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Avian Marketplace: A Game Plan for the Birds

Posted: November 25, 2013, 3:15 p.m. EDT


Playgyms and activity centers can expand a bird’s environment into the family setting—and expand your profits.

By Laura Doering

A birdcage is the principal big-ticket item when it comes to outfitting a pet bird’s environment; however, another important housing product that consumers might overlook is a safe spot for the bird to perch while outside the cage. Playgyms, T-stands, climbing ropes and similar products not only offer an outside-the-cage destination, but many also are designed to encourage exercise and entertainment, both of which benefit a bird’s mental and physical health.

"If you’re going to sell somebody a product package, if the person is buying a cage, ask, ‘What are you going to do with your bird when he’s out of the cage?’” said Mitch Rezman, chief marketing officer for Windy City Parrot in Chicago. "That’s where the conversation starts.”

Ask the Right Questions
Many new bird owners are woefully unprepared in terms of knowing what they’ll need, Rezman said.

Retailers should review basic housing setups to narrow down products that best fit birds’ needs.

"I ask if the cage has a playtop and if that is where the bird will mostly be when it is out of the cage; if so, they may not need a playstand,” said Rezman. "However, if the bird is going to spend time in another room, where you can’t just roll in the cage, a playstand makes sense.”

Avian Activity Center
Carrie Brenner/i-5 Publishing at Pet Country

Donna Garrou, manager of BirdStuff, a retailer in Orange, Calif., said that by asking the right questions retailers can help shoppers decide.

"Customers really need assistance in thinking through their objectives using qualifying questions before making the purchase, and this is good for specialty retailers,” said Garrou. "For example, is the footprint of the stand a consideration? How much room do you have for a stand? What is the activity level of your bird? Has he ever tried to climb down off a stand? Would you like to be able to move the stand from room to room, or will it stay in one spot? How much time will the bird be spending on the stand (to help determine whether or not dishes are needed)?

"Playstands have always been popular,” Garrou added. "However, there’s an increase in variety.”
 
Customers  can choose PVC, grapevine, sandblasted manzanita or java wood, as well as plain dowels versus sculpted, natural styles, Garrou said. The variety can sometimes be overwhelming, which is why retailers need to be educated on the many products available, she added.

Getting Past Sticker Shock
Price point is a big consideration, Garrou noted. However, she said customers are willing to spend more once they understand how durable a stand is.

"For example, a dowel stand might be far less expensive, but a blue-and-gold macaw will destroy it in short order, whereas the cost of a quality manzanita or java stand can be amortized over the lifespan of the bird,” she said.

"People shop with their checkbook, and they end up buying a stand that is too small or underpowered for their bird,” Rezman said. "They’ll buy something built with a smaller bird in mind for their large parrot. The stand might have dowels instead of something sturdier, and the bird will start to chew them up. Then the customer thinks the stand was of poor quality when it just wasn’t the right size or type for that particular bird.”

Playgym Room Additions
More and more bird owners are using playgyms and activity centers to expand their bird’s environment within the home so the bird can be more of a part of the family, Garrou said.

"I have many customers who want to provide numerous ‘participation stations’ for their birds so that the birds can take part in family activities,” Garrou said. "For example, they might have a suction cup perch for the bathroom so the bird can shower with them and benefit from the steam. Then there might be a beautiful java tree in the family room and a tabletop perch in the kids’ room or an office.”

Two of the more recent playgyms on the market are popular with customers because they are easy to move from room to room, said Rezman.

"The Percher Training Stand from Caitec is the most innovative stand we’ve seen lately,” he said, adding that it has a perch, a handle, a cone and a base that twist together to offer multiple configurations, including a tabletop perch and a hand-held perch.

"The Traveler Table Top Perch from Mango Pet Products is pretty popular with our customers as well,” he noted. "The place where the bird perches is the base. It is very portable, which some big playstands are not.”

Multifunctional Perches
Bird owners today are more likely to expect a perch to serve multiple functions, such as offering foot comfort and promoting healthy feet and legs.

The Aspen Pet Booda Comfy Perch is popular with pet bird owners because it provides a comfortable surface for the bird "that soothes tender talons and also exercises the bird’s foot grip,” said Emilye Schmale, corporate communications manager for Petmate in Arlington, Texas. 

The Comfy Perch can be placed virtually anywhere in the bird cage.

Fun & Functional
Playgyms and activity centers should offer what they promise.
"We recommend at least one destructible toy and a toy such as a stainless steel bell that is always with the gym,” said Donna Garrou, manager of BirdStuff, a retailer in Orange, Calif.
Mitch Rezman, chief marketing officer for Windy City Parrot in Chicago, looks for gyms that have toy hooks so the bird has something to do.
"A playgym should be more than a place to put a bird.”
Birds in the wild are busy foraging for food, interacting with the flock and flying long distances to meet various needs—not just staying still in one spot, said Emilye Schmale, corporate communications manager for Petmate in Arlington, Texas.
"In captivity, it is important to provide interesting and challenging toys and perches to keep pet birds engaged and entertained,” Schmale said.—LD

"The first-of-its-kind plastic cage clip allows the owners to easily install the perch on a wide variety of cages with different bar thicknesses,” said Schmale. "This ease of use is highly desirable for pet owners with the variety of cage designs and bar thicknesses in today’s marketplace. The perch itself is made from tightly woven, wire-free cotton/poly blend that gives the bird a solid and secure grip.”
 
The Aspen Pet Booda line can be twisted and bent to create custom perching areas within the bird’s cage, Schmale added.

A top seller for Paul Lewis, owner of Birds Unlimited, an avian retail store in Webster, N.Y., is the Boing Perch, a coiled perch made of rope.

"They practically sell themselves,” Lewis said. "Some of the Boings incorporate toys in them, which adds an extra level of play. Birds that love to hang upside down like lories, caiques and Amazons love them.”

A trend among bird owners is keeping their pets fully flighted to encourage exercise. For these owners, playgyms and T-stands serve as targeted areas for their birds to fly to when out of the cage.

"It gives the bird a safe place to spend time,” said Rezman. "The owner can teach the bird to associate the stand to where it should be when it is out of the cage.”

Bringing Nature Indoors
Unlike cages, most playgyms and T-stands are made from wood, which lend a more natural aesthetic.

"There is definitely a trend toward natural materials and colors that reflect the rainforest habitat of the birds,” said Garrou. "In the past, bright and primary-colored playgyms sold well, but consumers are going away from that.”

Lewis sees a big demand for natural-looking gyms and stands.

"I used to sell a lot of PVC-type playgyms,” he said. "Now people like the natural look, like gyms made out of java trees and manzanita. People want something that will look nice in their living room and that is easy to clean.”

Sandy Perch in Grants Pass, Ore., which manufactures a variety of perch and play products, has moved toward natural products.

"We are reworking our product line to incorporate organic elements and wood products,” reported owner Joanne Stuckey. "We use nontoxic food coloring to color our toys, and half of our product line is now all natural.”

Sandy Perch’s Jungle Fever climbing net is made out of abeca, which, Stuckey pointed out, offers natural, highly durable fibers and is completely organic.

"There are no sprays. We even know the fields that the abeca is cultivated from.”

Rezman has noticed interest in Tambo Table Top Stands, which are made from dragonwood and are slightly curved with bark that is accented with mosses and lichens. In addition to its natural look and feel, the Tambo Stand is functional.

"The base is laminated, so it’s easy to clean, wraps around the base to contain mess, and it also makes it more difficult for the bird to chew through it,” he said.

Planet Pleasures, which offers bamboo ladders, climbing nets and rope ladders, incorporates materials birds would encounter in the wild, including palm leaves, coconut and bamboo.

"We’ve seen a surge in the market for these products,” said David Faivus, owner of the Gardena, Calif., company. "We’re currently developing new concepts with various styles of rope in combination with bamboo and other natural materials so we can join this growing market and put our own unique signature on it.”

Netting More Sales
Activity products, such as climbing nets and cargo nets, especially reap the benefits of being displayed in stores so that customers can better appreciate their functionality. 

Lewis has a large climbing net hanging from the ceiling for the in-store birds to play on.

"People can see how it’s used,” Lewis said. "They might think it’s a little pricey at first, but they want it once they see how the birds climb on it.”

"We’ve added a lot of climbing-type products, like the Jungle Fever Net, which has abeca and wood and can be used inside or outside the cage,” said Stuckey. "Some bird owners that have playrooms devoted to their birds use multiple nets to create a climbing area.”

Some retailers use Jungle Fever Nets in-store, or they use the climbing nets to display toys on, Stuckey added.

"Some retailers are creative with the nets, which helps show their multiple uses,” she said. 

She tries to give stores ideas on setting up an activity area.

"Displaying our ropes and other product as part of the in-store environment gives us an edge and helps increase business,” Stuckey said.

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