We recently talked with Barbara Whipkey, a new franchise owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Lexington Park, MD about her experience buying a franchise. Here’s what she had to say and her advice for others looking to invest in a franchise business.
Q: When did your franchise open for business?
A: August 2015
Q: Were you ever a business owner prior to owning your franchise?
A: Yes, but not in the same industry.
Q: What made you want to become a business owner?
I was looking for a job that my husband and I could use as a retirement income while keeping us active. We are both of the personality that we will never be able to retire and sit idle.
Q: Did you seek out a specific franchise or research several before making your decision?
A: I knew the industry I was interested in, but not the specific opportunity.
Q: How did you find this particular opportunity and what compelled you to ultimately purchase it?
A: I knew that I was interested in opening a bird feeding store. When I first started researching, I was not sure whether I was interested in going independent or purchasing a franchise. I honestly knew very little about franchising, but it did not take a lot of research to realize that Wild Birds Unlimited aligned well with my goals and beliefs surrounding the hobby of backyard bird feeding.
Q: Did you speak with other current franchisees about their experiences before making your decision?
A: Yes, and it was the most important part of the buying process.
Q: What was your experience like working with the franchisor during the decision-making process?
A: My experience in working with the WBU franchise was wonderful. The entire process was organized and required that my husband and I work together systematically evaluate our goals and needs. This ensured that by the end of the process that we were certain the franchise was a good match. There was no room for doubt by the time the process was complete.
Q: How long did the exploration process take?
A: I decided that Wild Birds Unlimited was the franchise for me after only one call. However, from there, it took about four months until signing. They did a great job of slowing us down, and really walking us through the process. There were times I said, "Gosh, I already know I’m ready!" But in the end, I understood why the process was in place as it was and agreed with the pace. To slow me down even when we were ready to sign really speaks to the Wild Birds Unlimited system. After signing, I realized the process isn’t about verifying what you know. It’s about what you don’t know.
Q: How would you rate the training and support offered by the franchisor?
A: The training and support I have received have been amazing. At no time have I felt that I was in this alone. I know that I only have to pick up the phone and someone will answer my needs. It’s not at all unusual to send an email after business hours and receive an email response at 7 or 8 o’clock in the evening. Additionally, the other franchisees are always willing to help with any questions and sharing advice.
Q: Did you employ the services of an accountant and/or franchise attorney and if so, how important were they in the decision-making process?
A: I did not need to call on an accountant or franchise attorney as I am fortunate to have a good friend who is an attorney and a cousin who is an accountant, but the advice they were able to provide was extremely helpful.
Q: What is the best part about being a franchise owner?
A: The best part of being a franchise owner has been owning my own business while knowing I can rely on the Franchise Support Center to provide help along the way. I am free to run my own business, but I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Q: What has been the most difficult aspect of owning a franchise?
A: Although there has been a learning curve, I prefer to look at the journey as a challenge rather than a difficulty—and with challenge comes growth.
The assistance provided with marketing stands out. I’ve owned my own business before and have had to create ads and find how to place them. Wild Birds has an intranet where we can find marketing materials already created for us. I can also put out a question on the intranet that not only hit the corporate offices but also the 300+ other franchisees. It’s rare that I don’t get feedback in a matter of minutes. I can use the intranet and the marketing material at my discretion, but after going it alone in the past, why wouldn’t I use it?
Q: What advice do you have for someone thinking about purchasing a franchise?
A: I would encourage anyone who is considering purchasing a franchise to do your homework. Research the company thoroughly, be sure they are a match for what you are looking for. I am a strong believer in educating people about the hobby of backyard bird feeding and was thrilled to find a franchise that had a strong focus on education. Call both current and previous franchisees and ask lots of questions. Evaluate every piece of information you can find and if it feels right, go for it!
Q: Looking back, is there anything about the exploration process you wish you had done differently?
A: There actually is not. In the end, I felt I went into this fully prepared and without any doubt whatsoever.
Q: Is there anything else you would you like to tell us about your experience becoming a franchise owner?
A: Every day when I pull up to the store, I smile and think, "This is my store and I love it." Never have I pulled up and thought, "I have to work today." Combining a hobby with a job has been a winning combination. I love sharing my hobby with others!
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