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Avian Marketplace: Wild Bird Food Sales Stem From Customer Education

Posted: March 19, 2013, 3:45 p.m. EST


By Laura Doering

When it comes to wild bird diets, educating consumers is half the battle in selling premium mixes and keeping clients in the hobby for repeat business.

“Often a new customer walks in disappointed that they brought a bag of seed [elsewhere] and the wild birds are not visiting,” said Cathy Morin, owner of the Bird House, LLC, a retail store in North Muskegon, Mich., that specializes in wild bird products. “We always learn that the seed they bought contains a large percent of millet and milo [low-quality ingredients].” 

Morin said that once the customer learns about the differences between feed mixes, the customer gives backyard feeding another try.

“Upon their return it delights us that we have gained a lifelong customer who is happy with the feeding frenzy in their backyard. “
 
Bob Pogue, owner of Bird Unlimited in Mission Viejo, Calif., said that he has to educate customers as to why the seed he sells is more expensive than they might be used to.

“It's an educational thing. Cheaper seed mixes end up being more expensive,” Pogue said. “You might go it through it fast because the birds pick through it and throw the rest on the ground.”

Feeding wild birds

According to Dave Titterington, owner of the Wild Bird Habitat Store with two locations in Lincoln, Neb., as much as 40 percent of seed can be wasted and fewer desirable species of wild bird are attracted to poor-quality mixes.

“This causes many people to quit feeding birds due to a low response," he said. "Quality wild bird feed, on the other hand, may cost more, but most of all it is eaten and it attracts a larger variety of desirable birds to the feeder.”

He said that education is 60 percent of his business.

Mess-Free Equals Customer Satisfaction
While people like to feed wild birds, they don't necessarily like to clean up the mess from bird feeders.

“The trend in wild bird feeding is toward zero-waste seeds and mixes,” said Morin. “The demand for ease of maintenance when it comes to lawn care has wild bird lovers asking for blends that do not sprout but attract a variety of wild birds.”

Titterington, stressed the importance of instilling in customers the importance of feeding quality feed mixes, especially when it comes to waste prevention, stating that many general wild bird mixes contain filler ingredients that backyard birds do not typically eat and are subsequently thrown from the feeder onto the ground.

“This results in the germination of weeds and piles of decomposing seed that can be harmful to birds,” he said.

Want more?
Click here to see the wild bird products that were on display in Global Pet Expo's New Products Showcase 2013.
One way customers can avoid mess at the feeder is by purchasing hulled mixes. According to Pogue, black oil sunflower seed is the No. 1 feed for wild birds in general, yet it also more difficult for birds to hull.

“We sell a lot more hulled sunflower [to educated wild bird enthusiasts]. Customers start with in-shell feed blends,” Pogue said. “They'll try that, but the birds will still hull the seeds and dump shells on the ground. Then the customer comes back to try hulled seed.”

Titterington's store offers two general wild bird feed products that contain no filler seed, which he said is 100 percent consumed.

“We [also] offer a variety of specialty nut-based mixes, some of which contain all hulled seeds,” he said.

Diets & Products To Attract Specific Species
Pogue said that Goldfinches are so popular that they have their own section in his store.

“For gold finches, mesh feeders are the most popular because they give the birds the opportunity to feed like it would naturally,” he said. “Goldfinches feed upside down and all around; there's actually an upside down perch for them; the perch sits above the hole, which originally built as an anti-house finch feeder because house finches don't feed upside down.”

Keep Out, Squirrels!
Keeping squirrels off the wild bird feeding systems can be a never-ending battle. Fortunately, there are feeders specifically designed to be squirrel-proof, such as Droll Yankees' Flipper, Dipper, Tipper and Whipper feeders. They are effective and entertaining at the same time. These feeders are manufactured in the United States and carry a lifetime warranty.

Brome also has some good feeders that are guaranteed squirrel proof. They come in a variety of sizes and work with different seeds or peanuts.

Erva, which is also the leading manufacturer of squirrel and raccoon baffles, sells poles systems that work for most feeders.

Cathy Morin, owner of the Bird House, LLC, a retail store in North Muskegon, Mich., said that she reminds customers that one of the most entertaining ways to keep squirrels out of the birdfeeders is to give them a feeder of their own, and she points them to her Shirley's Critter Mix, which is a Bird House Blend. —LD

Morin said that attracting Bluebirds and Orioles are two reasons her roasted and live mealworms mixes are popular with wild bird enthusiasts.

“These are two of our best selling items during the spring and summer months,” she said. 

She also said that her All-Season Suet is popular with backyard birders because they offer this high-energy food all year long without the mess. 

“Wild birds love having suet available in summer as well as winter,” she said.

Titterington said that specialty mixes are becoming increasingly popular among backyard bird enthusiasts. Nut-based blends containing black oil sunflower, grey-striped sunflower, safflower, peanuts, hulled sunflower, as well dried fruits, attract a larger variety of birds on a consistent basis. 
 
Click here to read more about species-specific diets for pet birds.

Cleanliness Equals More Sales
Morin said that marketing your products starts with a clean retail environment.

“We get many comments on having a neat, well-organized and clean store,” she said. “Having plenty of fresh seed blends without storing too much on site is important.” 

Morin referred to having “just in time merchandising,” which shows customers that her store cares about offering the freshest seeds available when they need them.

“We are not just an aisle," she said. "Spending time with each customer and working through the options to find the best items for their backyard habitat is how we have gained so many lifelong customers.” 

 

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