Unbearable lightness of birding
You’ll find birds in Hawaii and Alaska, but you won’t find a Wild Birds Unlimited franchisee.
“In Hawaii there’s a whole new set of birds,” says Paul Pickett, VP of franchise development for the backyard bird-feeding stores, and that requires a flock of research and cataloging, since the store owners are also a customer’s guide to the wild world of birding. Plus a significant number of birds that reside in Hawaii tend to be fruit and insect eaters, which can be detrimental to a birdseed-selling store’s economics.
Alaska isn’t on the franchise’s radar for a different reason: The required twice-weekly shipments of birdseed to stores would be costly. “You’re not going to meet your goals,” Pickett says of potential franchisees.
Around 43 million U.S. residents, 16 and older, confess to being backyard birders, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and annual retail sales that aid wildlife watching are more than $31 billion.
Birders tend to earn higher than average incomes, which means they don’t mind paying a little more for the real thing. Although sometimes, the real thing is the same thing you can buy at the supermarket. For instance, Wild Birds Unlimited sells sugar for hummingbird feeders, even though it’s the same sugar birders can find at a grocery store. Why bother stocking it? Because some customers insist on buying it from their stores, Pickett says. Buying from specialty retailers is a great way to seed the economy and help small businesses take flight.