Written by Dasha O. Morgan | Photos by Anthony Harden
Have you ever watched the live camera videos on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology? Minute by minute, day by day, a streaming digital camera lets you see wild birds (Osprey, American Kestrels, and others) in their natural habitat.
You can see birds making their nest, feeding their chicks, or fledglings taking flight. It is an amazing experience that will fill you with wonder. This fascination with birds has existed throughout the world for centuries, but with the technology of the 21st century a person can be closer to their daily activities than ever before. Just tune into the “cam” and leave your computer on.
Wild birds have extraordinary colors, beautiful songs, and come into your view unexpectedly. Oh look, there’s a Pileated Woodpecker on my feeder. Quick I need the camera. Rats, where it is ? Now it has flown off? You can find birds with the most extraordinarily plumage—long flowing tails or peaked crests on their head. Surely at some point in time you have been exalted by a hawk or eagle soaring and swooping, high in the sky. Or you may have heard and seen the Canada Geese as they fly overhead in formation and then land nearby on a lake or pond. Or perhaps on a trip to London you had a opportunity to visit Regents Park and saw the Australian Black Swans with their striking red beaks.
Many birds have unusual nesting sites, (such as a Peregrine Falcon which has perched on BB&T building for more than one migrating season), amazing mating dances (such as the African Crowned Crane, which can be seen on You Tube), unusual calls (such as the evening calls, back and forth, of the North American Spotted Owl) and many migrate over amazingly long distances. The Arctic Tern is said to migrate almost 24,000 miles a year. Can you imagine? The tiny little Ruby-throated Hummingbird we see here in North Carolina is usually less than three inches long and weighs under one/thirteenth of a pound. This doesn’t stop him from flying to southern Mexico and Central America to spend the winter.
This fascination with birds goes back in time. Most Americans are aware of the United States’ national emblem, the Bald Eagle, which was chosen in 1782 (to Ben Franklin’s chagrin) as a symbol for its majestic beauty, great strength and long life. Having a message delivered by a homing pigeon dates back to the ancient Romans. Genghis Kahn apparently established pigeon relay posts across Asia and much of Eastern Europe. Carrier pigeons were often used in wars with amazing success, according to an exhibit in the Musée de la Poste in Montparnasse a few years ago. They said that the Germans in World War I apparently strapped cameras to the bellies of carrier pigeons. Some pigeons even received war decorations for their feats. The exhibition reports that a brave French pigeon named Le Vaillant was awarded the Ordre de la Nation.
[quote float=”left”]The hobby of backyard bird watching has become a sizeable, profitable business. [/quote] Today, Wild Birds Unlimited has taken this fascination and grown it into a full fledged business. The hobby of backyard bird watching has become a sizeable, profitable business. Jim Carpenter opened the first store in Indianapolis in 1981. Two years later when the nephew of an employee enthusiastically asked him about the possibility of a store for himself, the franchise was born. Since then two hundred eighty-three franchise stores have opened in the United States and Canada—nine new stores last year and probably twelve this year. The WBU Franchise company is privately held.
The stores focus on the hobby of backyard bird watching and supplies their customers with what they consider the best seed, bird feeders, bird houses, needed tools, equipment and best advice possible. A lot of research goes into learning about the product to be sold and the supplier, before it becomes a part of WBU with the company logo. There is a very comprehensive Franchise Support Center in Indianapolis with approximately 40 employees there, who give advice with planning, site selection, lease negotiations, store design, and business decisions. After purchasing a franchise, each new owner attends a training session. Yearly marketing conferences with multiple business sessions are held in various cities throughout the United States. Next year the Leadership Conference will be in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
So what does it take to open a store? The startup cost to open a new store is roughly between $95,000 and $161,000. The liquid capital requirement is between $25,000 and $35,000. (See www.franchise.wbu.com for more information.) The stores are individually owned and run by the franchisee. Prices are not mandated, and the owner makes all final decisions for his store. The franchise offers advice and best business practices on all business decisions. Therefore each store has its own personality, reflecting the individual community and the backyard birds in that community. Some stores emphasize accessories more than others, having more gifts, cards, and smaller items pertaining to birds. While others focus primarily on setting up the home backyard in such a way that more birds will come there regularly. Other stores are also into the ornithological aspect of birding, offering lectures on the subject and selling binoculars, handbooks, and guiding their customers on trips. It all depends on the individual owner, and where he/she wants to put the emphasis. Entrepreneur Magazine has listed Wild Birds Unlimited in the Annual Franchise 500 from 1987-2013 and the first in category from 2011 to 2013.
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