Avian Amusement

Today’s pet bird owners are often well informed about the animals in their care, so they want products they can trust, according to participants in the avian category. Thus, safety and natural materials and ingredients rank high for customers.

"Safety in toys, and especially food items, is paramount," said Melanie Allen, avian product specialist at The Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. "Today’s pet bird owners want to know that the material [used] is safe, of value and, for many, a functional purchase that enriches their parrot’s life."

John Lance, owner of A&E Cage Co. LLC in Burlington, N.J., agreed that bird owners are looking for safe products made with natural materials.

"Customers also want toys, treats and chews that are made in the USA and include healthy and natural ingredients," he said.

Enrichment is important to owners as well, as, often, they want to keep the bird entertained while they’re away working all day, said Kimble Johnakin, owner of Sweet Feet & Beak in Clermont, Ga.

Gary Foster, manager of Adventures in Birds in Houston, said his customers "want a good value for toys that can enrich the bird’s environment and nutritious food and treat products that the bird will actually eat."

Customers also desire variety, said Terri Martin, owner of M&D Bird Farm in Harbeson, Del.

"They are looking for variety and safety," she said. "The typical consumer is more concerned with the mental health of their bird than with the price of the toy."

The bottom line is that "when it comes to the bird category, specifically, pet owners are looking for all-natural toys and treats that they feel good about giving to their birds," said Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y.

Add to Their Awareness

While some consumers are well versed when it comes to treats, chews and toys, avian experts said there still are plenty of bird owners who need education.

For example, Katie Calcasola, certified avian specialist and manager of Golden Cockatoo in Deerfield Beach, Fla., finds that customers want toys that will last for a long time.

However, "we tell them, ‘if it lasts a long time, the bird’s not playing with it,’" she said. "Toys are meant to be destroyed."

To help customers "get the most bang for their buck," Calcasola asks questions like, "What does your bird like to do or chew on?"

"We’ll find a toy that appeals to that and remind owners that the bird’s job is to destroy the toys," she said, "so get what’s appropriate for the bird to enjoy; it makes for a healthier, happier bird."

Melanie Allen, avian product specialist at The Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass., finds that companion bird owners need to be reminded that "70 percent of most companion birds’ weekly diet should consist of a healthy base diet chosen for the bird based on age and lifestyle."

"The remaining 30 percent [can be] treats, healthy fruits and vegetables," she said. "Nutritional enrichment, or treats, are best offered on occasion and changed often to be of true benefit to the bird."

To boost a bird’s playtime and nutritional enrichment, Allen recommended hiding treats in toys, "as it mimics the foraging instinct that many birds have."

"The reward—the treat morsel—has more impact because the bird ‘worked for it,’" she said.

To best educate customers, Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y., recommended that retailers "staff their stores with knowledgeable staff that can help consumers on a one-to-one basis and provide them with the education they need to take proper care of their birds."

The staff at M&D Bird Farm in Harbeson, Del., does just that. Staff members talk with each new bird owner and explain the importance of toys as well as high-quality food and training treats, said Terri Martin, owner.

The significance of rotation and variety is another key point retailers should stress to bird owners.

"It is necessary to rotate toys because birds, especially, need variety and stimulation," said John Lance, owner of A&E Cage Co. LLC in Burlington, N.J. "You want the bird to keep occupied so it won’t harm itself. When birds get bored, they could do things to harm themselves."

Sales Boosters

Independent pet stores typically strive to take good care of customers—and their pets—and make money while doing it. A key piece of advice repeatedly suggested for boosting sales of pet bird toys, treats and chews is to talk with customers.

"Talk to people, even your regular customers," said Dena Tucker, president and owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply in West Hartford, Conn. "If you see all they’re doing is bringing up the food, ask if they saw the new toy you brought in."

Ask questions, and then, listen, industry participants said.

"It’s important to build a good rapport with customers," said John Lance, owner of A&E Cage Co. LLC in Burlington, N.J. "Be engaging and knowledgeable about your products. Listen to their wants and needs.

"Incorporate a loyalty program with your customers; it provides important insights into customer preferences," he added. "It will increase loyalty, and your customers will be happy and satisfied."

When arranging products in the store, insiders recommended strategic placement to ensure customers see as much as possible during their visits.

"If you have aisles, put toys, then treats, then food, so people have to walk by everything to get to the food," Tucker said.

Tim Norsen, national sales manager for Vitakraft Sun Seed Inc. in Bowling Green, Ohio, also recommended merchandising treats and toys with the foods in the bird section.

"I often see treats and especially toys not set within the bird department," he said. "This makes them harder to find and more difficult to sell."

Katie Calcasola, certified avian specialist and manager of Golden Cockatoo in Deerfield Beach, Fla., said to keep the customer in mind with displays. The store arranges most racks at eye level and doesn’t overstock so people can view the toys more easily.

"We organize by size as well as like items, such as leather," she said. "We’ll have a rack of preening toys that have straws on them and another rack is piñata-type toys, so we try to keep the type of toy together, and they stand out well."

Several sources said displaying the products in action is the best way to boost sales.

"Customers tend to buy products when they see them in person being used by a similar pet that they own," Lance said. "It gives you a better understanding of how that specific toy works."

Michael Acerra, digital marketing manager for Penn-Plax Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y., agreed, adding that "in a lot of cases, the animals themselves end up being the best salespeople in the store."

The bird showroom at Adventures in Birds acts as the Houston-based retailer’s consumer education platform.

"We feed our birds the treat and food products for sale," said Gary Foster, manager. "We keep birds on display active with toys, which also are available for sale. Having our birds using the things we have for sale is the best testimony for our customers to see what works."

For the Benefit of Birds

Avian Amusement

Businesses in the pet bird industry find customers want safe products that keep their feathered friends entertained throughout the day, as well as treats that add to the pet’s nutritional health. Many of the products introduced by manufacturers this year focus on meeting these demands.

A&E Cage Co. LLC has debuted a variety of USA Happy Beaks Bird Toys: Hanging Finger Trap and Balls, Fiesta Wreath, 1960s UFO and Chinese Food Take-Out Jr. The company said it designed these toys to encourage a bird’s natural instinct to forage and play.

Constructed with a variety of safe materials and textures, such as finger traps, plastic balls, sisal rope and crinkle paper, the toys feature small spaces inside for hiding treats, according to the company. These enable pet birds to explore different shapes and textures while getting much-needed exercise and enrichment, said John Lance, owner of the Burlington, N.J.-based company, adding that the company tries to create toys that get away from the traditional blocks and rope.

Greenfeather Bird Supply LLC launched numerous GFBToys this year. They include: Butterflies, a refillable toy for eye and tongue; BumpKnocker FT, for jumbo feet and beaks; Winged FT, for shred and peel interest; Orbed Jr. and Orbed Sr., which offer a clubhouse place for hanging out or napping; Something Fishy with bright colors, rattle noises and tongue-teasing textures; and Cricket Jr. and Cricket Sr., which feature disks, wood spoons and colorful pony or donut beads.

"Our toys are made in the USA, and the parts used on our bird toy creations address health and safety concerns; are eco-friendly, sustainable and nontoxic; feature recyclable parts and fair trade products; and encourage cruelty-free purchases and practices," said Dena Tucker, president and owner of the West Hartford, Conn.-based company.

At SuperZoo in Las Vegas in July, Sweet Feet & Beak introduced its Pizza Party cardboard toy, which won second place in the show’s New Product Showcase. The toy comes in a pizza box and features eight slices with colorful toppings to give owners eight separate pieces to put in the bird’s cage one at a time, said Kimble Johnakin, owner of the Clermont, Ga.-based company.

In September, Vitakraft Sun Seed Inc. unveiled a line of Crazy Good Cookin’ "cookable" treats.

"These require some preparation by the consumer and are designed to be a complement to fresh vegetables, fruits and table foods that are a part of many parrots’ daily diets," said Tim Norsen, national sales manager for the Bowling Green, Ohio-based company. "The softer, cooked texture enhances palatability and provides for a different feeding experience than traditional dried treat mixes."

Customers can choose from Jungle Rice, Nutty Noodle and Pastamore’.

"We created these items because, as pet owners ourselves, we are always looking for ways to enrich our companions’ lives," Norsen said. "Cooking for them provides textures and flavors not found in typical avian diets."