Marketing Your Wares

When you're selling pet birds, sometimes the best marketing tool is the one with feathers.


Want to sell more birds and bird products? The number-one way to sell more of anything is by marketing. Fortunately for the pet industry, retailers—particularly those selling live animals—have some inherently marketable features.

Birds can be great marketing tools. My father Bill Bright, who owns The Fish Nook Pet Center in Acton, Mass., has always kept birds out on the floor in wire cages where customers can have direct access to them. Keeping pet birds in a separate room so they can only be viewed through a window makes the birds seem unfriendly and unattainable. Pet shops with birds displayed this way have noted that their bird sales are not very strong. Customers need to be able to interact with a pet before they will consider owning it.

Retailers that understand how great birds can be at selling themselves will display them on open branches, or in playpens or containers where they are easily accessible. With this approach, for example, a young cockatiel, with its’ large eyes and baby-like antics, can sell itself very easily. Bill Trufant, co-owner of B&B Pet Stop, Inc., in Mobile, Ala., keeps parakeets and cockatiels in an open bin display so customers can interact and play with the birds to their heart’s content. Melissa Whitton of Most Valuable Pets, Inc., in Lexington, Ky., says the birds for sale in her store “are easily accessible and handled by everyone.”

Keep in mind that tame and hand-fed pet birds need to be taken out at least once a day to stay sweet. This is especially true for the larger parrot species when they are young, and it is important that these birds be handled frequently by different people so the bird does not bond too strongly with one person or one sex. “All of our hook bills [parrots] are wing clipped, which encourages handling,” Trufant says. “Both employees and customers—with employee supervision—are encouraged to handle the birds.”

The setting in which store birds are kept can be just as important to the marketing effort as having the birds out in the open. Whitton says: “We sell mostly parrots and keep them in a ‘rainforest’ aviary. It is an eight by twelve foot semi-circle with a natural stone back wall.”

Adding to the effect are the thunder booms played every thirty minutes and a fine mist that rains down in areas of the birds’ habitat. Whitton also keeps all the larger birds out on java tree branches so customers can interact with them freely, while the smaller parrot species, such as conures and cockatiels, are kept in a petting bin up front.

Birds that can talk can actually sell themselves. “Several of our birds are already talking, so that always attracts a lot of attention,” Whitton says. 

Cher, an African grey parrot—a species known for having the best talkers—was the mascot at my father’s store for years. She charmed many customers with broad vocabulary of words, phrases, noises and whistle, and certainly helped sell a lot of birds.

A customer who is looking for a bird that talks would certainly be more interested in one that already says a few words, so employees and customers alike should be encouraged to speak to the young parrots and repeat something simple like “hello” to them often to encourage them to talk.

Coming Back for More

The next question is, how do you ensure that customers will come back to the store for supplies and food once they have bought a bird? Offering specials, wing trims, nail clipping and even boarding can help keep customers loyal. Jamie Whittaker of ABC Birds in Humble, Texas, offers free wing trims, a reduced boarding rate, and a 10-percent discount on food and toys for customers who buy birds at the store.

Bright offers boarding for any birds sold from his store, and many times a customer will buy a bird knowing that they have a place to bring it when they go away for work or vacation. Customers with large birds find boarding particularly valuable since these birds should not be left alone all day. Being at the store is like a vacation for pet birds—they get lots of attention and can call and babble with other birds.

Holding special events is another way market pet birds and bird products. Recently, B&B Pet Stop had a birthday party for Pickles, the store’s resident cockatoo. B&B offered free wing and nail trims, discounts on all bird items and free bird-treat samples. The store had birthday cake for the customers and a cake made of cornbread and seed cakes for the birds. Trufant adds that the event generated strong sales.

Creating excitement for customers encourages them to buy and to stay loyal to that store. As one marketing guru said, pet stores are not just selling pets or pet products, they are selling fun, love and companionship.

One last but important marketing strategy for selling more birds and bird products is to ensure that everyone who works in the store is knowledgeable about the birds being sold, according to Whitton. She adds that “it is hard to sell a bird if you have never owned one yourself.”

It is imperative to encourage employees who work with bird customers to own a bird themselves. They will have a deeper understanding of why birds can make such amazing and wonderful pets, and will be much better salespeople because of the experiences they have with their own pet birds.

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

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