By Martie Thompson

You may know Brian Bidwell as co-owner, along with his wife Joline, of the Julington Creek Wild Birds Unlimited Store as well as two other locations. But he hasn’t always been “feeding the birds;” Bidwell got his start in electrical supply sales. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, he said his parents were always passionate about birds, so he comes to his birding hobby honestly. He and Joline have a nature preserve behind their house and there are lots of birds to watch, both coastal and backyard varieties. He said he has at least 25 bird feeders in his yard as he always tries out new merchandise so he knows what to suggest to his customers. Bidwell also enjoys playing the guitar and singing in his spare time; he once “opened for Brad Paisley” as he sang the National Anthem with other members of a barbershop quartet at a Fourth of July celebration at Metro Park that featured the country singer.

Q: How did you get started in your career in electrical supply sales?
A: As an 18-year-old going to school, I had a friend ask if I would like to make some extra money helping him with inventory of his electrical supply business. Of course I did. I was fascinated with all the conduits and wire … everything needed to put electricity in a building. By the end of taking inventory, he offered me a job in sales.

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Q: How did you end up in Florida?
A: I eventually realized that my passion was for lighting, so I went to work for a large lighting manufacturer as a sales rep. Everyone needs lighting! I wanted to move to Florida since the construction industry was booming in the early 1980s and I had four or five job offers. It was very cold in January in Ohio, so Florida was looking pretty good. I thought it might be a temporary move, but even my mother said I wouldn’t be coming back. She was right and I’ve lived in Florida longer than anywhere else.

Q: How did you meet your wife Joline?
A: We were set up on a blind date by a coworker of mine. We went to hear a friend’s band play at the beach. We couldn’t hear each other, so we went to the Sea Turtle so we could talk. We’ve been together ever since and married in 1997.

Q: How did you come to own three Wild Birds Unlimited Stores?
A: Joline worked as an office manager for 27 years for a small doctor’s office in San Marco. When the practice closed, she wasn’t ready to retire. She and her mom would frequently go to the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Jax Beach and at one point it was for sale. Tongue-in-cheek, I said, “We should buy that store.” That’s all it took. Joline had all the paperwork ready within days. We’ve owned that store since 2013. I continued working my job at the lighting company and helped Joline at the store on nights and weekends. By the time we bought the Julington Creek store in 2018, I knew it was time to work at the stores full time. We just opened our third location in World Golf Village.

Q: What is your biggest challenge and what is your favorite part of owning the stores?
A: The biggest challenge has been keeping the stores staffed, especially during this age of COVID. But this is what makes the Julington Creek store such a delight: we have great employees. We empower them to do as much as they can and they all have a passion for birds, which they impart to our customers.

My favorite part is when I can help someone just starting out in this bird feeding hobby. Each customer becomes a friend. We love the stories they share with us that we can share with others, so that gives everyone the best enjoyment of this hobby.

Q: What advice would you give to people new to the hobby?
A: If you’re just starting out, be patient. It takes time for the birds to find your feeder. Also, make sure your seed is fresh.

Photo courtesy Brian Bidwell
Brian Bidwell.

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