How self-described ‘late bloomer,’ Kathy Haigh, co-owner of the Billings MT Wild Birds Unlimited franchise, found her career calling later in life
It all started when Kathy Haigh and her husband, John, received a bird feeder as a wedding present. For years they enjoyed feeding their backyard birds in Billings, Montana while raising their kids. Kathy was from the area, and the two often took trips to Northern Montana to visit John’s family, who were avid outdoor enthusiasts. The natural stopping point along the route was a Wild Birds Unlimited store where they’d buy feed and seed. That was how they first became familiar with the WBU products and services.
Back at home, Kathy worked as a medical transcriptionist while putting herself through school and raising a family with John. Eventually, she earned an undergraduate degree in business and later an MBA and master’s degree in human resources management.
“I was a late bloomer,” she said. “I earned my undergraduate degree in business in my 30’s, and I had to take a lab science. I chose ornithology, the study of birds, because I thought it would be easier than the other choices! We had to go on ‘field trips’ every Saturday at 4 a.m. That part wasn’t easy, but I loved it.”
After finishing her first degree, Kathy looked online at business opportunities. When she found out that Wild Birds Unlimited was a franchise, she contacted the franchise support center right away. Kathy and John went through the full Wild Birds Unlimited franchise development process which culminated in a trip to to the Franchise Support Center in Indianapolis to meet Paul Pickett, now chief development officer, Jim Carpenter, the founder and CEO and the rest of the franchise team During this trip they gained final approval to move forward on their dream of joining the Wild Birds Unlimited franchise system.
“I could have gone into banking or big box retail. This is nothing like that. Within our four walls, we bring connection and passion to our customers’ lives. We are doing things for nature and for birds. I am responsible for myself and where I want to go with my career. I have a great store team and a great corporate team. Jim has done a terrific job of creating a corporate team that is forward thinking. I have enjoyed every minute of being a franchisee.”
Kathy’s store is even certified by Wild Birds Unlimited as a training store. This certification allows the Haighs to host new franchisees right in their store for a week of hands-on training in day-to-day store operations. Kathy most recently trained a couple opening a store in Richland, Washington later this year.
“Over time, we have adapted all of WBU’s best practices, and our successes are based on that. We like to go out and share with other store owners. You can mentor new owners and instill what a wonderful difference they will make in themselves and in their community,” said Kathy.
“The benefit for me is the satisfaction that I’ve been able to instill in them a sense that they have the ability to control their own destiny. We learn and get ideas from each other. What works in one market may also work well in another.”
Kathy is the main operator and John works in the store part-time. Kathy’s children, the youngest two of whom were teenagers when the store opened, are now grown and help out in the store as needed along with their grandchildren .
When asked what she likes most about the store, Kathy loves the atmosphere and the store’s sign that says “take a nature break.”
“The nature music mixed with the store’s friendly staff draws in customers,” she said. “We have friendly staff who listen to stories of how your chicks just hatched or how you saw a hummingbird for the first time after being in your home for 30 years and now need a feeder. We are eager and excited with you. You can’t get the same experience online or at other stores.”