Amy Moore, director of retail operations at Wild Birds Unlimited, speaks with FBR's editorial director about the growth of the Wild Birds Unlimited brand and offers insight on what it takes to run a Wild Birds Unlimited franchise. Listen to the full interview, here!
Sarah Brady: Franchise Business Review presents "FBR Viewpoints." Visit franchisebusinessreview.com for more information on today's top franchise opportunities.
Sarah: Hello, this is Sarah Brady with Franchise Business Review. Today I'm talking with Amy Moore, director of retail operations at Wild Birds Unlimited. Welcome, Amy.
Amy Moore: Thank you, Sarah. I'm excited to have an opportunity to talk a little bit more about myself and our company. It's a subject I'm very passionate about
Sarah: Excellent. Maybe, you could start by just telling us the story of Wild Birds Unlimited, how you got started, and then where you are today.
Amy: The company started in 1981. It was started by Jim Carpenter. That's when he opened the very first Wild Birds Unlimited store in our great State of Indiana here. Two years later, 1983, my mom had an opportunity. Her background was social work. She got out of the workforce to raise four kids.
At that point in time she had an opportunity to go back into the workforce and stumbled upon a Wild Birds Unlimited in Michigan. She became manager of that store. In 1986, an opportunity came up to actually purchase the business.
What was a little bit unique in the situation is that we took a step back and said, "Maybe, we should make this investment with the whole family being involved." She was at the helm, but the four kids and my dad, we would all invest and purchase part of the store, and all be involved in it.
We made the big leap, and we bought the business. Some of us were more involved in working that business. I spent a lot of my high school career and then in college. I would work side by side at the store. I was more heavily involved.
Then as I went to college and graduated, I thought, "You know, this company is great. How can I make a career out of it?" I sent my resume to the home office, the corporate office, and became a business coach.
At that point in time in my role as a business coach, I would go out and provide one on one support to the franchise store owners. That was incredibly rewarding.
I worked my way through some other avenues. I stayed in the Operations Department but really enjoyed working with new owners. I moved from the business coach and got more specified into new owners and also the training program.
I am now in my current role, which is the director of retail operations. I oversee our support team.
Sarah: Wow. It sounds like you're pretty familiar with the brand if you've been working at Wild Birds Unlimited for most of your career. It sounds like even before, truly beginning your career.
Amy: I'm going on 25 years next March, will be with the corporate office here, and then years prior to that. It's a great concept, and it's really a great company.
Sarah: That segue fits perfectly into the next question which is, what would you say makes Wild Birds Unlimited stand out from others in the space?
Amy: That's a great question. I spent some time thinking what makes us very different. One of the things that we do each year, we do the Franchise Business Review survey. That is something that it's very important to our company, and it is a metric that we use to see how are we providing our support services to our franchisees.
We consistently rank very high in the survey, but what we do is we look at where is there opportunity, where can we still improve with the questions that are asked. There's a couple areas that we've highlighted that we want to definitely improve.
One of those is just the financial picture with our franchisees. It's what can we do then to improve those marks and get a better understanding with our franchisees. We really spend a lot of time individually, customize support with our franchisees to look over each and every financial statement each year, provide feedback, give benchmarks to them.
We have developed an online training program specifically to improve their financial acumen. We also look for our Enterprise Leadership Conference, what can we do, again, to make sure that we're also including something that's financially related.
We have had several years where we've had an outside speaker come in and help enhance their skill set. That was one area. Communication was another one. I think that's evident in many franchise organizations is just ways. There's so much information out there. What are ways to improve communication?
This year we sent out a pretty extensive survey. We do quite a bit of surveying our franchisees, but it gave us a lot of good feedback on what we could do to improve. We sent out the survey, and we ended up forming, too, a communications committee to help us work through the ideas that came out of the survey.
What are those initiatives that we can put in place to improve the critical piece of communicating with our franchisees? Then technology is one. How can we continue to enhance? We have some pretty major initiatives coming on board.
We're going to move into a new point of sale system. Again, this was another area where we formed a committee within that group, a technology committee, to make sure as we investigate, are we making sure that we have the franchisee top of mind with what their needs are.
All of these pieces will, hopefully, improve the efficiency of how they do it. Save them time, and save them money in the long run. Then, finally, the last one was trying to involve the franchisees in the business itself.
One of the things that our CEO will be doing is called the Listening Tour. He is going to go out this third quarter and that's really the intent is to say, "Here's what our initiatives are. Here's the direction of the company and solicit feedback from the franchisees in certain markets where we can get it scheduled and offer that type of thing.
Sarah: It's wonderful to hear that you use FBR's surveys and your own surveys to gather all this feedback. It seems like you clearly care about franchisee satisfaction in getting continuous input.
That's wonderful from a franchisee's standpoint, of course. Who would you say is your ideal franchisee candidate for people that are contemplating purchasing a franchise for the first time, or a second or third time? [laughs]
Amy: Sure. Passionate about nature and passionate about our backyard bird feeding business. There has to be passion about nature. Many people come to this because they have fed the birds. It doesn't have to be, but that's the majority is there's some nature in their background and just giving back to the community.
That's another real pillar is going out into the community and educating them about the hobby, about nature, aligning with strategic partnerships. That's a big one. You know, it is the people business. You have to enjoy interacting with people and with your customers.
Finally, you have to be passionate about business itself. That's important. This can be a big investment. We want to ensure that we have candidates who want to really build that business, so when they go to sell it or they go to retire, they can get the maximum value out of the business.
Sarah: Then what would you say is the toughest part about being a Wild Bird Unlimited franchisee?
Amy: Franchisees come to us from all different backgrounds. We have some that are bankers, some that are in manufacturing. It's all across the board. Some are CEOs of companies. Some have done retail background, some have not.
I'd say the toughest thing is when you're coming into retail, just the nature of retail, you have to wear a lot of different hats. In our business, there's the marketing piece of it. There's being out on the floor. There's understanding the birds. There's knowing what product.
You're coming in. You may have been exceptional at marketing in a company but, now, you have marketing and all of those other pieces. That's one. The nature of retail, it can be cyclical. For us, we have two customers the people coming through the door, wanting to feed the birds and then the birds.
That also can bring some seasonal issues. Some of that is a little bit outside of the control of our franchisees. That can be a little bit tough but, all in all, it is a great retail business to be in because of the nature aspect and our customers are wonderful. They get joy out of feeding birds and enjoying nature.
Sarah: Awesome. Wild Birds Unlimited was recently ranked in FBR's most recent surveys as a top brand for women. Congratulations, first of all. I know you've been in other lists in prior quarters and years, but that's our most recent award for Wild Birds Unlimited.
Amy: We have a good leader, too. I have a mentor that I've worked with for over 20 years, Pat Perkinson. She has been instrumental in coaching me and, I know, all of us in the company. She's another one that should get kudos to strong women leadership.
Sarah: Wonderful. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, about the culture at Wild Birds, the leadership and the support that you offer to franchisees that has led to you being rated so highly on franchisee satisfaction?
Amy: Absolutely. Jim, our CEO, he is real big in that this is a learning organization. He has really invested in training and development internally. For my team, we're going through the CFE, Certified Franchise Executive program. For many of you, that's a three year program with extensive learning, seminars, experience in the field.
That goes throughout all the other departments, is investing in us, doing ongoing training and development. That's an important piece of our culture. It starts too with our mission, vision, and values that sets the tone.
We haven't created it and just stopped there. We revisit. Even this year, we have revised it to make it more succinct and memorable. We've added a support promise. Our support promise is our promise to our franchisees. That's our timely response to them, always finding ways that we can do things better or improve our best practices.
It's also what we call is a how did I do culture. We're constantly saying, "How did I do?" Whether it was a presentation we gave to our franchisees, it was a site visit. It could also be internally, me with my team. "What can I do better? How did I do with that piece of it? Could I have handled it differently?" That's internally.
We're also asking our franchisees to do that with their team. You be the leader and ask your team, "Hey, how could I have done that differently?"Or even in interaction with the customer, "How could I approach it? Did I leave anything out? Did I educate them about something cool with the hobby?"
That's a really important piece of our culture, is finding ways to, again, make improvements or enhancements. The last is, if you look at our company, we have over 45 employees. The bulk of the staff is in the support with my team. That's ensuring that we have exceptional support. It's an investment Jim's put in the company.
We have nine coaches within my department. We also have an answer center team that's headed up by a customer experience specialist. For our new owners, as far as our support team, we have a cross departmental team. There are two operational coaches that work in this team. They work with new owners through their first year of operation.
On this team, we have somebody who heads up our nature education, someone in the marketing field, HR and training, and visual. It's a great approach to ensure, in that first year, that you're trying to get those new owners off to a great start.
That team then provides feedback to our HR and training manager. That helps fine tune our training curriculum and our on site training program here.
Sarah: That's great. I love that it comes up to that how did I do culture. Amy, what other advice would you give to people that are exploring franchise opportunities currently?
Amy: A couple things that I would say is just do your homework and follow the process in place. Speaking about our company, I know we have very extensive process, but we have candidates that come through and say, "Wow, I really do appreciate that you went into so much detail."
It was extensive because they were able to learn all about the company. We have them reach out and do their due diligence with talking to other franchisees. That's really important to find out, what does the franchisee think about the customer, their interactions with customers but, most importantly too, with the franchisor.
That's one thing that we'll post our Franchise Business Review surveys to candidates so they can go in and see what the existing system is saying. Definitely do the homework, follow the process, reach out and listen so that you feel most comfortable that you know enough about the business, the customers, and the franchisor and finally being able to make a decision.
Do you think each and every day that you're going to get up and love what you do? That's something that's important to me, too. I feel very lucky to be able to get up and say that I get to go work for an exceptional company but, most importantly, interact with my team and franchisees. They are the best in the industry.
Sarah: Well, that's great advice. It's been really wonderful learning more about the Wild Birds Unlimited brand and getting to know a little bit about your story and how you worked your way up from the franchisee level to the corporate level.
Thank you again and congratulations on making this year's top women's list, the FBR Franchisee Satisfaction Awards.
Amy: Thank you. Thank you for giving me an opportunity today to share some information about the company, and the process, and our support team. I appreciate it.
Sarah: That's it for this edition of FBR Viewpoints. For more information on today's top franchise opportunities, please visit franchisebusinessreview.com.