After a standout year, Wild Birds Unlimited set its sights on 2017, searching for new markets to expand into and continuing to focus on the satisfaction and confidence of its franchisees. While 2016 has been the strongest year of unit growth for the brand in a decade, the bird watching and feeding retailer is leveraging their impressive momentum for even further expansion. Growing throughout the country, there’s a particular untapped market with major potential where the brand hopes to grow—Montgomery, Alabama.
Historically, Alabama has been a very strong market for Wild Birds Unlimited. “Alabama was, in fact, the first southern market that we expanded to when we were just getting started in franchising in the 1980s, with Huntsville, Alabama being our first southern store,” says Wild Birds Unlimited chief development officer Paul Pickett. With four locations in four major markets, including Auburn, Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville, the brand has seen consistent success for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s a beautiful state with a wealth of ideal habitats for bird watching, whether it be in a forest or in someone’s backyard. Expanding to Montgomery would allow the brand to round out its striking presence in Alabama.
“When we look at a market, we engage our hobby and nature education department to gather some facts about bird feeding activity and population in that market,” says Pickett. “We run demographics, we look at retailing trends and take a look at who else is there. We know that Montgomery has a strong market, with lots of mid-size communities. There are over 150,000 people there, with an average household income that’s well over what we’re looking for in a 5-mile radius.”
Aside from the impressive demographic, Alabama also boasts some of the best bird watching in the country, from meadowlarks to bluebirds to cuckoos. As a city, Montgomery also has a vast number of habitats where bird watchers enjoy the atmosphere just as much as the unique birds that inhabit and visit them.
In downtown Montgomery, for example, Oak Park boasts a number of trails, primarily forested by mature hardwoods. Lagoon Park in northeast Montgomery features extensive shallow wetlands that are perfect for wading birds, small rafts of ducks in the winter and swallows. And just 15 minutes west of downtown Montgomery sits Gunter Hill Park, a campground with tall pines hardwoods draped with Spanish moss.
Riding the momentum of an accomplished year, Wild Birds Unlimited isn’t done growing yet. Now, says Pickett, is the perfect time to continue expansion.
“As a franchise system, we’ve really been on our game,” says Pickett. “We ended 2016 as the best year from a development standpoint in over a decade. Franchisee satisfaction and unit economics are strong and growing because we really refined to simplified our system and the operations of the stores. Backyard bird feeding continues to be one of the most beloved hobbies.”