Backyard birding is the second-most-popular hobby in the United States, according to East Cobb franchise owner/operator Joe Ranney.
"Gardening is the most popular hobby," Ranney says. "Bird feeding is the biggest part of backyard birdwatching."
Ranney and his wife, Kyle, are hands-on owners who sing the praises of the corporate office staff who provide core products, human resource services and educational support.
Store brands are found for feed and products, including the Eliminator line of squirrel-proof bird feeders.
Joe has an engineering background and talks proudly of his involvement at the tail end of the design phase of the squirrel-proof peanut feeder.
"They really work," Joe says.
At about 1,000 square feet, the store in the Piedmont Commons Shopping Center is among the smaller Wild Birds Unlimited locations in the United States and Canada but registers in the top one-third of sales of franchisees. The East Cobb store also has a Facebook page.
Many Wild Birds Unlimited-brand feed mixes use no fillers. No-Mess blend treats feathered friends by shelling the sunflower seeds and peanuts for them.
A glass-doored refrigerator in the back room is where the favorite food of blue birds is kept, live meal worms.
"Some of our customers tell us that they have trained blue birds to come to a knocking or other audible cue that signals fresh meal worms are out," Kyle says.
The Ranneys employ four part-timers who are all bird hobbyists. There is low turnover in the staff.
Q. What's the best thing about your job?
Joe: Sharing knowledge with customers. And I also enjoy seeing expressions of people, adults and children as they tell me their first experiences with birds in their nesting boxes.
Q. What is the best thing about East Cobb?
Kyle: There is a misperception of "East Cobb snobs." I haven't found that at all. Our customers are knowledgeable and interested in learning more. They're friendly and honest people.
Joe: We live 10 minutes from here. We've been in the house 10 years and really like it. I feel lucky to live here.
Q. Why did you pick this kind of business?
Joe: I always wanted to do something I like, and I enjoy coming to work every day. Nice people come into the store. It's like an extended family. We stay late for people, will drop off feed, carry stuff to the car.
Q. What are some of the services you offer that people may not know about?
A. We try to repair about every feeder that comes in. In today's economy, if we can help, we will. We have a feeder swap where we take in old feeders and give a discount on new ones. We repair and clean the old feeders and donate them to old folks' homes or other places.
One of our customers started a nature preserve, and we donated a bunch of feeders there. We also sell bird bath parts. Pedestal or bowl, you don't have to buy both, in cases where only one part is broken.
Q. When did you start your business?
A. We bought this franchise August 1997. The store was at a different location on Old Canton Road.
Q. How did your business get started?
A. We knew the Wild Birds Unlimited store near where we were living in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1996 we had tickets to the Olympics and came down and looked around. My sister lives in greater Atlanta. We saw that the store in East Cobb was for sale. We decided to buy it and moved down.
Q. Do you have advice for anyone who'd like to start a small business in this area?
Joe: Do your homework. Find something you enjoy but make sure you can make a living at it.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know?
Kyle: It's nesting season.
Joe: If you put up a nesting box, it's almost certain that you'll get some activity in it.
Kyle: It's pretty easy, but you do have to clean the nest out after brooding season is over. If another layer of nesting gets laid on top of an old nest, it may mold and make the birds sick.
Now is also a good time to see migrating birds. Kennesaw Mountain is really a peak location. It's one of the best birding sites in the United States. The Atlanta Audubon Society website has a good listing of guided field trips.
Joe and Kyle Ranney, owners
Wild Birds Unlimited
1050 East Piedmont Rd.
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