside for franchisees to talk with one another. We go over enterprise leadership, what that means and how we embody it in our business,” adds Pickett.
At the conference, franchises receive advanced training. WBU states that its conference is very considerate of the wants and needs of the franchisees. It aims to elevate the brands services and the brand as the cutting edge of the industry, whether that is bird feeding, retailing or franchising. The brand works closely with its franchisees and coaches to decide on the most appropriate workshops so franchises can lead them tactically.
A full day and a half of the conference is devoted to the WBU Annual Vendor Mart. Over 100 juried, approved vendors set up an exclusive buying show for WBU franchise store owners, showcasing new products, special buying deals and educational programs. “This annual portion of the WBU Enterprise Leadership conference provides our franchisees with the opportunity to personally meet with many of our most important vendors, see an assortment of our new proprietary products up-close and personal and take advantage of the special Vendor Mart pricing programs that make such a difference to their profitability” says Jim Lesch, WBU’s Director of Merchandising,
According to No Limit Chief Development Officer Sean Fitzgerald, who provides consulting to multiple franchise brands from a marketing perspective, “Using franchisees as presenters is less preachy, and that’s what Wild Birds Unlimited is doing. When you have franchisees in presentations, the material is seen as more of a lesson in best practice than a lecture. Coming up with opportunities for franchisees to connect with each other is a smart practice.”
According to Fitzgerald, getting franchisees together meaningfully is harder to do when a brand grows past a certain size. Some potential franchisees want to be part of a brand that has national advertising, but they don’t appreciate the added value of a personal touch and how that touch can translate into more franchisee success. With a larger brand, conference time by necessity has to lend itself to more executive presentations.
Also present at the conference is a workshop to learn how to operate multiple stores. Other workshops include WBU a technology roadmap, digital store and owner “shop talk.” At the shop talks, franchisees are actually presenters – so the format is franchisee to franchisee. Lastly, WBU provides open house “Q&A” on specific topics. Some topics include shopping business skills, keeping customers engaged when birds aren't feeding and goodwill marketing.
For potential WBU candidates, knowing details about the conference, even if they aren’t yet a part of the system, provides more transparent information of one of the added values they are going to receive as a franchisee. The conference is a time is a time to talk about the support and the services that WBU as a franchisor provides to the whole system.
The company will host several workshops on Monday, June 26th, with a big opening event that evening. The first day sessions are June 27th and workshops are held on June 28th. Wild Birds Unlimited also has an invite only two-day buying show for vendors. The conference also has one-on-one time with staff for coaching and counseling.