Interest in avian pets is high, even as many people return to work and their normal routines. This regard for pet birds is translating into sales growth in the category, retailers reported, and toys are on par with food items when it comes to bird health and repeat purchases.
Pet birds are harder to find as fewer breeders are offering livestock to retailers, and unusual weather patterns in some areas of the country affect bird breeding behavior, retailers reported.
“Starting at the end of 2019, and throughout 2020, the market changed,” said Debbie Schweikardt, owner of the Arizona Bird Store in Mesa, Ariz. “Up until that point, it was easier [to find birds]. This has been the weirdest time that I’ve ever seen in retail, and I’ve been retailing in the bird category since 1982. … Normally, from March through June, I’m still going through last season’s babies. This year, we had none. … There’s nothing special that you can do to get birds to feel amorous. We’ve also had this weird weather in Arizona, where we’ve had more rain right now than we’ve had in the last couple of years. So the birds are starting to come around and produce eggs, but it has nothing to do with us. It’s just the weather.”
Bird availability has driven prices substantially higher.
“This has been a difficult year to get birds, because breeding wasn’t as good as breeders had expected, and prices have skyrocketed,” said Ursula Berg, owner of Fancy Feathers Exotic Birds, a bird shop in Blackwood, N.J. “It makes it difficult for the everyday customer to come in and buy a bird. It’s frustrating for a lot of bird stores.”
Despite livestock availability issues, retailers reported strong growth in bird sales, which translates directly to toy and chew sales.
“I’ve had to hire more people because we just sold something like an extra 200 birds,” Schweikardt said. “If we retain half of those as clients—I’m just being realistic—that’s 100 extra customers we have to service, and my bird people are needy.”
New customer retention has been especially strong, retailers reported.
“A lot of people who have bought birds from us this year are returning,” said Joey Puorro, operations manager for the Bird and Reptile Connection, a store in Walpole, Mass. “They are coming back with much more consistency. Certain products, such as food and toys, just bring people back. For example, in the past, we would send a baby bird home with food and we would be lucky if we saw that customer ever again. This year, I feel like more than 50 percent of the people we’re sending home with birds are returning for food and toys. It has been a godsend.”
Bird toy sales are so important that many retailers dedicate a substantial amount of floor space to displaying these items.
“The main issue independents have is the space they designate to toys,” said Dena Hult, customer service sales representative for King’s Cages International, a manufacturer based in East Brunswick, N.J. “The independents that do the best with sales are those that devote their space to displaying toys and boarding.”
Bird food sales and toy sales are connected, and customers often purchase both on each return visit.
“Toys and food are equal for me,” Schweikardt said. “Hardly ever will somebody come in and get a bag of food and not pick something up, some little toy. … They’re in here buying food, and toy sales just go with that. Food and toys run together.”
Many retailers leverage floor space to maximize displays to encourage customers to purchase both items on each visit.
“We have an entire wall of our store dedicated just to toys,” said Zack Nebelsick, sales associate for Bird is the Word in Batavia, Ill. “We also have spinning racks for different sized parts. The smaller birds have their own area, and the large birds have a big wall just of those big, chunky toys.”
Many retailers locate food items further back in the store, which encourages foot traffic to pass by toys and other repeat sales items.
“Place bird food after the toys so that customers have to pass by the toys to get to the food not once, but twice, as they return to the register area,” said Dena Tucker, owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply, a manufacturer based in West Hartford, Conn. “It helps to drive toy sales.”
going for Made in the USA
Although supply constraints have limited new bird toy introductions in some ways, manufacturers are meeting demand with products designed to appeal to pet bird owners interested in all-natural toys and chews made with components from the United States.
“Right now, natural toys are very big,” said Dena Hult, customer service sales representative for King’s Cages International, a manufacturer based in East Brunswick, N.J. “Toys with coconut, lava stone, sisal, hemp and natural woods are very popular. People seem to be just as into the health of their birds as they are for themselves.”
King’s Cages is releasing 110 brand-new toys with an emphasis on foraging and enrichment this fall, Hult added. These include its Candy Foraging Surprise Box, filled with parts made from different textures and foraging options to keep birds busy, and its Bamboo Foraging Windchime, a multi-piece foraging chime that is composed of bamboo and has channels for hiding treats.
The company is also introducing its Pina Colada Foraging Cup, which offers multiple textures and layers, and is assembled with a bird-safe metal chain and coconut shell. King’s Cages is focused on providing products made in the United States, Hult added.
“Our [toys] are American made,” Hult said. “Toys being made in America puts a lot of bird owners’ minds at ease that the quality of the components are held to a higher standard. … We listen to our consumers, take notes, and when the time [is right], we pull the trigger and create the new designs. It is always based on what our consumers are looking for.”
Customers typically respond to perceived quality, industry insiders said, and natural bird toys and chews with components sourced in the United States help meet that demand.
“If retailers publicize that their toys are made in the USA, with components that are predominantly made in the USA, that seems to interest people,” said Dena Tucker, owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply, a manufacturer based in West Hartford, Conn. “I just refreshed a bird toy I call Card Shark to include what I call flapjacks. It has six legs with four flapjacks per leg. It’s designed so that birds of different sizes can play with it, from an ambitious little parrotlet all the way up to a gray Amazon. … These playing cards are more expensive and they are also made here in the U.S. They cost probably four or five times more than the ones that come in from China. But I’m not worried about birds or other pets eating them.”
The playing cards used in the Card Shark toy are made with starch instead of plastic, Tucker added, and the inks are vegetable based.
The company is also producing a spinoff of the Card Shark, with two legs instead of six, to meet demand for the toy at a lower price point.
“Price is always a part of it,” Tucker said. “Stores definitely need to stock small, inexpensive JW Pet or Penn-Plax toys, too. A number of toys that I make are in that same price point. Those types of toys are still very important because a lot of little birds would not get any toys if those didn’t exist.”
Play on Display
Toy sales are indispensable for pet bird category sales, and displays that emphasize pet bird play help drive sales in-store, retailers reported.
“Our store has something like 6,800 square feet of space, and we have 1,500 square feet of space dedicated to our birds,” said Debbie Schweikardt, owner of the Arizona Bird Store in Mesa, Ariz. “It’s a dedicated room where they sit out. We have rings hanging from the ceiling, and we have toys all over the place. Their cages are in there, and they have toys all over their cages. That room is packed full of toys and interactive things, and they can play with ropes and big swings. Of course, people then come over to our retail side, and I have a full wall running the length of the store with nothing but toys on it.”
Showing birds playing with toys and engaging with their environment helps drive sales.
“We display and use toys in all our cages with the birds. So each bird has toys, and we rotate them quite frequently,” said Ursula Berg, owner of Fancy Feathers Exotic Birds, a store in Blackwood, N.J. “The birds that we have in our store, whether it is a baby or bird that has already been sold, we put toys in with them, and when a customer comes in, we can show them that the bird really is engaging with a particular toy. Of course, we have a wall display for toys, all separated by type for small, medium and large birds.”
Pet birds inevitably chew and shred their favorite toys, and they need new toys and chews to help keep them engaged, which allows retailers to leverage toys as repeat sales items.
“Our store is toy based,” said Joey Puorro, operations manager for the Bird and Reptile Connection, a pet store in Walpole, Mass. “We have probably one of the largest selections of toys in the area, if not the largest selection. … We go through a lot of shreddable toys, stuff with cardboard and wood involved. We have a lot of regulars who have birds that have their favorite toys. So we have a lot of returning customers making the same purchases. A bird that loves toys will bring their owners back into the shop to get more.”
Customers are looking for pet bird toys that offer foraging opportunities and enrichment, as well as toys that use natural materials and are shreddable, retailers reported.
“Most of our clients are definitely looking for something to give their pets where they feel like they’re doing something good and making their birds happy,” said Zack Nebelsick, sales associate for Bird is the Word in Batavia, Ill. “I always emphasize that customers can have the bell in the corner of the cage or the mirror, but at the end of the day, it’s the chew toys that they can visibly see their birds using. When there’s a little pile of shredded stuff, customers know that their bird kept themselves occupied.”
Education is an important part of helping customers find the right items to offer their pet birds.
“Birds need enrichment,” said Ursula Berg, owner of Fancy Feathers Exotic Birds, a bird shop in Blackwood, N.J. “We have so many people come in and say their bird doesn’t like toys. But when they show us the toy, it’s very understandable why the bird didn’t like it. It’s either much too big or small, or they complain that the bird destroyed the toy in five minutes. We try to counsel that maybe that wasn’t the proper toy for the bird and that they should choose something that takes more time, such as a foraging toy.”
Many pet retailers that focus on pet bird sales concentrate on education for the betterment of pet birds and to build a strong customer base.
“Our store founder, Martha, always believed that these intelligent animals deserve a lot of different options for enrichment and stimulation,” said Joey Puorro, operations manager for the Bird and Reptile Connection, a store in Walpole, Mass. “Not only does this establish a more well-rounded bird, but it builds a good customer base and a good return customer base because of these toys.”
Interacting with customers and building trust helps establish retailers as expert sources of information and essential providers of products that meet each bird’s needs.
“Talk to your customers,” said Dena Tucker, owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply, a manufacturer based in West Hartford, Conn. “Find out what sparks their bird to have an interest. Build a little bit of a rapport to get the customer to understand you’re there to help them. You have an interest, you understand the products that you’re selling, and your employees understand the products that they’re selling. If it helps them to make an educated decision that helps their pet be happier, they’re happier as a customer and don’t feel like they wasted their money. They’ll come back to buy that toy again, or maybe they’ll try another toy.”
Ownership of Small Animals, Herptiles and Fish Hits 10-Year High
A pandemic-driven acquisition spree raised ownership of pets other than dogs and cats to the highest level in a decade for three of the four main “other pet” types, with pet birds being the exception, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. In the wake of COVID-19, according to a new Packaged Facts report on fish, small mammal, herptile and bird products, 12.2 percent of all U.S. households own one (or more) type of pet other than dogs and cats, up from 10.8 percent five years ago.
Now at $2.8 billion, the retail market for fish, small mammal, reptile/amphibian, and bird products posted sales increases across categories in 2020, resulting in a 18.5 percent sales increase that exceeded even the unprecedented 15.8 percent growth experienced by the retail pet products sector overall.
Despite the economic setbacks and uncertainties since COVID-19, Packaged Facts survey results from June 2021 show that only 4 percent of other pet owners decreased their pet spending in the previous 12 months, while 33 percent increased it.
“Product premiumization plays a part in this spending increase, with these other pet owners following the pattern of dog and cat owners in seeking out costlier natural foods and more design- and eco-conscious non-food products such as bedding, habitats/enclosures and toys,” according to report analyst Shannon Brown.
Why do millions of Americans opt for fish, small animals, reptiles and birds? Nearly two-thirds of other pet owners (65 percent) enjoy keeping them because they are fun to watch and observe, according to Packaged Facts survey data. More than half (52 percent) simply love this type of pet. Other common motivations include these pets being fun to interact with, adding liveliness to the home and providing companionship.
These motivations provide clear context for the pandemic-driven other pet acquisition boom, according to Packaged Facts officials. With the stay-at-home, school-from-home dynamics earlier in the crisis and the ongoing waves of COVID-19 infection, home-centric households are relying on various types of pets—and often on multiple types of pets, all as part of the family—for adult and child activities, comfort and companionship, officials said. Even when pandemic restrictions ease, most households will continue to cherish these pets, such that continued market growth is projected in the coming years, officials added.
Marketers in the other pets market would do well to position on both function and “fun” while expanding their product ranges, according to Packaged Facts, and retailers should find success in products that allow people to interact with various types of pets in safe, enjoyable ways while keeping all creatures involved healthy and happy.