Posted: June 30, 2014, 11:45 a.m. EDT
Success in the bird toy segment depends on the right stock, best-practice displays and staff that are educated about the many health benefits playthings offer feathered companions.
By Laura Doering
One of the first things customers eye in an avian specialty store—aside from beautiful birds—is the colorful assortment of toys, which in some stores span multiple aisles or are exhibited as floor-to-ceiling wall displays. Customers who might be purchasing food for their feathered friends often can’t resist the impulse to buy a fun-looking toy or two on their way to checkout.
Let the Display Lead the Way
Lisa Bono, owner of The Platinum Parrot, a bird-free avian specialty store in Barnegat Township, N.J., organizes toy displays as strategically as possible.
"I line up the toys from small to large,” she said. "When clients come in, they know just where to go for what they need.”
Tiffany Latino, owner of Bird Shop in Sacramento, Calif., also offers a wide variety of toys to appeal to birds of all sizes.
"We offer a huge selection,” Latino said. "We have a wall for small and medium toys, and we have three square-shaped, free-standing racks to hold large toys,” which makes it easy for staff to direct owners toward the toys suitable for their size bird.
"Novice bird owners are amazed at the choices,” she added.
With so many toy varieties and sizes available, it’s always possible a bird might ignore a particular toy, which can lead the owner to assume their pet isn’t interested in toys. Bono emphasizes picking size-appropriate products.
"Consider the beak when choosing toys; bigger is not always better,” she said. "If they can’t get their beak around it to chew, they won’t bother. Don’t let a customer waste money on a toy her parrot will never use.”
Toys might seem like playful novelty items, but they are in fact essential to a pet bird’s overall care and should be purchased as such, industry sources stated.
"It’s important for consumers to understand their birds’ needs, and it’s important for retailers to provide the knowledge and expertise in helping them select the best products for their bird,” said Emilye Schmale, manager of corporate communications for Petmate, a pet products manufacturer in Arlington, Texas. "Choosing which products to carry should be a result of research and knowledge of your customer base.”
New Twists on Old Standards
Classic bird toys are getting new makeovers as manufacturers focus on ways to expand their appeal to birds and their owners, or as a way to save on production costs.
Dena Tucker, owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply, a West Hartford, Conn., manufacturer and distributor of bird toys, has found a creative way to make a noise toy without bells to combat rising materials costs.
"I’m introducing new toys that I’ve designed to be interactive and noisy sans bells,” said Tucker. "These new designs are necessary because of the constant rising cost of nickel-plated bells. What I use is plastic-against-plastic, which means great rattle noise when shaken.”
Petmate’s JW Moving Mirrors, which attach to horizontal and vertical cage bars to offer more cage placement arrangements, improves the traditional single mirror-type bird toy by offering five rotating, shiny mirrors that spin with each interaction, Schmale said.
"Birds are naturally curious and fascinated with motion,” said Schmale.
"Birds are very intelligent, and they can also get bored easily, so we are proactive and enthusiastic about discovering the next big thing and bringing it to the masses,” said Jonathyn Brown, manager of Planet Pleasures Inc., a bird toy manufacturer in Gardena, Calif. "We are constantly looking forward.”
Natural & Shreddable
Toys made of natural materials lend themselves nicely to chewing and shredding, two activities that come naturally to birds, said Bird Shop’s Latino.
"Natural materials are definitely the trend,” she said. "Our most popular toys right now are shreddable.”
Latino also sells lots of toys made from softer, chewable wood.
"Multitextures, like a wicker basket filled with other shreddable materials, also do very well,” she said.
"Things change, but one thing remains the same,” said Planet Pleasures’ Brown. "Birds are happiest when they are destroying all-natural toys. We’re glad those all-natural toys are ours, and we will continue to make birds happy as long as we can.”
Big-box stores are expanding their toy aisles with selections that have an earth-friendly look and feel, Brown added.
"They now feature giant ‘Green’ sections, which are taking over,” he said. "It used to be plastic and metal.”
Planet Pleasures is always on the lookout for natural materials to incorporate into the company’s toy designs, such as bamboo, palm leaf, coconut and other natural products, he said.
Going green for bird owners also means shopping for toys and other products that most closely resemble what would be found in a bird’s native habitat, said Petmate’s Schmale.
"We’re seeing a demand in bird toys and products made from natural materials like wood, string and sisal to provide options that replicate what a bird might find to make a nest in the wild,” Schmale said. "These types of materials stimulate birds’ natural instincts, and the variety challenges their intellect.”
Busy Beaks Equal Happy Birds
The goal of any toy is to keep a bird happily occupied and engaged; a bird with an appropriate, safe toy is one pet less likely to engage in negative behavior.
"A busy beak has less time to develop undesirable behaviors such as screaming or plucking,” said The Platinum Parrot’s Bono.
"It’s crucial to provide a variety of appropriate toys for birds,” said Schmale. "Birds fly long distances in the wild, forage for food and are constantly on the lookout for predators. In captivity, boredom sets in and serious health issues can result.”
Balsa wood toys are among Bono’s top sellers.
"It’s perfect for a parrot that does not like to chew most woods; it encourages inquisitive beaks with its soft texture, and it is easy to destroy,” she said. "They are perfect for the bashful budgie to the timid African grey.”
Most balsa toys are offered in small sizes, so they wouldn’t be appropriate for heavy chewers such as macaws and cockatoos, Bono added.
"But then again, I don’t recall the last time a client said they needed to encourage those two species to chew anything,” she said.
Latino said she and her staff always recommend hand toys to customers, which serve the dual purposes of human interaction and healthful, safe busywork for the bird.
"When owners hold their birds, the birds get bored quickly,” Latino said. "They always want to be chewing on something, so if you have some handheld toys you can keep them busy.”
Marketing the Fun
In addition to merchandising its products based on a bird’s size, Petmate’s Schmale also recommends that retailers display their products inside the birdcages so that customers can see how birds interact with toys, food or water cups and perches.
"Then, if the bird is sold, the customer will be more inclined to buy products the bird is already familiar with having in its cage,” Schmale said.
Bird starter kits are great options for first-time bird owners, Schmale added.
"Including everything a bird needs when it gets home takes the guesswork out of the shopping experience for the customer,” she said.
Planet Pleasures has relied mostly on its growing reputation as a way to market its toy line, Brown said.
"We want our products to be as affordable and accessible as possible, so we barely advertise, and rely primarily on word-of-mouth and customer knowledge to further our name in the retail world,” Brown added.
Tucker provides a hangtag with Greenfeather’s company profile and the reasoning behind the toy to inform both store staff and consumers about all that goes into making her products.
"All toy products that GFBS distributes are UPC labeled,” she said. "Many of our UPC labels include product info, including where parts are sourced from, part product materials or contents that can’t be seen.”
A few of the companies Bono does business with have sent "presents” for her parrots to try. If her birds like them, she orders them to stock in her store.
"I wish the larger corporations would consider doing this with the stores they have one-on-one working relationships with,” said Bono. "When I purchase a new toy I will usually take it home for my own flock of toy testers. If my own birds enjoy the toy, I will reorder and place it on my shelf for sale.”
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