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Banish Boredom, Boost Sales

Posted: June 7, 2011, 8:20 p.m., EDT

Retailers can benefit from pet bird owners' desire for more complex, interactive foraging toys and treat dispensers.

By Cheryl Reeves

More than ever, bird owners understand the importance of providing toys and foraging feeders to keep their captive companions occupied and stimulated. Through in-store seminars and online research, sophisticated consumers get it that a bird in the wild spends most of its time seeking food. Instinctively, birds need to hunt and peck to thrive within a domestic habitat.

Because birds are curious busy-bodies, their owners need to continuously up the ante when it comes to treat- and food-delivering gizmos and gadgets, industry insiders said. Once a bird learns a trick or solves a puzzle it can grow bored unless presented with a new toy that offers another problem to solve.

Companies such as Caitec Corp. of Baltimore, Md., are responding to the need for more complex products. Caitec's Creative Foraging Systems Generation II foraging toys and devices are designed to "promote healthy behavior for a bird’s psychological and physical needs," said Mary Wyld, president of Wyld's Wingdom, a distributor in Norfolk, Va.

"The toys and devices also distract a bird from undesirable activities, such as feather picking and excessive screeching,” Wyld added.

Frank Ball, owner of The Birdwalk, a store in Painesville, Ohio, said his customers love Caitec’s Creative Foraging Systems toys and feeders.
“Any product that safely and creatively helps extend the playtime of their birds is always popular,” he said.

 Enrichment and Complexity

Foraging toys and feeders have gotten more exciting over the past two years, said Denise Mouroux, owner of Denise’s Parrot Place on Mercer Island, Wash.

“I really like the Greenfeather Bird Supply toys because each toy is so full of different textures and colors for birds to explore,” Mouroux said. "These toys are also very safe and eco-friendly.”

Industry Voices

What boredom-busting bird toys are bestsellers at your store?
“Jungle Talk’s Talk n Play is a favorite among customers, and it also comes in two sizes for small or large birds. Also, Starbird’s Brainiac Block, with slideable woodblocks that are refillable; Caitec’s Creative Foraging Systems toys; and everything by Mango Pet.”
-- Denise Mouroux, owner of Denises’ Parrot Place in Mercer Island, Wash.

“JW Pets Activitoys Hol-ee Roller natural rubber ball toy for parrots, Caitec’s Creative Foraging System Paddle Wheel, Pet Terrific’s California Roll and Super Pet’s Forage-N-Play Ladders.”
-- Renee Ducharme, owner of Jungle Junction in Cumberland, R.I.

“Anything that’s made with natural materials, offers bright colors and presents a challenge for birds. The Super Pet Enrichment Pod line is always in demand.”
-- Greg Mull, owner of Exotic Birds & Pets in Ceres, Calif.

“We sell a lot of toys by Jungle Toy, Prevue and Caitec’s Creative Foraging Systems toys. Also, the Bird Ka-bob is a big hit with our customers because the birds just won’t quit until it’s gone.  The boing spiral ropes by Happy Beaks that you can hang in a cage have lots of customer appeal as well.”
-- Frank Ball, owner of The Birdwalk in Painesville, Ohio

Another brand Mouroux likes is the Mr. Music line, which she said provides hours of fun for birds when they hit buttons that turn on lights and sounds.

Dena Tucker, president and designer at Greenfeather Bird Supply in West Hartford, Conn., said she just launched toys that feature a lot of noise-making that is attractive to birds.

“These toys make rattling sounds and also offer a tantalizing combination of textures, from natural fibers to plastic and rubber,” Tucker said.

Responding to the demand for more complex bird toys, JW Pet, a manufacturer in Teterboro, N.J., is expanding its Activitoys brand with the interactive Carnival Bird Toy line. Featuring three new toys, the Carnival grouping is expected to launch this month.

Emilye Schmale, the company’s director of marketing, reported a trend in the marketplace to provide multiple activities in one toy. The payoff is an entertaining reward.

“For example, brand-new toy from the Carnival line is the Strong Bird Toy. This toy has a small handle hanging from a chain," Schmale said. “When the bird pulls the handle, it causes the bell above to ring, just like the game we all love to play at the local carnival.”

Ball said any bird toy that has a bell involved sells very well at his store.

“Birds go nuts with bells, and customers want more and more of these types of toys,” he said.

Another popular activity toy, Ball said, is Pyramid Puzzle, which hides colorful wood pieces within the pyramid. The toy is made by Jungle Talk International of Islandia, N.J.

One Toy, Multiple Activities

Combination activities are very desirable in bird toys today, Schmale said.

“A toy that offers multiple activities or benefits is a toy that will entertain the bird for a longer period of time,” she said. “The top toy manufacturers are working very hard to continue to come up with toys that offer unique challenges for birds.”

Jungle Junction, a store in Cumberland, R.I., features a 60-foot wall filled with bird toys. Store owner Renee Ducharme said bird sales keep her in business.

“Fetch-It Pet products do well here, especially the Polly Wanna Pinatas,” Ducharme said. "We also love the JW Pet Activitoys brand, which is a big favorite among customers. These companies put a lot of thought into their toys and they bring a lot of happiness to birds.

"Another toy, from Pet Terrific, is called the California Roll. This toy is so wildly popular that I can’t seem to keep it in stock.”

Ducharme said she’s impressed by Caitec's Creative Foraging Systems Generation II toys, especially the Giant Foraging Wheel.

“It’s so great to finally have a wheel that’s made for large birds,” she added.

Wyld reported that interest in more complex toys is on the rise and said this is reflected in a layered approach to toy making.

“With layered toys, birds have to work from the outside in to find another interesting layer of materials and then move on to another,” she said.

Toys are such big business that Greg Mull, owner of Exotic Birds & Pets in Ceres, Calif., makes sure his employees know which ones to recommend for each size and species of bird.

“Toys, especially these smarter, more complex types, are a lucrative source of revenue,” Mull said. “Most of all, we want to make sure our customers and birds are satisfied.”

A big seller at his store is Super Pet’s Habitat Defined Enrichment Pod line.

“Customers really like the Millet Muncher Feeder, the Fun Ball feeders and anything where there is lots of bird-stimulating use of color.”

Tucker advised retailers to stock toys that deliver a strong presence to their shelves. She emphasized that toys should intrigue the customer enough to purchase and be attractive enough that the bird wants to play with it.

Selling Safety

Schmale suggested that retailers always take a toy's safety into consideration when deciding what to stock because that is a top concern of bird owners.

At JW Pet she said safety is a priority.

“As bird lovers ourselves, it is of the upmost importance that we are designing, developing and bringing to market toys that enrich a bird’s daily life in every way,” Schmale said.

Mouroux revealed that one of the keys to her toy-selling success is offering a large, creative assortment.

“Some birds want to seek and destroy one day and then next day they just want to forage," Mouroux said. "Other days they want to make noises with bells and music boxes. And then sometimes they want to do all those activities in one day.

“So the rule to keeping birds and customers from getting bored is to stock and sell a large variety of body- and mind-stimulating toys and feeders that keep them coming back for more,” she added.


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