Wild Birds Unlimited features a robust and multi-tiered coaching program for its franchisees. 1851 Franchise sat down with Wild Birds Unlimited Business Development Coach Nicole Wilson to learn more about what it means to excel with the brand.
1851: What is Business Development Coaching?
Wilson: I coach franchisees who want to be in the Enterprise Coaching group but need to put more systems in place and build best practices. We start by doing a comprehensive assessment, and these owners work with our team until they qualify for Enterprise Coaching.
I personally work with about 27–30 stores, providing them guidance and support when needed. I’m typically the first line of contact when a franchisee needs guidance. We have a diverse lineup of store owners, so their needs and knowledge bases can differ dramatically. Some of them have been in the business for years, and some of them are brand new, so I have to really tailor my approach to each individual. I try to listen very closely and let them guide me to what they need before we get to work. Once we’ve got a good grip on what we need to work on, we’ll start to talk about best practices.
1851: How does a franchisee join the Business Development Coaching program?
Wilson: They just need to express an interest. Then it’s my job to help them. We’ll work on financials, management, marketing, visual branding; any area where the store could benefit from improvements. The program is free.
1851: How do coaches across the development group coordinate with each other?
Wilson: We have monthly webinars, and we get together for a 90-minute session at our annual conference. The conference is the best way to get people working together face-to-face, but the webinars have proven to be a great method to get franchisees on the same page about store-owner issues. Then our webinars have programming around these issues.
1851: What are some common issues you help stores work through?
Wilson: Staffing and inventory management are common issues. More often than not when a store reaches a roadblock, it’s a staffing issue, which itself is a management issue. It’s very easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day operations, and staff management tends to become a lower priority. Store owners might think, ‘they’re showing up on time, and they’re happy, so we’re all good.’ We try to reorient them to focus on task delegation and setting productivity expectations.
I have a background in inventory management, and I also advise a lot in this area. For example, I had a store that came to me two and half years ago because they had a good amount of business but unusually high inventory. We were able to lower their inventory without decreased sales, which significantly improved their cash flow.
1851: What other advice can you give to a new store owner who might be managing staff for the first time?
Wilson: The first thing is making sure you are always available as a resource. You need to set clear expectations, but it’s just as important that you are around to help the staff meet those expectations. You also need to connect the day-to-day operational tasks with the overall goals of the store. That gives the staff a sense of ownership and involvement that is essential.
I often recommend mystery-shopper programs to get a better sense of how customers experience the staff. You should be getting 100% positive feedback, otherwise you’ll want to want to dig into the feedback and work with your staff on anything that isn’t up to snuff.
1851: What does success look like for a WBU franchisee?
Wilson: My goal is for our store owners to move into the Enterprise Coaching group. That’s the most apparent marker for success. It’s sad to see them go, personally, but professionally I am very happy they’re moving on.
1851: How has your approach to coaching changed over the years?
Wilson: I used to have a very technical approach and use a lot of training tools. With time, I’ve learned to listen better and have a more empathetic ear. I also consider myself to be more owner-focused now. So I’m growing along with my stores.
1851: What do you enjoy about coaching?
Wilson: I really like working closely with stores. We do a lot of video chat now instead of just phone calls, so I can really get to know the owners. We’ll work together closely, and then we both get to marvel at the results, so it’s very satisfying.
1851: How long have you been at WBU?
Wilson: I just had my 11-year anniversary at WBU. It’s been a big part of my life for a long time. Before I became a coach, I specialized in inventory management for WBU, so it really helps that I am still able to use those skills to assist our owners in that aspect of their business.
1851: How did you get involved with WBU?
Wilson: I was looking for a product or buyer job in Indianapolis, and I found a listing for a Garden Merchandising Manager position with WBU. I used to help my father with the bird feeders in his yard, so I had a little bit of non-professional experience with bird-feeding, and I thought it could be a fun line of work.
Now, of course, I backyard bird-feed at my own home. I’ve got three or four different kinds of feed going, and we get a wide variety of birds visiting every day. So I’ve learned a lot. I can identify most of the birds that come around. My family calls me “the bird nerd.”