Think Outside the Bars

To achieve sales success with large, expensive items like bird cages, retailers need to start by examining their strategy for getting customers in the door.




When it comes to big-ticket items like bird cages, brick-and-mortar retailers aren’t going to win the battle with the internet by fighting based on price and convenience. Customers can easily go online and buy a cage for the same amount or less than they would find it in-store, without the trouble of leaving the house. So, the question is: How can pet stores sell more of these large items when e-retailers have the edge on two important factors?

First, a pet store must consider what it can offer customers to get them to come in the door. For example, selling livestock is a great way to help bring in more foot traffic, as people like to come and visit with the pets. In the past, a customer buying a bird at the pet store would almost always buy the complete setup to go with the new pet at the store too. But then large chains and big-box stores began to offer supplies, and the public had the perception that their prices would be better. Stores saw people coming in who wanted the bird but had already bought the cage and supplies somewhere else, and the internet made this situation even worse.

One way pet stores can sell more bird homes is to bundle the cage with supplies and give a special discount, but only if the customer buys the full setup. If the store sells birds, it can give a special price on the bird if the customer buys the cage, or vice versa. Bird food and litter/paper for the bottom tray can be on a frequent-buyer program where after buying a certain number of the product, such as 10 bags of bird food, the next one is free. Frequent-buyer programs, special prices on full setups or other incentives are often necessary to bring customers back to a pet store on a regular basis.

What about stores that don’t sell livestock? Pet supply stores now outnumber places that offer live animals, birds and fish. Although supply stores don’t have the experience factor that a store with livestock can offer, they can bring people in by offering special events, classes, services and so on that the pet owner can use and enjoy with their favorite companion. In fact, both pet supply places and stores with livestock must do some creative marketing to bring in customers and increase sales.

Stores can run many types of events to celebrate anniversaries, holidays or new seasons, which creates an opportunity for a number of specials. For example, retailers can have sample giveaways, host contests or offer photos with Santa. They can also partner with shelters and rescues to bring in adoptable pets, whether as part of a special event or as a regular monthly or weekly adoption day. Offering services like nail/wing trims or low-cost exams and vaccinations at certain times can help bring in customers. 

Networking with local shelters and veterinarians can provide a huge sales boost for a pet store. The store can keep business cards by the register and display posters advertising the vet or shelter. In exchange, the doctor and shelter workers can refer people to the store. On top of this, the store can offer anyone who adopts a pet a special deal on their first purchase for the pet and can give the shelter or veterinarian office business cards with a gift certificate on the back. Networking can also extend beyond the pet community—retailers might consider partnering with other local shops or businesses to distribute business cards or coupons. The more a store can expand its network within the local community, the more customers will come through the door.

Of course, it’s essential to keep a nice variety of high-quality bird cages in a number of designs and colors on hand so a retailer can seize an opportunity to provide a quick and convenient sale. It is important to sell the right size and bar strength to suit each customer’s bird, so offer larger home options and tell customers that birds should be able to flap their wings freely and perhaps even fly in their cage to stay healthy all their lives. Extra-large parrots should have a cage with a playpen on top and/or a separate large play gym as well. Also, it is best to have cages with features such as built-in seed guards, large dishes, deep trays and so on. 

We cannot really blame the customers for buying off the internet. They can order anytime, sometimes get better pricing and don’t have to leave their home. But what can they do if there is a problem such as broken or missing cage parts, bent cage bars or they cannot figure out how to put the cage together? The internet cannot fix their problem, and often the customer finds they cannot return the item or get any help. This is where pet stores can outshine the computer every time.

A store employee might be tempted to tell a customer to take a hike if they come in for help with something they bought on the internet, but that would be a huge mistake. Fixing a problem for a customer will never hurt a store’s reputation, while being short and annoyed with someone will likely show up as a negative comment on the internet. But if a pet store goes above and beyond to fix a person’s problem, that can result in a very positive online review. However, it is certainly fair to charge for the time if the store does something like put a cage together that they did not sell. 

Even if a customer buys a cage online, pet stores can still take the opportunity to sell additional cage accessories that the bird owner may not have even known they needed. For example, it’s almost guaranteed that a cage bought online will not have at least three different diameter perches in it, which birds need to maintain healthy feet. Even if a store doesn’t get the large initial sale of the cage, they can secure add-on sales and hopefully make that bird owner a regular customer by helping them set up their pet properly.

Although it might seem like an impossible task, a pet store can survive and even thrive in today’s world by making their store a fantastic experience for both pets and their owners. Even with big-ticket items like cages where shoppers often prioritize price and convenience, offering great customer service, having a knowledgeable sales staff and holding fun events can give the advantage back to retailers.

Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.


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