Lora Maclean and her husband, Norman, took over the Valparaiso Wildbirds Unlimited franchise in 2012. “We went from feeding and watching birds in our yard, to getting binoculars so we could observe them more closely, to owning the Wildbirds Unlimited shop,” said Lora. The couple saw the longstanding business as a way to plan for future retirement income while getting more involved with a growing personal interest in birds – “a hobby come true!” as Lora put it.
Here, Lora shares more about their shop…
Tell us a little about your business…
This franchise has been up and running for around 20 years. The Wildbirds Unlimited motto is to “bring people and nature together, and to do it with excellence.”
We sell specialized bird seed, feeders, houses, and water products that help attract specific types of birds, while keeping other things — like mosquitos and squirrels — out. We have a lot of fun; our customers are a blast, and they teach us a lot about the particular birds that they’re interested in.
What sets your business apart?
The Wildbirds Corporation designs its products around research. The company has its own researchers who study what it is that best attracts certain birds, and they design products around that. So customers can get feeders, food, and houses specifically for the type of birds they want to attract.
Our bird seed is made without any fillers – it’s 100% edible, except for the shells – and we do offer a no-mess blend that eliminates the shells as well. And our bird feeders and houses are guaranteed for life. So customers won’t have to re-purchase new ones every year, and if something breaks, we can replace any part.
Because our products are so specialized, we offer a wide variety, with unique options. For instance, our “water wiggler” keeps normally stagnant water moving, to keep mosquitos away. And some of our feeders allow customers to adjust the weight sensitivity, to let bigger or smaller birds in based on their preference. Others are designed specifically to allow some seeds to blow out onto the ground to attract birds who prefer to feed that way. Our bird houses are specially designed for specific birds, too – and we even have some for owls and bats!
Small businesses present challenges. What are some challenges you have faced?
Our biggest challenges are competition, and getting past customer objections. Lots of people are accustomed to buying bird seed at grocery stores, hardware stores, and other places. So when they come to our shop, one of their first questions is “why is the bird seed so expensive?” We have to educate people on the differences between our bird seed, and those that have lots of fillers like milo – which are ultimately wasted because the birds won’t eat them. When you closely compare the cost per pound, ours doesn’t really cost more.
Additionally, weather is a factor in our business. In recent years, with the drought and hard winter – we find those times are actually good for our shop, because people are looking out for the birds when natural food sources are scarce.
Why did you decide to do business with Horizon Bank?
I’ve been with Horizon Bank for probably 20 or more years, and I just like it. Everybody at the bank is so personable. I like everyone there. They treat me so well. And when I go, they really help me. They know what I need, and they have helped get me where I need to be.