Photo credit: Jen Short Photography (https://jenshortphotography.com)
Kristen Martyn describes herself as a fifth-generation entrepreneur, so it’s no surprise that she and her husband, Cameron Hogarth, have been successful as owners of a family-owned Wild Birds Unlimited franchise. Kristen opened her first retail location with her father and stepmother in Barrie, Ontario in 2016. Her dad brought with him years of business knowledge, her stepmother lent her bookkeeping skills, and Kristen was able to share her biology background and love of nature to educate customers about products that would attract wildlife to their backyards.
“I love birds and I am obsessed with bird watching,” Martyn said. “I had been looking for a way to combine my love and passion and background with my dream of owning my own business.”
Wild Birds Unlimited, headquartered in Carmel, IN, launched in 1981 when founder Jim Carpenter decided to marry his passion for birds and nature with his knowledge of retailing. The first franchise was awarded in 1983 and has now grown to nearly 350 locations throughout the US and Canada. Wild Birds Unlimited retail locations sell feeders, birdhouses, bird seed, birdbaths, books, binoculars and other nature-related products and gift items
Martyn has led birding tours and trips all over the world. She is also a specialist in the field of herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) and has worked on projects with some of Canada’s most endangered reptiles. A long-time customer of Wild Birds Unlimited, Martyn was surprised when her father suggested they open a location together. Neither of them knew the other had both been exploring new franchise opportunities with Wild Birds Unlimited.
“Neither one of us knew we were both looking into Wild Birds Unlimited franchise opportunities at the same time. It was a probably a strong sign that Wild Birds was a good fit for us,” Martyn said.
Wild Birds Unlimited is the largest, and most recognized source for backyard bird feeding and nature related products in North America. They offer large, protective territories, in-store and on-line sales, and comprehensive training and support throughout the life of the franchise. Learn More About Wild Birds unlimited here.
Before they bought the Barrie location, the family talked to other franchises about the day-to-day operations of the business. So far, their biggest challenge has been working as Canadian franchisees in a United States-based franchise. “Things like exchange rates, supply chain logistics, tariffs, and shipping costs all add complexity,” said Martyn, who often assists other Canadian franchise owners with questions they might have.
“Ninety percent of the calls I get are from Canadian franchisee candidates,” said Martyn. “I try to be as honest as I can and let them know that the franchise is wonderful—and yes, I would do it all over again today!”
Martyn credits Wild Birds Unlimited for its support and its willingness to go the extra mile for its Canadian franchise partners. Likewise, the Wild Birds Unlimited corporate office has recognized Kristen and Cameron as Franchise Business Review 2020 Rock Star Franchisees. Earlier this year, the couple purchased a second location in Newmarket, Ontario from owners who were ready to retire. Taking over a 15-year-old business amid the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic was no easy task, but Wild Birds Unlimited has successfully pivoted to include local delivery and curb-side pickup at their stores. Martyn also serves on several corporate committees, including the information technology and communications committee.
“There are a lot of Rock Star franchisees in the Wild Birds Unlimited system, so this is a huge honor. We know the caliber of people in the franchise and really enjoy working alongside them,” she said.
Martyn’s parents have since retired, leaving her and Cameron responsible for juggling two locations and raising their 18-month-old daughter. Cameron still holds-down a full-time technology consulting job but works part-time nights and weekends at their Wild Birds Unlimited stores. The couple represents a rare demographic in the franchise world—successful millennial entrepreneurs in an industry where the median age is over 50 and just 8% of franchise owners are under 35 years old.
During the recent COVID-19 crisis, Kristen and Cameron were able to keep their business going strong by taking phone orders, arranging for curb-side pickups, and making their own deliveries to customers’ homes. Kristen has spent up to 10 hours a day on the road ensuring that her customers received the products and supplies they needed while the government ordered retail locations to stay closed.
“Given the insanity we were going through, I felt like I was bringing joy to people at some capacity,” she said.
Demand has continued to grow at both locations throughout the two months-plus of retail shutdowns; April and May are their busiest months of the year.
“Our customers have been resilient working with us—we were happy to give them the support and the level of engagement that they needed,” he said.
When asked if their daughter will one day take over the business as a sixth-generation entrepreneur, Martyn joked that she’ll come into the business when she can legally work.
“She can already identify 10-15 birds,” said Martyn. “She’s interested in nature and enjoys watching the bird feeder. That’s part of the reason I became an entrepreneur. I saw the freedom it gave my dad to coach sports teams, spend holidays at the cottage a little longer, and spend time with us as a family—something we really want as well. Hopefully, Wild Birds Unlimited will give us the ability to spend lots more time with our daughter and that she’ll still be interested enough to work with mom and dad one day.”
Wild Birds Unlimited is the largest, and most recognized source for backyard bird feeding and nature related products in North America. They offer large, protective territories, in-store and on-line sales, and comprehensive training and support throughout the life of the franchise.
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