After working for 13 years as a naturalist educator, longtime Wild Birds Unlimited customer Laurel Zoet found a way to bring her passion for learning and backyard bird feeding together through the brand’s business ownership opportunity.
For Laurel Zoet and her husband Mitch, becoming Wild Birds Unlimited franchisees was a dream that was nearly 10 years in the making. It all started with a passion for nature—Zoet established a career as a naturalist educator while pursuing her backyard bird feeding hobby at home. Both she and her husband frequented their local Wild Birds Unlimited store, with Zoet even giving nature education talks at the brand’s locations.
Recognizing that bringing people and nature together was her calling, Laurel discussed the possibility of opening up their own store about eight years ago. But they were in the middle of renovating an 1890’s farmhouse, so the timing wasn’t right. It wasn’t until a few years ago that becoming franchisees seemed within reach. Zoet had left her traditional job behind to start her own business—Nature on the Go—and was looking for ways to take it to the next level.
“About two years into my journey with Nature on the Go, I had outgrown working out of our home. So, Mitch and I had a conversation about what was next for the company. Would a brick and mortar location give the business more legitimacy? What would I do in the off-season—sell products? The more we talked, the more we realized that what we were describing was Wild Birds Unlimited. That’s when everything came full circle,” said Zoet. “The next day, my husband called the brand’s franchise development team and got the ball rolling. A little over a year later, we opened for business.”
The Zoets launched their Wild Birds Unlimited store in Brighton, Michigan nearly two years ago now, and have been growing alongside the brand ever since. Zoet has been able to continue educating the local community about the ins and outs of backyard bird feeding while turning her passion for the hobby into her full-time career. Zoet says the passion she feels for the WBU brand is evident across its entire system, both internally and within the franchise ownership community.
“What first stood out to me about Wild Birds Unlimited was the passion that they have for the hobby. I recently read Jim Carpenter’s book, The Joy of Bird Feeding, and it’s clear that it wasn’t written by a man who was only trying to start a company. It was written by a man who genuinely wants people to experience the joy of backyard bird feeding,” said Zoet. “Wild Birds Unlimited is the best in the business. From our products that have lifetime warranties to our eco-clean material that helps the environment and the birds, every detail of the business is designed to bring people and nature together.”
Laurel and Mitch aren’t the only franchisees experiencing success with Wild Birds Unlimited—the brand’s 300-plus unit system is consistently growing on both the local and national levels. That’s because its business model is geared toward growth, from its affordable initial investment range that falls between $125,978 to $199,172 to its strong support system. In fact, it’s that level of support and guidance that has allowed the Zoets to break into the retail industry.
“Our experience with Wild Birds Unlimited has been incredibly positive. That’s something that I’ve found to be consistent across the entire system. When we were first researching the business ownership opportunity, we visited seven stores and talked to the franchisees who own them. No matter who we talked to, the feedback was the same. We were told time and time again that if we went for it and opened our own Wild Birds Unlimited, we wouldn’t regret it. Sure enough, they were right,” said Zoet. “The Wild Birds Unlimited team is a great resource. I’ve never been in retail before, but they guide you through it and are there to support you every step of the way. And that makes all the difference.”