The Four Keys to Success

Experts say presentation, products, pets and passionate personnel are the keys to selling more birds and bird-related supplies


It is a great time to be a pet specialty retailer. Even in the harshest of economic climates, the industry has proven resilient, as nothing seems to dampen people’s love for their animal companions. However, not even this hardy customer base can guarantee every pet retailer’s success. Pet specialty store owners who are looking to stay in the black or boost their sales have to mind their four “Ps”: pets, personnel, products and presentation.

The first of the Ps—pets—is clearly not for everyone. Not every store sells pets these days. But it is clear that birds can add a lot of life to a pet store. Retailers that do not sell pets should still keep some in the store. Having a mascot, or two, can really help draw customers and drive sales.

Beautiful singing birds, or a talking parrot, can be entertaining for both kids and adults, and these engaging pets attract customers to the store—even customers who do not have birds themselves will want to visit. For years, people would come into my dad’s store just to see Cher, an African grey parrot with quite a large and somewhat flowery vocabulary. Having a great bird as a mascot can do more than drive traffic—it can help sell more birds.

The second P, personnel, is crucial, whether a store is selling birds or not. Personnel who love and own pet birds are often the best at selling birds and related products. Full-line stores need to have employees with an interest in birds if they expect to have strong sales in this category. Stores should always encourage employees to own birds and offer the staff incentives such as deep discounts on birds available in the store. Customers will be more likely to buy from someone who owns the pet themselves.

However, the best staff will be of no use if a store fails to have a quality assortment of birds and bird supplies—having the right products is paramount. Selling a wide and interesting selection of bird products generates customer interest and propels sales. Having the appropriate supplies is equally important. There are many species of birds kept in captivity, and stores should therefore stock a large variety of diets, cage models and sizes, accessories, toys and so on. Customers need choices both in price and design, and stores need to stay well stocked, especially on new products to keep the inventory fresh and up to date.

Bird owners will need a steady supply of bird food, bedding/cage liners and other essentials. Offering these shoppers a loyalty program is a great way to encourage them to come back regularly for these goods, as well as for add-ons such as toys, which need to be replaced often. For example, retailers can create a program offering customers a free bag of food for every six bags purchased, or offer a five-percent-off-your-next-purchase coupon when a customer spends $100. One store gives a lifetime guarantee on any bird purchased at their store if, and only if, they buy all the food at the store. This way, the store knows the bird is getting the best food, while securing repeat business.

Great presentation—the last of the four Ps—may seem like a given when selling at the retail level, yet in some ways it can be the hardest to comprehend. It’s virtually impossible to look at your own store, or one that you’ve worked in for a while, with a completely objective eye. Customer feedback can give retailers useful information, while also giving them an opportunity to reward customers. Simply ask them what they like and don’t like about the bird department. New customers are especially great to ask, as they will have a fresh perspective. Give them an incentive to help, such as a percentage off their purchase that day.

Looking at other store’s displays is also a great way to get ideas on how to make the bird and product areas look better, which in turn will lead to more sales. Product manufacturers sometimes have planograms that show how to set up their product line to look its best. Vendors also often offer point-of-purchase marketing tools such as displays, signs and pamphlets that can help sell more product.

Items for sale need to be kept clean, so dusting is constantly necessary, especially in a store with birds. Avoid having empty hooks or spaces, or having just one of any product, as it won’t look good to customers.

Full cage setups are a great way to sell new bird owners all the supplies they will need. Some companies make boxed kits, which can be great for smaller birds. Stores can also make up their own bird kits, which should include everything a new bird owner will need. Individual kits should be geared for a specific species and can be put together attractively to draw customers’ attention. Retailers should also consider offering a special price for buying the total package and/or offer a discount on the bird as well.

Presentation of the pet birds themselves can make or break sales. Birds are messy creatures, so it is vital that the area and cages where store birds are kept be cleaned well, as needed. Use of cage guards and skirts on store cages will not only help keep the mess down, it will also help to sell more of these products.

Displays can be bought for housing birds in the store, and if kept well maintained, they can be an effective way to show off birds. When choosing a bird display, consider whether or not it will be easy to clean. Having a pull-out tray can save a lot of time for employees, for example, as the bottom of the cage may need to be cleaned out every day. Using litter instead of paper on the sales floor is better, as it will look cleaner longer—although new birds should be in a cage with a paper liner, allowing staff to easily monitor the droppings, which can indicate health problems.

The store cages should have perches of variously sized diameters, beak conditioners and plenty of toys, so bird owners can see what is needed to keep their birds healthy both physically and mentally.

Finally, it is also ideal to house the store’s birds in a way that allows interaction with customers. Having bars in front of displays or using a cage is better than keeping them behind plastic or glass dividers. Having birds in a separate room so that customers cannot get anywhere near them will make the birds inaccessible, which can send an erroneous message that they are not great pets. With so many species and personalities, there is a great pet bird for everyone.

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

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