Bird Owners Seek Quality, Budget Friendly Avian Accessory and Housing Options

Quality enclosures and accessories with a personal touch are selling well in the avian caging category. With younger customers increasingly interested in birds, retailers are finding ways to meet the demands of this demographic.

Many younger shoppers are welcoming parrots and other advanced species into their homes.

"I’ve noticed a lot of customers in their 20s and 30s, sometimes even in their teens, coming in to buy birds," said CJ Rankin, owner of Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas.  "A lot of older people that have had birds don’t want to make a huge commitment at this point. They take a lot of commitment, like 30 to 40 years or more for some parrots."

Increasingly, these younger buyers are looking for advanced species, retailers reported.

"A lot of the younger buyers are gravitating towards African greys, Amazons and macaws," said Victor Santucci, owner of Bird Lover’s Paradise in Matawan, N.J. "Whereas older buyers, and particularly women, are getting more canaries or finches, like an aviary type of bird."

When it comes to housing birds, demand is all across the price spectrum, from luxury housing options to budget choices.

"Demand is all over the place," said Lisa Myers, owner of Feathered Follies in Concord, Calif. "I have people that don’t even have an issue with costs on occasion, and others that are insistent on getting a used cage. I don’t have a typical customer. People are definitely looking for quality on a budget."

Feathered Follies offers used cages that are donated through its associated nonprofit, and all proceeds benefit that organization, Myers noted. Demand is high for these cages, which the store will refurbish if needed.

With the segment having a broadly younger, do-it-yourself-minded customer base, demand for cages has trended toward a more luxury appearance and aesthetic styling across the price spectrum.

"For years, the market favored function and low cost over style and quality," said Jason Savitt, CEO of Prevue Pet Products in Chicago. "Increasingly, customers are paying more attention to and valuing details, from both a design and manufacturing perspective."

Cages that fit in with home décor while still providing space for birds to be comfortable are popular.

"The feedback we receive from retailers and consumers alike is that bird cage designs need to better fit home décor trends, space and styles, while still allowing for a pet bird to have ample space," said John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development for Phoenix-based Ware Pet Products. "There is also a trend in toys and accessories for products that are made from more natural materials and textures."

Accessories, and especially bird toys, are increasingly based on do-it-yourself components sold in-store that offer a variety of options to customers, and on natural products.

"We’re really big on foraging toys, such as the acrylic-base toys that are reusable, that you can refill," Myers said. "We’re definitely into natural products as well. We’re staying away from conventional accessories. We’re really trying to get people to think of more natural toys, and going away from dyed blocks to more natural blocks."

Many retailers offer a selection of items that can be strung together or combined into toys for birds, and these are very popular with customers, offering something they can’t get anywhere else.

"When it comes to accessories, the trend is do-it-yourself," said Jack Lance, co-owner of Bird Paradise in Burlington, N.J. "We carry everything customers need to make their own bird toys in-store. So they can pick out different items, mix and match, and we’ll ring them up. So they’re saving on the labor. Plus, they get to find out what their bird likes more, and emphasize that."

New Products

Everything from Species Specific to Playtime and On the Go

Several new cage and accessory options have become available in the marketplace recently, and meeting the needs of birds’ and their owners’ is a focal point for manufacturers.

Ware Pet Products recently launched its Bird Central cages, consisting of two species-specific habitats, said John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development for the Phoenix-based company.

The cages include easy-fill control feeding stations, he noted, which are designed to help bird owners better monitor their pet’s food intake. The cages come in one size appropriate for parakeets and finches, as well as one for cockatiels and conures, Gerstenberger added.

Prevue Pet Products introduced cages and accessories at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March, said Jason Savitt, CEO of the Chicago-based company.

Prevue showcased its Playtop Flight Cages, its Sonata Bird Home, and two new Playtop sizes for its high-end Stainless Steel Bird Home Collection at the show, Savitt stated.

The company also introduced its Coffeawood Tree Play Stands, Backpack Travel Carrier for birds on the go, and many new activity toys at Global Pet Expo.

Retailers have had success with a wide variety of products in the segment, including high-end cages.

"We carry A&E cages," said Jack Lance, co-owner of Bird Paradise in Burlington, N.J. "Their cages are lead free, very sturdy, and have a minimal amount of problems, if any. The parts are replaceable. A&E has some new cage colors out, such as ruby red and green. The other thing that is also is pretty cool is, A&E is coming out with replaceable under-cage trays, which has never been done before. We get phone calls asking about replacement trays all the time."

Customers are looking for accessories that will perform several functions, including meeting birds’ nutritional needs.

"A lot of our people are purchasing clamshell bird perches, which are kelp or calcium perches, and the Tooty Fruity perches [from Polly’s Pet Products] that have fruit in them, because it also gives the bird a lot of nutrition as well," said Victor Santucci, owner of Bird Lover’s Paradise in Matawan, N.J. "They’re looking for multifunctional [products]."

Avian Activity

Free-Flying, Interactive Lifestyles

Increasingly, retailers see customers gravitate toward offering interactive lifestyles, enrichment opportunities and time outside of the cage to their pet birds.

"I would say around 60 percent of people do cages, and around 40 percent of people let their birds roam free during the day," said CJ Rankin, owner of Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas. "The number of free-roamers is growing."

Many customers are buying cages primarily for nighttime enclosures, retailers reported.

"A lot of our birds are free roaming or have stands," said Lisa Myers, owner of Feathered Follies in Concord, Calif. "We’ll only use sleep cages for nighttime for these birds. That’s what we’re gravitating towards, offering freedom during the day and having a sleep cage in the evening. We encourage that."

Play stands are also increasingly popular, as birds move to more active lifestyles. Research on avian health indicates this is best for birds’ health, as well.

"We work specifically with Dr. Brian Speer, who’s a world-renowned avian vet specialist," Myers said. "There’s been a lot of research done on heart disease and illnesses that birds are victim to. A lot of that is caused by a sedentary lifestyle. We do encourage cages for a bird’s protection, but we really need to encourage them to be out, and we really need to encourage them to be active."

Flight rooms that allow birds to move and fly freely within an enclosed area are also increasingly popular. Stimulation inside the cage is very important as well, industry experts noted.

"Activity toys as well as other products are critical to the health and happiness of a bird," said Jason Savitt, CEO of Prevue Pet Products in Chicago. "By offering more complete service to pet parents, retailers can help their customers create the healthiest environment for their particular birds to thrive in."

Accessories that offer interactive play for birds are selling well, and many are replaceable, providing repeat sales opportunities as birds destroy them.

"Toys are also very popular and in demand, especially those that offer bright, attractive colors as well as functional features that stimulate a bird’s mind," said John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development for Ware Pet Products in Phoenix. "[Customers] value products that are higher in quality and provide a more functional and relationship-driven experience for their birds and themselves."

Competition & Customer Service

Internet Cage Purchases Hurt Brick-and-Mortars

More frequently, customers are buying bird cages through online vendors, industry insiders reported, which means brick-and-mortars need to work even harder to earn bird owners’ business.

"Amazon has taken a huge chunk out of any in-store bird cage sales," said Victor Santucci, owner of Bird Lover’s Paradise in Matawan, N.J. "[But these] customers are not getting a quality cage. They’re getting something that’s going to fall apart."

Though retailers reported that online customers often have trouble with their online cage purchases and end up coming in-store for a replacement, they still have to earn these customers’ business with superior service.

"It’s extremely hard to compete," said CJ Rankin, owner of Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas. "We sometimes offer a program where customers can spend $10 a year, and then get 10 percent off everything in the store except for dog and cat food. We rely on building good customer relations. I try to establish strong customer support to make them want to come back, even if they have to spend a few extra bucks."

Some retailers are using custom in-store offerings to differentiate themselves and keep customers coming back.

"We sell bird products on our website, and it’s done great for us," said Jack Lance, co-owner of Bird Paradise in Burlington, N.J. "But in terms of some of the stuff, Amazon does hurt. The big cage companies all drop ship too, and that can take a toll. … In-store, we actually do our own thing. We make our own food mixes, toys, accessories and other stuff. We try to offer something no one else has. That has set us apart from the competition."

Where internet sales hurt retailers on price competition, they can offer advantages for retailers ready to provide superior customer service and education.

"There has certainly been a huge increase of customers buying cages online, but there is also a real and important opportunity for the retailer," said Jason Savitt, CEO of Prevue Pet Products in Chicago. "Guidance and education are crucial for a bird parent purchasing a home for their pet. Bird parents should not just be buying a cage for their bird. They should be creating an environment. Retailers are the frontline experts. They offer an important service that a customer can never get online."