EVERETT — The first thing you need to know about this bird supply store is that the greeter is a cat.
Rosie, a 10-year-old cinnamon-colored cat, is the shop mascot at Wild Birds Unlimited at 4821 Evergreen Way in Everett.
On a recent morning, Rosie was contently nuzzling a 20-pound bag of sunflower seeds. Happily, the shelves brim with bird feed and bird supplies but not birds.
“She has a whole fan base,” store manager Amber Ocheltree said. “We have people who don’t shop here that come in just to see the cat.”
The former Boeing worker used a portion of her retirement funds to buy the franchise. Rosie, who has lived at the shop since she was a kitten, was part of the deal.
Everett resident Hal Covey recently popped in for a 20-pound bag of the No Mess blend he offers the chickadees, finches and juncos that treat his backyard like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Covey figures he spends about $30 to $35 a month to feed the local flock.
Mary Hudon spends more, about $100 a month. “I’ve been coming here for seven years,” said Hudon who drives from Snohomish to shop.
Wild Birds Unlimited carries wild bird seed, bird feeders, bird baths, gifts and greeting cards.
Some of the store’s unique items include hand-crafted bat houses — a single bat can eat 6,000 mosquitoes a night — and woodpecker feeders with a built-in backstop to support their tails while they dine.
Decorative prints, wind chimes in small to dinner-bell sizes and wildlife-themed welcome mats, plastic-wrapped to protect them from Rosie fur, round out the inventory.
The Everett store employs four part- and full-time workers who can help you set up a backyard feeding station, choose a bird bath warmer or tote those heavy seed bags to the car.
On a budget? Skip the 20-pound bags of wild-bird seed and start small, with a 5-pound bag, said Gillian Montgomery, who was making up the smaller bags in the backroom.
Just want to make sure the birds have extra protein during the winter or nesting season? Try the Suet Balls or the Bug, Nut & Berry seed cake with a generous helping of dried meal worms.
The first Wild Birds Unlimited store opened on the north side of Indianapolis in 1981.
Two years later, founder Jim Carpenter turned his focus on selling premium seed blends into a franchise. Today, there are more than 300 stores across the U.S.
Bailey had shopped at the Everett store since it opened in 1994. In 2017, she learned the store was for sale.
It was a lengthy process, taking four months for the franchise to approve her purchase.
When Bailey took over, she started from scratch. “I’d never owned a business and I’d never worked retail,” Bailey said.
Five years later, she’s an old hand at running a business and would feel at ease, she said, launching her own venture.
Buying a franchise can help you bypass the toughest part of any business, the startup stage, according to a Forbes report.
You can skip writing a business plan, skip coming up with a saleable product or service, skip the market research.
“The system has already been tested and proven to work,” Forbes said.
On the downside, the cost of buying a franchise can be high, more so than starting your own venture. And you’re required to abide by the company’s terms.
Wild Birds Unlimited recommends startup funds of $200,000 to $350,000. Headquarters takes a 4% cut of monthly gross sales, plus an additional 1% to support local and national advertising.
When the franchise dictated Bailey remodel the store, there was no leeway. “The franchise sets the rules,” she said.
Bailey is fine with the arrangement 95% to 99% of the time, she said.
But it’s not for everyone. Branching out can cost you.
“There was a guy who turned his Wild Birds Unlimited franchise into a train store,” Bailey said.
That didn’t fly back at the home office.
“If you don’t follow the rules, they can make you sell the store,” Bailey said.
Fortunately Rosie the cat isn’t a rule breaker.
And now, here’s the other thing you need to know about the Everett store — birds sometimes shop here. Well, at least one bird made an attempt.
The day after Thanksgiving last year, a hummingbird flew into the store and helped herself to the hummingbird nectar.
“It was cold out there, and it was warm in here,” manager Ocheltree said. “She was flying around the store for a couple hours.”
Ocheltree called her mother-in-law, a former employee, who showed up with a bird net.
The doors were opened; they hung a hummingbird feeder outside. Still, it took a good hour to capture the errant flyer.
Rosie was forced to sit out the adventure. “I had to lock her in the bathroom for a couple hours,” Ocheltree said. “But we made sure she got lots of treats.”
Wild Birds Unlimited in Everett is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.