Boosting Bird Sales

A combination of a strong, attractively merchandised product assortment and an effective sales staff can help make a retailer’s bird department take flight.


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How can a pet store sell more birds and bird products? Effective marketing and merchandising are among the most direct ways for retailers to boost sales. Presenting a thoughtfully selected and well-merchandised assortment of products is also key, and customers will be enticed by new items, attractive promotions and specials and displays that show off products and pets to their full advantage. Finally, having an enthusiastic and informed sales staff is equally important.

The first thing a retailer should consider when trying to boost the bird department is the message the store’s avian section is sending to customers. Is the department small and carelessly put together, or is the store regularly bringing in new products and great birds to pique everyone’s interest? If the bird area is not a decent size and feels dark and stale, neither the customers nor the staff will be excited. The store needs to fully commit to the category and put effort into the bird department if it expects to do well in that category.

Moving the departments around a pet store once in a while can generate a lot of interest and cause customers to have to search for what they want, leading to more impulse sales. Most bird owners own other types of pets, and two-thirds of bird owners feed outdoor birds as well, according to American Pet Product Association’s 2015-2016 National Pet Owner’s Survey, so cross merchandising can be a big boost for the store. It is also important to bring in new products and reset displays at least every couple of months.

Trade shows are the best way to see new products and stay ahead of the competition. There are a variety of bird products on the market from manufacturers small and large. Stores should always stock the staples, such as mirrors for small birds and rope toys for larger ones, but it is also important to have some unique items available as well. These products do not have to be new to the industry, but they should be new to the store and its customers.
Retailers should always ask manufacturer reps and distributors what’s new or different. During store visits, reps can also share fresh perspectives and let stores know what they like or do not like about the assortment and what they feel needs to be changed, added or deleted.

Still, even new and exciting products will not sell well if they are poorly merchandised. New items will also under-perform if the employees do not know about and understand them. Therefore, it is important to keep the floor staff up to date on new products by having them check the items out and then come back and tell their manager which ones they liked best and why. The manager can even quiz them on the products and give prizes, such as a $5 coffee coupon, for the best answers or to those employees who demonstrate that they really paid attention.

Merchandising comes into play when selling any product, so step one is ensuring that the bird department is clean and bright. Great lighting is extremely important. If it has been a long time since the light bulbs were changed and/or the lighting was updated in the store, then it is definitely time to do so. With the many new energy-efficient options available today, retailers will most likely save money in the long run.

In fact, some states offer programs through which an energy company will visit a store for free and recommend ways to save energy. Sean Fitzgerald, the new owner of my father’s store, The Fish Nook Pet Center in Acton, Mass., participated in one such program. The company sold him LED tube bulbs at less than half the usual cost to replace the ceiling fluorescent lighting throughout the store. LED lights are not only brighter and longer lasting than other lights, they use a lot less energy. Fitzgerald has saved approximately $300 a month on his electric bills doing this and using LEDs on all the fish tanks.

Another important component to creating a strong bird department is having displays that help inspire sales and increase register rings. Cross merchandising various categories within a display can also be beneficial. For example, bird treats and supplements should be placed near the bird food, and foraging toys that are designed to hold treats and food need to be put next to the treats. Cage accessories such as cups, perches, guards and so on should be placed together, and all displays should have signs to help the customer know what they need to buy.

Most stores will post signage highlighting promotions or new products, but what about the everyday items? Considering how busy employees can get with caring for the pets in the store, sales staff are not always readily available to help customers and sell products. That is where signs can be very effective as a great marketing tool. For example, a sign above the bird food and near the treat section can say, “Want to keep your pet bird even healthier? Give them some great healthy treats everyday!”

Signage can also alert customers to needs they may not know they have. For example, a sign may read, “Have wooden or rope perches? Change them out every six to eight months to keep the feet sweet!” One on the toys can say, “Offer your pet bird at least three different toys and change them out monthly so your bird stays happy!” When creating signs, keep them positive, and deliver messages that help customers avoid problems and keep their pets healthy.

When employees are helping customers, what is their attitude toward that pet category? Sales reps should be enthusiastic, as well as passionate about the pets and pet products offered at the store. Employees who own pet birds are likely to be the most enthusiastic on the sale floor, so stores should encourage all employees to have a pet bird so they can experience firsthand what great pets they can be. Nothing can sell a pet better than a staff member who owns that type of pet and can talk to customers about their experience with them.

Employees who can’t own a pet bird should be encouraged to play with the birds in the store. This helps keep the birds tame while employees get to know the birds and their personalities—this will be an advantage when selling them to customers. Being informed and having knowledge of birds and the products they need to stay strong and vibrant will help keep employees motivated.

The more questions employees can answer and the more solutions they can give, the better it will be for everyone. This is why education is extremely important, especially in pet retail. Not only can educated staff members ensure that the pets will stay healthy, they are likely to be more effective at selling birds and bird supplies. Employees should be encouraged to learn about caring for pet birds by talking with experienced staff, reading books and taking courses available through a number of resources, such as the Pet Industry Distributor Association’s  PetStorePro and NexPet’s FlexQuiz programs. The more employees know, the better salespeople they will be in the store, and the more customers will listen to them and come back knowing they are getting good help and advice.

The old saying, “You can’t sell what you don’t have” needs to be extended to say that you also cannot sell what isn’t displayed well or what you’re not excited or passionate about. With the pet industry, the last point is rarely a problem, as we love pets or wouldn’t be in this field. However, that is not enough to be able to effectively sell them or the related pet products. Having knowledgeable staff, and using great marketing tools such as signage, social media and advertising, as well as effective merchandising, is the secret to running a successful pet business.


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

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