Owners of pet birds are interested in a variety of options for housing their pets, with larger sizes, ease of use and durability all being factors in purchasing decisions, according to industry experts.
"People are going for cages and items that are going to be more durable and that are going to hold up better," said Kelly Parsons, manager for Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash. "We sell a lot more cages that have larger, thicker, welded bars that the birds aren’t going to be able to break."
Consideration for space will vary by the species in question, but offering a variety of options and configurations helps earn the sale, retailers reported.
"When we carry cages in one particular size, we carry several designs so customers have several choices," said Anna Marie Canady, owner of Sunset Beach Exotic Birds in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.
Though bigger is often better when it comes to bird cages, price is often a key deciding factor for customers shopping for habitats for their avian charges.
"My customers are basically looking for quality and a fairly good price break if we can give it to them," said Walt Ecklof, owner of Bird Lover’s Paradise in Matawan, N.J.
Customers often want to purchase as roomy a cage as their space will accommodate; however, it helps for retailers to keep in mind the financial limitations a larger cage might create.
"Customers do want larger cages overall, but affordability is often an issue," Canady said. "My philosophy is: the bigger, the better for a bird."
Aesthetics come into the equation as well, as bird cages are typically on display within a home.
"Customers are always looking for more aesthetically pleasing cages," said Kim Mooty, business manager at Omar’s Exotic Birds in Lake Forest, Calif. "Sometimes it’s a fight because you want what’s a better size for the bird versus what’s better looking for the customer’s house."
Though good-looking enclosures are popular, for some customers, the practical considerations of cleaning and maintenance might take precedent.
"Customers want attractive cages, but the main thing is ease of maintenance," said Lana Mills, owner of Aqua Pets & Birds in Killeen, Texas. "Most cages are not designed with birds actually sitting in them in mind. They’re designed for ease of putting together, dismantling and shipping."
It’s a balancing act, and retailers will do well to consider how to offer their customers the enclosure that’s right for their situation.
"While a bird’s quality of habitat is the primary consideration for their pet bird, pet bird owners do want functionality and easy maintenance," said Melanie Allen, avian product specialist for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. "If their feathered friend’s home fits in with the home décor, that’s a welcome bonus."
As with many aspects of the pet industry, competition is high in the bird category, and cages are particularly difficult because of their higher price point, retailers reported.
"It’s difficult with cages because they’re a big-ticket item and they are frequently purchased online, especially because often when we sell birds, they’re not ready to go home yet," Parsons said. "They’re still being hand-fed. So when customers have to wait three weeks until their bird is ready, they don’t buy the cage immediately."
Both big-box stores and online competition are taking a toll on cage sales in independent pet specialty stores, but focusing on bird and accessory sales has helped retailers maintain success.
"Our cage sales are probably down because of online competition, but it’s a good thing that we have birds," Mooty said.
Many bird specialty retailers focus on raising hand-fed birds to offer customers the best pet experience possible, which is something most competitors aren’t able to do.
"Customers come in, they see us feeding the birds and the care that we’re giving them," Ecklof said. "If you don’t love the birds, this is not the business to get into. It’s too much work. The reward is the satisfaction."
Back for More
Bird cages take up a lot of room on retailers’ floors, and some have to be creative to merchandise them effectively. But the advantage of selling birds and cages together becomes clear when customers start returning to purchase accessories.
"We don’t have a ton of space, but we assemble our cages because it’s a lot easier for customers," said Kelly Parsons, manager for Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash. "It makes a big statement that way, and it’s a little more eye-catching."
For smaller bird-specialty retailers, using all available space is necessary to offer the selection customers want.
"We have 600 square feet of floor space, and we take everything right up to the ceiling," said Walt Ecklof, owner of Bird Lover’s Paradise in Matawan, N.J. "If I use my wall space and ceiling space, we can carry 60 cages in stock and 750 toys. We do combo specials as well. It doesn’t make me any money if it sits here. The object is to create a sense of urgency for people to get it."
By selling a cage along with a bird, retailers are helping to establish a long-term relationship with customers that is likely to include future accessories purchases. And when it comes to accessories, toys are by far the most popular items to add to cages.
"The best accessories are toys," Ecklof said. "We try to offer a large selection of toys. It’s something people enjoy buying for their pets like they do for their children, and the birds destroy them. They have to be replaced, and customers want a variety. They want a selection of good-quality products, not just a planogram board."
While retailers generate sales by offering replacement water dishes and other functional and comfort accessories, toys are by far the biggest sellers, they report.
"Covered cups are popular replacement items," said Lana Mills, owner of Aqua Pets & Birds in Killeen, Texas. "Of course, toys are the largest item we have success with. They do best out of all the categories."
Making Sales Soar
Demand for attractive bird cage designs and functional features has grown, and pet specialty retailers have a wide variety of options to offer customers.
Hagen Group’s Vision Cage system is designed with both aesthetics and functionality in mind for smaller species such as canaries, finches, parakeets, lovebirds and cockatiels, said Melanie Allen, avian product specialist for the Mansfield, Mass.-based manufacturer.
"In recent months, we have updated the colors to be more in line with today’s bird owners’ tastes," Allen said. "In coming months, we will also introduce updated Vision cage stands [designed to] complement not just the bird’s environment, but also the pet bird owner’s home."
There is growing demand for flight enclosures as well, as customers increasingly seek out these options, especially for larger species.
"With a nice flight cage, customers are always looking for a little bit more room for their birds to fly back and forth," said Walt Ecklof, owner of Bird Lover’s Paradise in Matawan, N.J. "They’re able to decorate it with a little bit more natural product."
Ecklof likes the new flight cage from FOP, an Italian manufacturer with distribution through ABBA Seed Co.
"[The FOP cage] has natural wood branches, a stand and a beautiful flight cage," he said. "It’s space economical with a powder-coat finish on it. It’s kind of great. It’s easy to take care of with a lot of conveniences built in such as food cups. It’s just easy to use and really nice."
King’s Cages also sell well, Ecklof noted, as do YML and A&E cages and carriers. Other retailers also noted success selling King’s Cages.
"The only cages I sell in my store are King’s Cages," said Anna Marie Canady, owner of Sunset Beach Exotic Birds in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. "They’re the top of the line. I’ve always liked them. In fact, I just switched over to only carrying King’s Cages in my store about two years ago."
For smaller species, Prevue and Super Pet cages do well, said Kelly Parsons, manager for Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash.
"We’ve actually seen a lot of families come in," Parsons said. "A lot of people with kids and a lot of people who live in apartments and condos are looking for companionship."