Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gary Fortcher has always been a nature lover. However, he had never considered franchising until he came across the website for Wild Birds Unlimited, a backyard bird feeding and nature specialty franchise. After meeting other franchisees excited about the outdoors, Fortcher decided to open a location of his own. Here's what he has learned.
Name: Gary Fortcher
Franchise owned: Oakdale, N.Y.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I opened my store in December, 2006.
Like myself, many of the Wild Birds Unlimited franchise owners have never opened a retail business before. Investing in a franchise provided us with the opportunity to take advantage of a proven business model to help make opening our store as seamless as possible.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
My background is in public accounting and financial planning in the private sector. Prior to opening Wild Birds Unlimited in Oakdale, I served as the CFO for a large pharmaceutical company that specialized in nutritional supplements.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
I was in a stage of ‘semi-retirement’ when I came across the Wild Birds Unlimited website. My wife and I have always been nature-oriented and enthusiastic about the outdoors, but had never thought about franchising. After doing more research on Wild Birds Unlimited and the franchise system, we visited several existing locations and were impressed by the amount of enthusiasm and excitement exhibited by each franchise owner. They were all very passionate about nature and giving customers the best experience possible. We were also impressed by the strong level of financial and corporate support offered to help franchise owners succeed and decided to bring Wild Birds Unlimited to our community.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
My start-up investment was between $104,162 and $172,511
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
We did most of research online when possible. The remainder of my research was done by communicating with the franchisor via email, telephone and snail-mail. Additionally, when the time was appropriate, I also communicated with existing store owners and ultimately spent a few days working in a Wild Birds Unlimited store in New Jersey to acclimate myself to the actual on-floor experience.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Although on paper I knew this was a seven-days-a-week business, that reality didn’t fully settle in for me until it became an actual experience, week after week. Additionally, the wearing of many hats that is required of an owner/operator took a little time to systematize and work into manageable schedules performed on a set calendar.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
I would recommend that they go forward with that desire, but that they spend the time required up-front preforming their due-diligence and fully understand every aspect of the franchise and how they will manage each aspect of it.
What’s next for you and your business?
I’m 65 years old and my wife, Kathleen is 62. Kathleen will be retiring within the next few years from another business. We will have to decide at that point how much involvement we want to have on a daily basis running our Wild Birds Unlimited franchise.
My daughter and my sister are both valued employees so we do feel we have an obligation to them for continued employment. My daughter has two small children so she needs a bit of flexibility in her work schedule. Together, we can provide her with that flexibility and also provide ourselves with the ability to get away on vacations rather easily, knowing that the store is always in good hands and being managed up to Wild Birds Unlimited standards. In the interim, we simply continue to focus on increasing our customer base and providing excellent service and true value to our existing customer base.