In a seemingly small niche, Wild Birds Unlimited is thriving.
While visiting a Wild Birds Unlimited store in Pennsylvania, Paul Pickett, their Chief Development Officer, recalls a customer that approached him. She was carrying a basketful of Bark Butter and mealworms for her bluebirds, and she was animated in sharing her love of the store. The customer explained that she had lost her husband unexpectedly, and shortly thereafter, she also lost her father. Following this series of tragedies, she became the primary caregiver to her elderly mother. Her strain and grief became so unbearable that one morning she just could not get out of bed when the alarm sounded. She pulled the covers over her head hoping to shut out the world.
That’s when she heard a bird outside her window. To her dismay, it kept singing, and singing, so she crawled out of bed to shut out the noise. As she approached the window, she saw a beautiful Northern Oriole and she was immediately struck by its beauty. She thought to herself, “Every single day that bird has to fight for its food, feed its young and withstand the elements of Mother Nature. If, despite all of its daily challenges, this bird can sit there and sing its heart out, who am I to wallow in my own struggles?”
Paul Pickett recalls this story with such fondness. “She said at that very moment she was lifted out of her depression. She described how our store was bringing joy to her heart and helping her through her own challenges.”
“That’s the beauty of birds," Pickett says. “They inspire people. And at every Wild Birds Unlimited store, it is our mission to bring people and nature together.”
This truly unique concept was founded by Jim Carpenter 1981. Fueled by his love for birds and nature, Jim developed a retail store focused on providing high-quality products (like feeders, binoculars and birdhouses) and premium seed to attract and provide nutrition for backyard birds, and he called it Wild Birds Unlimited. It was only two years later that the first Wild Birds Unlimited franchise opened, and today, nearly 300 stores can be found across the United States and Canada. The rapid growth and success of Wild Birds Unlimited speaks to the passion and interest this seemingly small niche inspires. As it turns out, it’s not a small niche at all—52.8 million people feed birds and watch wildlife in their own backyards, $6.9 billion is spent annually on bird feeding and watching wildlife, and $5 billion is spent annually on bird seed and wildlife food. Wild Birds Unlimited caters to a real demand in the marketplace.
“I always tell prospective franchisees, ‘Yes, people spend money on bird feeding—it’s a pretty big deal.’ It’s just some little hobby only a few people enjoy. When Wild Birds Unlimited began franchising and reaching dozens and now hundreds of markets across the US and Canada, our customers realized that there’s a vast community of backyard bird feeders just like them. It really brought people together,” Pickett said.
According to Pickett, the average Wild Birds Unlimited customer is not a bird expert. In fact, most customers have never gone on a bird watching trip, but instead, just enjoy watching the birds in their own backyards. The typical customer wants assistance with drawing more beautiful birds into their environment so they can enhance their enjoyment of the hobby. No matter who comes through the doors of a Wild Birds Unlimited store, one thing is certain—the retail niche that Carpenter created is one that works. The business has grown substantially since its founding, experiencing same-store sales growth for six consecutive years. Pickett believes that their success is due to the passionate community they’ve attracted and nurtured all the way from the corporate level to the franchisees to the customers (and the birds and critters, too).
“When a franchisee opens a store, customers so often express their genuine gratitude to the owners for bringing the store into their community”, Pickett explains They’re not only excited to finally have a place to get the bird feeding products they need to attract and care for the widest array of birds, but to also connect with like-minded people (you could say other hobby enthusiasts). Our mission has always been to bring people and nature together—and that really does make a huge difference in people’s lives.”
To learn more about Wild Birds Unlimited, click here.