Toying with Success

Pet specialty stores are the No. 1 resource for pet owners looking for the perfect collection of toys for their birds.


Intelligent pets like birds must have plenty of toys to play with to keep them physically and mentally healthy, and the smarter the bird, the more variety they require. Stores can employ a number of marketing tools to stimulate sales in this category, and it all starts with educating customers on the necessity of providing toys for their pet birds.

When a customer purchases a bird, they often rely on the store to sell them everything the bird needs, and these basics should always include toys. Stores can put together cage setups that include all the products a new bird owner will need, including at least three types of toys.

The bird toy section should be bright and clean with sections separated by toy size. The size of the toys is key, since larger toys may scare smaller birds, and small toys are easy for larger parrots to break down and ingest, which can lead to injury or death. The selection of toys should be varied enough so that all different colors, materials and complexity levels are covered. Some toys are meant to be chewed apart, such as those made of rope or wood, while those that keep the bird occupied, like foraging and intelligent toys, are great for the medium- to larger-sized parrots.

Be sure to offer new or different toys often to keep the interest of the bird owners, as well as their pet. Remember that even classic toys that have been on the market for a long time can be new to customers, and some items should always be kept in stock, such as mirror toys for smaller parrot species like parakeets (budgerigars) and cockatiels. It’s a myth that small birds will fall in love with the mirror and not want to be with their owners. However, keep in mind that while a mirror is great for smaller birds, as it will keep them company when the owner is away from home, it is not a good idea for larger parrots that can become too attached and may become aggressive around it.

Toys can be important to not only keep a bird active and occupied but also avoid the development of bad behaviors such as yelling, biting or self-destructive actions like feather plucking. Parrots are extremely intelligent, and although larger species need a lot of attention from their owner, toys can help keep them happy when their owner is busy. Thus, it is also important to give at least three toys of different materials at all times and to replace any toys that are chewed apart. It also helps to change them approximately every month so the birds will not get bored with the same toys.

Changing the toys around often will also keep birds from getting over-sensitive to changes in their cage and surroundings. However, if a bird is a bit nervous around new items, retailers can advise the owner to leave the toy next to the cage for a few days and play with it in front of the bird until their pet seems to want the toy for themselves.

Besides educating customers about birds’ need for variety toys and the importance of refreshing a bird’s toy collection periodically, retailers can post signs in the toy section as a gentle reminder to buy a toy when they come in to pick up food, litter/paper or other pet supplies. Signs can state why toys are needed and can be used to draw attention to new arrivals or best sellers. 

Keeping the toy assortment fresh and stocked with the latest innovations is key to inspiring sales in this category, as is moving the merchandise around on occasion to highlight different options. Running specials—such as “Buy two bird toys and get third at half off of equal or lesser value”—is a great way to give sales a boost and broadcast to customers the critical role toys play in birds’ well-being. 

One last great marketing tool for selling toys is to prove that they are important by putting them in the cages of those birds that are for sale. Nothing sells a toy better than a pet owner seeing that toy being played with by the store birds—plus it has the added benefit of keeping the birds in the shop happy.

Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.


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