As the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on local businesses and nonprofits, Wild Birds Unlimited owners Linda and Kevin Pillow saw an opportunity to give something back.
In 2020, the Pillows donated a portion of their sales from Black Friday through Christmas to four organizations dedicated to preserving nature. In the spirit of that donation, which raised more than $6,000, the Pillows are back at it again in 2021.
"COVID changed so many things in the retail landscape, and how do you do business?" said Kevin Pillow, who launched his Kerrville franchise 18 years ago. "You had to be fluid and you had to change things."
That change came when he told his customers that they would take a percentage of the gross and hand it back. It worked out well.
"So, we put $6,000 back into the community last year," Kevin Pillow said. "So, Linda and I looked at each other and said there's no reason to fix something that is not broken. We're going to do the same thing this year."
This year's donation will go to at least four — or more — volunteer fire departments in the Hill Country. Kevin Pillow said the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 helped his decision to give back this year.
"All I could think about were the people who patted their dogs for the last time, and saw their children for the last time, and went for their favorite coffee for the last time," Kevin Pillow said of 9-11. "They never got the chance."
For the unacquainted, Wild Birds Unlimited is one of those retail gems in Kerrville, and on Black Friday, there was a steady stream of customers rolling in and out. Birding, or bird watching, is one of the most popular activities for many in Kerrville.
One of Wild Birds Unlimited employees takes a box of goods out for a customer on Nov. 26, 2021 — also known as Black Friday.
Kevin Pillow said that for many bird species, the supplemental bird feed provided by many in Kerrville is critical in maintaining their populations.
"With natural food sources going away, that supplemental food really means a lot," Kevin Pillow said.
When the Pillows thought around starting the business here in Kerrville, skepticism greeted them — not only from the parent company but from those here. A business that was dedicated to feeding birds and fostering the environment couldn't succeed here?
"We built this entire store on education," Kevin Pillow said.
When you walk into the store, 855 Junction Highway, you're greeted with one of the most important elements of birding — water. The store has a wide range of bubblers and fountains that attract birds.
"I thought you just put bird seed out there and they went to town," said Rachel Fitch, who was a guest with Kevin Pillow on Friday's episode of The Lead Live. "See, I didn't know that about the water source. It has to stay fresh."
Once you're past the water fountains, then the store opens up to feeders and feed. The intentionality of the store design is rooted in the Pillow's passion for birds.
One of the first things you see when walking into Wild Birds Unlimited are the bird baths, fountains and bubblers. Kevin Pillow said these are essential when trying to attract birds to a yard.
It carries over to his staff, who are all avid birders, and they can speak definitively on the species around Kerr County. There's a board with recent sitings of bird species, the date and location.
These are all some of the reasons why customers keep coming back, but Kevin Pillow believes it's also due to a greater sense of community.