For The Birds
Sure, I like birds as much as the next guy. I have a feeder outside my office window that attracts a flock of jovial little sparrows every day. Feeding the birds enriches the food chain and, frankly, as a former game-bird hunter, it feels good to repay Mother Nature. Birds are hard workers; in fact, they've been the foundation of many successful franchises--think "extra crispy"--but now there's a franchise concept that actually is for the birds: Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU).
A WBU retail store is a friendly spot for our fine feathered friends, featuring private-label bird feed, feeders, habitats and birdbaths, as well as literature and gifts. Wild Birds Unlimited Inc., founded by Jim Carpenter and based in Carmel, Indiana, now boasts more than 260 locations, each utilizing anywhere from 1,200 to 6,000 square feet of retail space.
As a franchisee, a WBU store would be a nice place to spend your time. You'd be greeted by warm and informative displays while a chirping bird soundtrack accompanies the soft sound of the drippers in the birdbaths. In essence, a WBU store is an effectively merchandised hobby shop and requires active participation from entrepreneurs in building personal relationships with the hobbyists.
This fact is best exemplified by the earnings claims published by the franchisor, which show average store sales continue to climb significantly for at least the first three years a WBU store is open. According to Item 19 of the company's offering circular, the median annual gross sales of a sample of 19 stores open for business for between 12 and 23 months was $168,058 for the period ending December 31, 1998. The median for stores open two to three years was reported as $197,012, while the median for the 50 stores open three to four years was recorded at $251,890.
Your competition will come from a variety of sources, including chain stores that stress a lower perceived price point, but WBU has countered with specialty brands and cute product names like Bird Bug Bites--reportedly a delicious blend of bugs and rendered beef suet. In addition, WBU offers sales clerks the custom-made distinction of becoming Certified Bird Feeding Specialists. Any such specialist could point out that other brands of bird feed contain fillers, such as milo, which aren't attractive to birds.
Admittedly, sales levels won't incite a get-rich-quick mentality, especially when you consider the median cost of goods sold for 152 franchised stores was 51.99 percent of median gross sales in 1997. But many franchisees are involved for reasons other than money.
WBU, which was ranked the No. 1 bird store franchise and No. 114 overall in Entrepreneur's 1999 Franchise 500®, is a mainstream franchisor that offers typical franchise support. Franchisees pay a 4 percent royalty as well as advertising contributions of as much as 2 percent of gross sales. The franchisor estimates your start-up costs will range from $75,876 to $125,043, including the $18,000 initial fee. Ideally, you should place your store in an affluent area populated by college-educated families with above-average levels of discretionary income. WBU is currently seeking to expand in all areas, especially on the East Coast and in California.
Todd Maddocks is a franchise attorney and small-business consultant. You can reach him at TMaddocks@aol.com
Wild Birds Unlimited Inc., (888) 302-2473, http://www.wbu.com