Covering the Essentials
In order to meet bird-owning consumers’ needs, pet specialty stores need to stock a comprehensive and quality assortment of bird food and supplies.
For any pet specialty store to be successful in the bird product category, it must stock a full line of inventory that will cover all of a pet’s needs. Retailers should offer a variety of food mixes, treats, papers/litters, perches, dishes, supplements, toys and accessories to cover all of the many species and groups of birds that are commonly kept in captivity.
Catering to a variety of bird species is particularly important in the food category. Some birds such as finches, parakeets (budgerigars) and cockatiels can be fed a high-quality seed mix as long as they receive other food items such as greens and veggies as well as a vitamin/mineral/amino acid supplement. However, these smaller birds do not need a supplement if at least 50 percent of their diets are made up of pellets. The pellets will provide the nutrients needed, and it’s actually dangerous to over-supplement.
Many larger parrot species enjoy seeds because they are flavorful and high in fat, but generally, these birds eat little to no seeds in their wild diet—unlike cockatiels, parakeets and finches. Therefore the diet for a large parrot should consist mainly of pellets—up to 60 to 70 percent—made specifically for their group or even species in some cases.
Treats can also be healthy addition to a pet bird’s diet. Some companies manufacture wonderful mixes that can be fed as a treat along with pellets, for example, to really add variety. Treats can also be put into special foraging toys to help keep the birds mentally stimulated, an important factor to consider for the very intelligent parrot group. Customers will appreciate being given lots of choices of treats to feed their pets from their local pet store.
Many supplements can be beneficial, especially for birds that mainly eat seed diets and need a product that includes additional vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Specialized nutritional additives like calcium are particularly helpful to certain parrot species such as African grays, young birds or breeding pairs. Retailers should always aim to keep a number of supplements—both general and specialized supplements—in stock at all times to cover any nutritional needs.
Pet birds need to have cuttlebones and/or mineral blocks in their cages, for both the nutrients they provide and their ability to help birds keep their bills in good shape. These products come in many types and sizes, and retailers can offer a wide variety for their customers.
Perches, swings and other climbing items come in a large assortment of sizes and textures that can suit any bird species. In fact, birds need to have perches of different diameters to keep their feet in great shape. Using different textures can be helpful as well. Some perches even help keep nails trimmed and should be used in all cage setups. Note that wood, rope or other porous items need to be changed out preferably every six to eight months, so it is important to keep a large inventory of perches in the bird department.
Almost all cages sold have two dishes, but in most cases, pet owners will need additional dishes. Besides stocking the many shapes, sizes and colors of dishes, retailers should offer cups that fit into cage dish doors, as owners should have a second set so they can put one in the dishwasher for thorough cleaning. It’s also good to have extra cage cups available in case one breaks.
Paper liners or bird safe litters can be used at the bottom of the cage, therefore it’s important to offer a few options to meet pet owners’ needs. Liners can be pre-cut or sold in rolls, while litters such as pelleted paper can be sold in a number of sizes.
Accessories such as cage guards are also must-haves for the bird department. For example, it is important to offer fabric cage guards that can be wrapped around cages of smaller birds, since these cages rarely have built-in guards like those for large parrots. Covers that are both stylish and useful for keeping light out of the bird cage are also great additions to the assortment.
Last, but in no way least, it is important to offer a comprehensive selection of bird toys in every style, color, size and material. Toys are a necessity for all caged birds, as they like to play and chew many types of items.
Straw and paper toys can be fun for finches, while parrots require both items that are destructible, like ones made of wood and rope, and items that are durable and long-lasting, such as hard plastics and metal toys. For larger parrots, be sure to offer foraging and puzzle toys, as the more engaged a bird is, the less likely it will be to develop bad habits.
All birds should have at least three toys of different types offered in appropriate sizes. It is best that stores have their bird toy department split up so small parrot toys are separate from larger ones. The bigger the variety offered, the more that bird owners will buy for their pet.
Signs should be placed around the toy section promoting the fact that pets need a variety of playthings. Retailers should also point out that toys should be changed out once they are destroyed and/or every month or two to keep the birds interested. Doing this will not only sell more toys but keep the birds—and their owners—happier.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.