Nancy Castillo and Lois Geshwilm have decided it’s time to retire and sell their Wild Birds Unlimited store. “You work all of your life to get to retirement. We’re going to retire and enjoy. We live in a beautiful part of the country,” said Lois. “We enjoy birds a lot. We are looking forward to getting up late, relaxing with a cup of coffee and enjoying the birds in our backyard. We want to hike and look at birds. Basically, we are looking to wind down.
When Nancy and Lois began their journey as store owners of the Saratoga Springs, NY Wild Birds Unlimited in 2003, retiring was the last thing on their minds. Said Nancy, “Everyone knows that when you start a business, you don’t want to do that business until the day you die. The ways to exit your business are - you pass away, you sell it, you close it, or you pass it to family. We don’t have family in Saratoga, and we have no intention of closing the door on our customers. Our store is our baby; it’s a wonderful creature we created. We knew it would be for sale at some point.”
It was five years ago that Nancy first sat in on a workshop about “Selling Your Store” at the annual Wild Birds Unlimited conference. Wild Birds Unlimited offers workshops on succession planning and selling your franchise as part of its plan to more successfully support local store owners at all stages of the business.
“There’s a life cycle to everything,” says Chief Development Officer Paul Pickett. “Like nature, our store owner experience has a beginning, middle and end. We have an expectation that we will provide an exceptional ownership experience, just as we expect our franchisees to provide an exceptional retail experience to their customers. We have expectations for ourselves regarding site selection, getting through the first critical year as well as ongoing coaching and providing store owners a pathway to success. This package also includes providing the tools store owners need to gracefully and strongly exit their business.”
Nancy and Lois have prepared their store for sale and have met with their accountant and attorney as part of the preparation. “In selling the store, it’s very nice to have some tools to lean on, which the franchise does provide. They are constantly working to try to make these tools better. When you really appreciate it is when you go to your professional advisors, and they remind you that not everyone has that level of support when it comes time to sell their small business. Our accountant came right out and said we are fortunate that the franchise does some of these things to help us sell. We don’t have to start from square one. A lot of things we perhaps would not have thought of are there, and Wild Birds Unlimited makes the process much easier than if we had started the process from scratch,” Nancy explained.
Nancy and Lois noted that they are particularly grateful for their business coach, Betsy Westfall. Intense coaching is part of the company’s free and optional “Enterprise Coaching” model. “Betsy has been a fantastic partner since we started the business, then moved into the Enterprise Coaching model and now as we exit. We bounce things off her. She has been a valuable partner in our business,” said Nancy.
As the two set to retire, Lois has one more observation: “I live life to the fullest. I love our location and home and our cat. I love the people who come into our shop and the staff we employ. Now, I am getting older and want to be able to enjoy life at a different pace.” She adds, “The business was like a child. You have conflicts, such as ‘how's it going to be when I go?’ As I am getting older, I ask what do I want in life? I’m now looking forward to more time for myself.”
Even though Nancy and Lois are selling their store, Paul explains that not all Wild Birds Unlimited franchises are sold to a 3rd party. Family member succession plans are becoming more common, he notes. “A plan to exit your business should begin in the initial stages of investigating the franchise opportunity. A solid succession plan will ensure a smooth exit at any stage of business ownership.