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9:28 AM   May 06, 2015
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Show, Tell and Sell More Birds

Retailers can increase sales with interactive displays, an educated sales staff and creative marketing strategies.
By Cheryl Reeves

A retailer who can expertly guide customers in choosing fitting feathered friends can reap multiple rewards: an increase in pet bird sales, happy customers who return for repeat purchases of food, supplies and toys, and the priceless promotion of the retailer via word of mouth referrals.

Many retailers who sell birds are trending toward interactive displays of the potential pets and encouraging education. Courtesy of Bird Fever
Additionally, a retailer who puts a renewed effort into promoting the most popular birds, such as cockatiels and parakeets, can gain an edge in the market.

According to the American Pet Product Association’s 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey, pet bird sales have decreased slightly during the last decade. In 2008, 5 percent of the U.S. population owned birds, compared to 6 percent in 1998, with the peak for bird ownership within those 10 years being 7 percent in 2000. A 6 percent decline in parakeet ownership – a large segment of the pet bird population – was a key contributor to the overall 1998-2008 dip in the percentage of bird-owning Americans.

Ross Pittman, owner of Legacy Birds, a wholesaler in Milton, Fla., said he thinks there is definitely profit opportunity for retailers who decide to get more proactive than their competitors do in pet bird sales. He noted that, in his opinion, many retailers don’t attend to marketing birds as much as they do dogs and cats.

“If you’re in the business of selling birds, you should know birds and talk about birds,” Pittman said. “Enthusiasm is contagious.”

One way retailers can increase customer interest in birds is showing them off, Pittman added. He also recommended that retailers have someone in-store who is comfortable with birds.

“When you are handling birds in your store, don’t wear leather gloves or special clothes because that makes people think birds are scary,” he said.

Pittman suggested that, in addition to showing off birds, retailers should ask customers what they want out of a bird.

Top 5 Species of Birds Owned in 2008
(as a percentage of total bird owners)

Bird Percent
Cockatiel 35
Parakeet 32
African Grey 6
Conure 6
Lovebird 6

Source: 2009-2010 APPA National Pet Owners Survey

“Do they want to interact with their bird or do they want a bird just to look at?” he said. “Talk to the customer; engage them.”

Many retailers are indeed trending toward interactive displays and encouraging education. By viewing birds on suspended perches and hanging play stands, customers also get an up-close experience with these potential pets while sales associates take the opportunity to answer questions.

At Bird Fever, a store in Indianapolis, displayed birds are popular attractions.

“We make sure our customers have a positive experience with birds when they come into the store,” store manager Mark Roth said. “We really educate and ask questions here.

“I’ve actually refused to sell birds to some people because I know it won’t work out,” he added. “One of our policies is not to tell people whatever sounds good just to make the sale.”

10 Considerations for Retailers to Discuss with Potential Bird Owners

A selection of tips from Bird Marketplace participants

  • Financial Commitment
    Some birds, like macaws, can consume up to 10 pounds of seed/fruits/vegetables a week. Add in grooming, vet costs, toys and other supplies.
  • Bird Lifespan
    Large parrots can live to 70-80 years old. A small parakeet can reach 15 years old.
  • Living Space
    Does the customer have a small apartment? Will neighbors be bothered by a noisy bird?
  • Mess
    Birds fling seed; cages need cleaning.
  • Other Pets at Home
    How will the family dog or cat adjust to bird?
  • Time Availability for Care
    Will the bird be alone all day? Some birds, such as cockatoos, require lots of attention.
  • Behavior Expectations
    Does the customer want a talking, performing, interactive bird or a pretty songbird just to look at?
  • Education
    Discuss nutrition, personality, foraging and breed-specific behavior.
  • Lifestyle
    Single or family life? African greys are good for singles; umbrella cockatoos love a family life.
  • Kids
    What are their ages? If they lose interest in the bird, is someone else in the family prepared to care for the bird?
Roth said his customers appreciate his knowledge, commitment and candor. He noted as well that retailers who follow suit will enjoy a greater reputation, and customers will trust them for advice on other bird-related products, such as cages, toys and nutrition-related items.

Retailers can also take advantage of online avian education programs and manuals to train sales staff.

Marshall Meyers, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), agreed that an educated sales staff makes all the difference in selling more birds.

“PIJAC offers an online Avian Certification [Training] Program that covers everything from weaning and disease recognition to nutrition and personality,” Meyers said.

He added that retailers could also just opt to purchase PIJAC’s 224-page PIJAC Avian Distance Learning Materials Resource Manual that includes comprehensive pet bird information as well as quizzes and tests. Meyer said having the manual in store is handy as a quick reference.

Brad Logan, operator of the Petland franchise in Las Vegas, recommended Pet Store Pro, an online training tool offered by the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA), based in Bel Air, Md.

“It’s an excellent learning tool for employees,” said Logan, adding that he also makes good use of Petland’s corporate training program, which includes workbooks, videos and audio tools.

“Since Las Vegas is a transient town, there’s big customer turnover, so we have to be really good at attracting new customers,” he said. “Knowing our stuff is key. We also display little aviaries to interest and educate people.”

He said at his store, he shows off hand-feeding of birds, which both parents and kids enjoy.

When a customer chooses a bird he or she wants to purchase, Logan continued, a Petland pet counselor goes over with the customer a basic needs sheet that includes information on the bird’s personality, diet, cage requirements, toys and more.

Many retailers reported that most customers tend to research online before entering a store to buy a bird. Still, more education is sometimes necessary.

Cyndee Crumlee, the store manager at Omar’s Exotic Birds in Lake Forest, Calif., said oftentimes, the birds customers think they want are not the best ones for their lifestyles.

“In that case,” she said, “we always ask questions about the family, their schedule and what they expect out of their bird.”

She added that even if people don’t initially want to buy a bird, they continue to come in regularly to the store just to play with the birds performing on hanging play stands.

“Interaction is a marvelous way to educate potential bird owners,” Crumlee noted. “We also publish newsletters on our website and have a question-and-answer forum.”

The success of displays, education and marketing all depend upon the quality of the pets being sold.

While a franchise operator such as Logan has access to vetted breeders via a corporate quality-control system, independent retailers have to choose suppliers on their own. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not currently regulate bird breeders, so retailers can consider investigating suppliers thoroughly.

“Look for a supplier that has been in the business for a long time,” advised Laura “Peach” Reid, owner and president of Fish Mart Inc., a wholesaler in West Haven, Conn. “Word of mouth is best. Visit the facility if you can.”

James McDonald, owner of McDonald Bird Farm in Kerrville, Texas, cautioned retailers to not go looking for the cheapest birds because in the long run, he said, it will cost them.

“Shipping, feed and labor costs are the same on defective, inferior-quality birds as they are with top-quality birds,” he noted. “When you consider the losses incurred with that type of livestock versus top-quality livestock where no losses are the rule, the cheaper birds are the most expensive bird[s].”

He added that a retailer should pick a supplier who carries the most popular varieties of birds and has stable pricing.

“Some bird suppliers have wild price swings, from sky high to dirt cheap,” McDonald said. “Look for a stable price over the course of a year as well as a constant supply.”

Crumlee of Omar’s Exotic Birds said a good reputation and history can’t be beat.

“While we do breed a lot of our own birds,” she said, “others are purchased from private breeders that have a long history with us.”

Most importantly, Crumley continued, retailers should be responsible for every aspect of the business: healthy birds, exciting and interactive displays, education, creative marketing and ongoing customer support.

 “We also give complimentary grooming to those birds purchased here, so that gets our customers back in the store for their supplies, as well as gives us a chance to continue to help with questions that arise throughout the bird’s life,” she added. <HOME>

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