Susan Maranhao Purchased her Wild Birds Unlimited franchise in Sudbury, MA in October of 1990 and was open and operating merely two months later. She shares her franchising experience, including advice for prospective franchisees and those in their first year of business.
What appealed to you about franchising? I suspect that like a lot of franchisees, I was looking to be my own boss and to have some control over my own destiny. I had worked in the public sector, for the City of Boston, for more than 14 years. It is something that I loved doing because I was able to see the direct and positive impact of my work on both the residents of and visitors to the City of Boston. The major negative to working in the public sector is that more often than not you are not in control of your career path. Oftentimes whether or not you have a job is contingent upon who or what political party is in charge. I wanted to have a stable future and to not have to worry about whether or not I was going to have a job come the next election.
While opening up a new business is inherently a risky proposition, for me, by purchasing a franchise from a well-respected franchisor, I feel that I was able to reduce the amount of risk involved.
How did franchising help you get your business off the ground so fast? I did not have to “re-invent the wheel”. When you are starting a new business, there is so much that you know but there is even more that you don’t know and even more that you don’t know that you don’t know. My franchisor had been through the opening of a new business many times before and helped with multiple things including site selection, store layout, opening product orders, and marketing. While opening up a new business is inherently a risky proposition, for me, by purchasing a franchise from a well-respected franchisor, I feel that I was able to reduce the amount of risk involved. I also didn’t and still don’t have to be an expert in everything. I learn from the expertise of the franchise team, who provide me with lots of great information to help me run my business. My franchisor also has staff whose job it is to both develop and find new products to sell, to develop marketing plans, and to provide best practices in store operations.
Why did you invest in a Wild Birds Unlimited franchise? Wild Birds Unlimited stood out from the others. I felt that being a franchisee of Wild Birds Unlimited would allow me to make a positive impact in peoples’ lives by bringing them closer to the nature all around them. Having grown up feeding birds, I would be able to share my love of nature and inspire others to really take a look at the nature around them and to encourage them to take care of it, for themselves and future generations.
I am very fortunate because I am as excited today to come to work as I was when I opened the doors of my business in 1990.
What should prospective franchisees think about? Be sure you love what it is that the franchise does because, particularly in the beginning, you will more than likely be working seven days a week. I am very fortunate because I am as excited today to come to work as I was when I opened the doors of my business in 1990. Also, ask yourself if the business is going to allow you the kind of lifestyle you want. If you want your weekends free, then a retail business is probably not for you. Do your homework. Ask lots of questions, not only of yourself like what is it that I really want out of owning a franchise, but of the franchisor, such as can you help me achieve what I am looking for. Surround yourself with experts who can give you advice and guidance throughout the process of purchasing a franchise, including an attorney and an accountant.
What advice do you have for franchisees in their first year of business? In the first year of operation, I suggest that franchisees closely follow the plan provided by the franchisor. The franchise has established best practices and has gained expertise over the years, so it’s smart to follow the advice given. Stay in constant contact with your franchise representative. Share successes as well as concerns. Speak to fellow franchisees to find out how they handle certain situations. Be a student of your business and learn what works and what doesn’t. Work hard, learn, and never stop asking questions.
What is your work/life balance like? When I first opened the doors of my Wild Birds Unlimited store, a seven day work week was the norm. There wasn’t any staff and I did it all. As time went on and the business grew, I was able to hire staff. This allowed me not only time off, but to take the opportunity to really start working on my business and not just in my business. I went from working seven days a week to having one to two days off a week. Unfortunately, my husband became ill and as a result I was taking lots of unexpected time off, but this is where having well-trained staff is invaluable. I was able to take the time off I needed and not worry about the business. Today, I still work six days a week, but this is because I want to and not because I have to. I have great staff who can run the business without me, but I love being at the store. My staff and customers have become my extended family and a great group of friends.
I am fortunate in that Wild Birds Unlimited, Inc. is not only is willing to listen to its franchisees regarding their concerns but also actively solicits input from its franchisees when making decisions about operations that will impact everyone.
What do you find challenging about being a franchisee? Owning a franchise means you must abide by the rules and regulations that your franchisor has, even if you don’t agree with them. I am fortunate in that Wild Birds Unlimited, Inc. is not only is willing to listen to its franchisees regarding their concerns but also actively solicits input from its franchisees when making decisions about operations that will impact everyone. But in reality, when the franchisor makes a decision, you have to comply, because that’s what you agreed to do when you became a franchisee.
What support from your franchisor do you particularly appreciate today? What I most appreciate is that my franchisor and I work well together. I receive a high level of support from my Wild Birds Unlimited Enterprise Coach. She helps me establish both revenue and operational goals each year and then I work on a plan to achieve them. I really appreciate having a monthly video conference call with her during which we review accomplishments and discuss what still needs to be done. She is not afraid to ask me the tough questions and to challenge me to achieve my goals.
Today, email, the internet and other forms of communication have made it much easier for Wild Birds Unlimited franchisees from across the country to support and encourage one another and the franchisor has made it easy for us to do so.
Do you receive support from fellow franchisees? Back in 1990 when I opened my Wild Birds Unlimited store, there were less than 60 stores open, and most of them were in the Midwest. Because there were fewer than five stores in New England, we all actively supported one another. Whether it was answering a product or vendor question, sharing successes or commiserating over challenges. Not only did we support each other, but we worked together, doing joint advertising, whether on television or in newspapers. Our relationship has continued to this day and as new stores open in New England, they are included in our informal support group. Today, email, the internet and other forms of communication have made it much easier for Wild Birds Unlimited franchisees from across the country to support and encourage one another and the franchisor has made it easy for us to do so. There are several available forums on which franchisees can post questions, concerns and offer advice. I am also fortunate to be part of a Peer Performance Group, which is moderated by the franchisor. This group consists of six franchise stores whose owners act as a Board of Advisors for each other, offering encouragement, advice and critical questioning. This is all done in a supportive environment.
How profitable is your business? I am pleased to report that gross revenue for 2016 was $1.01 million and a similar gross revenue projection is currently being made for 2017.
Wild Birds Unlimited holds the honor of being one of only 200 franchise brands ranked high enough by their franchisees to make Franchise Business Review’s 2017 Top Franchises List and is a Franchise Business Review 10-Year Hall of Fame Member, which means it has been featured on our Best of the Best list of franchises for 10 or more years. Wild Birds Unlimited’s consistent placement on Franchise Business Review’s annual Best of the Best list highlights its consistent commitment to its franchisees' success.
Read what Wild Birds Unlimited’s franchisees think of its financial opportunity, culture, leadership, training, marketing and more by viewing the results of its latest franchisee satisfaction survey here.
For more information about franchising with Wild Birds Unlimited, call (888) 730-7108 or visit wbufranchise.com.
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