Ed and Grace Valentine share with Franchise Business Review what led them to open their Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) franchise in Lancaster, PA in 2014 and what their franchising experience has been like. Clearly they are enjoying it since they are opening another WBU store in Mechanicsburg, PA and have committed to opening a third in Exton, PA.
What is it like to own your own business? We love being our own bosses. We are in control of our destiny and making money for ourselves and not someone else. The buck stops with us – we are responsible for our results. Many of our retail customers have become friends. We have the love of the hobby of bird feeding in common so have a lot to talk about. Also, it is so much fun to watch our staff grow, both professionally and personally. It is really a wonderful thing to have a business that fills both our professional and personal wants and desires.
Why did you decide to invest in a franchise instead of opening an independent business? Although Ed’s previous business experience included budgeting, financial statement management, building a strong team, and other foundation skills that an entrepreneur needs to start, grow and manage a successful business and Grace brought a significant level of customer service focus from her past career in nursing, we did not want to spend the time and money developing the business processes of a new venture. We wanted to focus our efforts on building a strong business. Having the proven WBU plan and on-going support has given us the time and energy to do so. If you follow the system, it is pretty straightforward. Using the tools WBU provides has greatly contributed to our success.
How did you end up selecting WBU? We were customers of the Buckingham, PA WBU store for over 20 years so believed in the quality of the products. When we moved to Lancaster, PA to be closer to family, we noted the absence of a WBU store. We were ready to make the leap into owning our own business and felt that WBU was for us based on our long-term relationship with the brand and passion for feeding birds. By speaking with existing WBU franchise owners, we confirmed its culture matched our core values, that we would be provided with the tools and guidance to become successful, and given the independence to manage our own business decisions and ultimately “own” our success.
What is your work-life balance like? It is very good. Sure, owning a business is a lot of work, but we take the time to live our lives. For the first seven to eight months, we did not take much time away from the business, but we knew that this was going to be the case. That being said, we took a two- week vacation during our first year of operation. You need to plan some time to recharge your batteries. Even though we worked really long hours for that first year, we loved it. The business is so much fun. The customers are great and we get to talk about birds and nature all day long. What could be more fun than that? We subscribe to the “work hard-play hard” way of life and our business allows for both, if you plan for it. We are also not on-site every day. We immediately hired part-time staff, trained them, and delegated responsibilities. It’s our well-trained staff that allows us the freedom to have two days off every week. In addition, we do our best not to do much work from home. We certainly could do a lot of strategic planning and marketing from home, but choose not to so that we have a good work-life separation.
Do you find your fellow franchisees helpful? A fellow franchisee helped us set up our store, which was really helpful and gave us a very good starting point. We have made a lot of new friends across the Franchise system. Our fellow franchisees want us to succeed, they have been, and continue to be, extremely helpful as we grow our business. It is always great to have another owner to use as a sounding board who has real time experience in dealing with similar issues, to share ideas with or, in some cases, to vent to. We get to share both successes and concerns with a group of like-minded people who are going through exactly the same thing we are.
What have you found challenging about franchising? There are times when we feel we are being asked to do something we don’t necessarily think is going to work for us or our market or that we don’t agree with. But, when we step back, we realize these times are few and far between. We respect the fact that our franchisor sees the bigger picture.
What advice do you have for people exploring franchising? We recommend talking to as many existing owners as possible, both in person and on the phone, to get the full understanding of the concept. You must embrace being a part of the franchise, follow the proven system, and use the resources that are available. Being part of a strong franchise is great, but you also have to remember that it is your business and you are responsible for getting the results you want.
To see how WBU’s franchisees rate it in a variety of crucial areas such as leadership, culture, training and support, financial outlook, and franchisee community, click here. To learn about the experiences of more WBU franchisees, click on their names Kevin and Jen Lair and Ellen Davis.
If you are interested in learning what it takes to invest in a franchise and how to do so wisely, visit FBR’s Franchise Buyer’s Toolkit. To see more franchises that are ranked highly by their franchisees click here.