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5:17 AM   September 02, 2014
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In-Store Classes and Home-Alone Birds

Education proves important for welfare of businesses, birds and their owners.
By Susan Chamberlain

Dr. Irene Pepperberg teaches matter to an African grey parrot at Bird Paradise’s 2007 Parrot Palooza in Burlington, N.J. (Courtesy of Arlene Levin-Rowe)
Some bird owners might feel troubled about leaving their birds home alone for long stretches of time while they’re at work or involved in other activities. Others might fret over avian behavior and quality-of-life issues. One way retailers can allay customers’ fears while building their businesses is by offering in-store classes and seminars.

“The best customer is an educated customer,” says Robin Shewokis, an avian enrichment specialist and owner of The Leather Elves, an animal toy design and manufacturing company in Weymouth, Mass. “As a store owner, you must take responsibility for what you’re selling. Teach people how to take care of their birds and how to use products.”

For retailers such as Bill McGrath, owner of Parrots and Co. in Stamford, Conn., and manufacturer of Creative Foraging Systems products, it’s easier to educate customers by demonstrating products through seminars instead of dispensing reading material. 

“Customers like someone they can call and talk to, and seminars reinforce the store as an information source,” McGrath says.

"Customers want to know what works. They want relatively quick answers, and they’ll spend the money for items that solve their problems.”

McGrath says Parrots and Co. has held classes and seminars for the past several years, especially for product development.

“We have always had foraging seminars,” McGrath says. “With all the new products available, the classes are designed to do two things: Keep the bird busy and make the bird work to eat. We try to educate the consumer that foraging aids are not for treats, but intended as a food source.  When people attend foraging seminars, they become more successful bird owners because they understand what the objective truly is—to make the bird spend five to six hours feeding itself rather than going over to a dish and flinging food around,” he says.

Home-Alone Help

Owners can move perches around to keep birds who are left home alone stimulated. (Courtesy of Cioli & Hunnicutt/BowTie Studio)
Seminar attendees tend to be interested in products discussed during classes, including those based around foraging, says co-owner Kathie Hahn of Bird Paradise in Burlington, N.J.

“People are learning to keep their birds busy while they are home alone so they don’t develop neurotic or plucking behaviors,” Hahn says. “In addition to foraging products and toys, [I] suggest videos and audio tapes. There’s a bird-sitter DVD available. Even training tapes featuring birds and genuine bird noises will help keep the home-alone bird occupied.”

Shewokis also cites the importance of enrichment products for birds, especially those who stay home alone.

“Enrichment products enhance the quality of the bird’s life, whether through activities or variety,” she says. “These items should elicit some natural behaviors, such as foraging. They can keep the home-alone bird busy for hours. Another item that keeps a home-alone bird company is a mirror. Customers can remove the mirror when they come home if they feel the bird will become too attached to its own image.”

Shewokis offers some recommendations for seminar discussions applicable to birds staying home alone. 

“If customers have the time, they can create a little calendar of enrichment activities for their birds,” she says. “Even TV is great.

Programs with a lot of dialogue can be good company. Visual stuff is really good when owners are out. Suggest that they put up different pictures featuring natural scenes or birds to give them something different to look at. A room with a view is excellent. Tell people to get inside the cage; pretend they’re standing on that perch to see what the bird sees, and then maybe move the perches around. It’s stimulating for the bird to see different things.”

Getting the Word Out

Market a Class or Event

  • Display in-store posters and signs.
  • Insert fliers in bags at the checkout counter.
  • Maintain a customer mailing list and send postcards and invitations to special events.
  • Promote events on the store’s website.
  • Advertise in bird-related publications.
  • Provide local bird clubs with event information.
  • Send press releases and calendar listings to local media.
  • Schedule the end of the event well before closing while there is still time for attendees to shop.
Marketing and publicizing are keys to a seminar’s success, Shewokis says.

“Make sure you have enough lead time to set it up,” she adds.  “Publicize the event with fliers and notices to statewide bird clubs. People will travel to hear a compelling speaker. Put event information on your website.  Host a free seminar or product discount promotion. Make people feel they’re getting something extra. If the speaker has a product, make sure to have the product on hand, such as books for a book signing.”

While McGrath hosts periodic seminars himself, professional speakers bring crowds into Parrots and Co.

“Most stores don’t have the room to host hundreds of people, but many can host 30 to 40 people,” McGrath says. “Choose a night and provide light refreshments. Put up a poster three to four weeks in advance. When you bring in a professional, you can often charge a small fee for the seminar. With a good speaker and a good subject, people will come and they’ll spend money while they’re there. They’ll also feel comfortable with your management team because they’ve learned something while in your store.”

At Bird Paradise, Hahn and company also use in-store promotion for their annual Parrot Palooza event, along with magazine advertisements and online publicity.

“We also maintain a customer list and send out promotional postcards,” Hahn says. “To generate more interest, we held a contest for a customer’s bird to work with Irene Pepperberg [a scientist noted for her work with the late African grey parrot Alex]. At the event, she worked with the winning bird to teach it to identify color and shape.”

Hahn says that response has been excellent.

“As people learn to understand their birds’ natural behaviors, the relationship becomes much healthier for bird and owner,” she says. “Customers also perceive extra value by attending classes and seminars, and so do we because [customers] are more inclined to shop before and after the talks.”

For parrot owner and retail customer Roberta Fabiano, classes and seminars show that a store is serious about educating its customers.

“No matter how well you think you know your bird and how to take care of it, we can always learn more,” she says. “Music stores bring in special artists to use equipment and show how items are used. It makes sense that the same formula would be good marketing for pet stores, too.” <HOME>


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