Franchise FYI Blog

Chris Audet has What It Takes to be a Wild Bird Centers Franchisee

By Peter Saunders

Chris Audet, franchisee with Wild Bird Centers. Photo courtesy Chris Audet.

You don’t need a business degree to become a franchisee. Franchising has become the world’s most successful business model because it takes people from all walks of life and gives them the tools they need to be their own boss, often in an entirely new field. Considering your natural talent, skills and life experience, you’ve probably already got a lot to be confident about as you prepare for your franchising journey.

Still have any doubts? Maybe the nature of your career so far has been very different from the franchise you hope to buy? Don’t worry. In “You’ve Got What It Takes,” we show you how your work experience—and any other type of experience—can be applied in a franchised setting.

What Chris does:
After a 25-year career with the Royal Canadian Navy, Chris Audet became a franchisee for Wild Bird Centers, a U.S.-based retail system specializing in birdseed blends, feeders, nest boxes, bird baths, field guides, binoculars and other products for the backyard birding enthusiast. His territory is Langford, B.C., where he was already living with his wife and children when his military service ended.

While the two careers may seem starkly different, an affinity for birding came easily to Chris, who grew up in Quebec loving the outdoors.

“After I joined the navy, whenever I was visiting back home, I wanted to see nature,” he says.
Chris considered a range of franchise businesses in the later years of his navy career, but none of the more common concepts—e.g. quick-serve restaurants—captured his interest.

“Meanwhile, I would spend my spare time relaxing on my balcony at home, looking out at our backyard with the forest behind it,” he says. “We had feeders. I began spotting birds and would get excited when there was one I hadn’t seen before.”

So, Chris looked up related franchises online and came across Wild Bird Centers of America, which at that time had no Canadian locations.

“There are other stores of the same type, but this company expressed values that reflected who I was as a person,” he says. “They’ve had people come to them looking for a drastic lifestyle change—and they give you a package that covers everything, even how many pencils to keep on hand, so you can’t go wrong.”

Chris’ navy training proved useful, as it had made him a strong communicator and well-organized.

“I laid down for the franchisors how it would all happen, I met my deadlines and there were no hiccups,” he says. “The only challenge I had not expected was finding a location; the first landlord didn’t want me as a tenant, just because my business wasn’t what he had in mind for the place! That store is still vacant, several years later.”

Fortunately, Chris found a space in a small strip mall along a busy shopping street. He hired two part-time employees to help him run the store. One is a college student who handles a weekday shift, while the other is a professional birder who enjoys working on Sundays as a hobby. That leaves the rest of the week on Chris’ shoulders. He says that while running the store is not easy, he never finds it stressful, which is a major difference from his previous career.

“In the navy, I was responsible for the lives of the people working for me,” he says, “not just in terms of danger, but also counselling them, giving advice and serving in a parental role for the young recruits who were far away from their families.”

With his store, on the other hand, Chris gets to rediscover the joy of birding each time a new customer visits.

“There are no angry customers in a bird store!” he says. “The environment is welcoming, everybody’s happy, it’s an overall great experience.”

Wild Bird Centers expects a second Canadian store to open in Delta, B.C., by mid-2012. Chris cites the province as the perfect market for the concept.

“British Columbia has a higher number of birders than other parts of Canada,” he says. “With our temperate weather, you can see birds in your backyard all year long.”

Read the full article: You’ve Got What it Takes: Chris Audet

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