Thinking Outside the Cage
by Robyn Bright
September 1, 2011
Get customers to view wild birds as their personal “outdoor pets” and watch sales of premium wild bird seed mixes soar.



The point of this column is not to encourage people to go out and capture wild birds to keep as pets in their home. First of all, that’s illegal to do in the U.S., and second, it’s not a good idea, as they are wild birds and would require care that may not be easy or possible to manage in captivity. The idea is to have customers think of the wild birds around their home as “outdoor pets” that they can care for and help provide for.

Anyone who works in the pet industry knows that there is a emotional attachment involved with pet ownership. We see it everyday, as people talk about their pets and demonstrate how much they love them, even to the point of calling them their “children.” So, if a pet retailer can encourage customers to feel similarly about the wild birds in their backyards, then that store is going to be able to sell wild-bird products, opening up another revenue stream and giving customers another reason to visit the store.

Many pet retailers I’ve talked with either say they tried to sell wild-bird food, but it didn’t sell well, or that there is no need to bring it in since their customers are not looking to buy it at a pet store. Often, finding shelf space is an issue. But a full-line pet store that doesn’t carry wild-bird products is losing out on a large category.


Bird Watch
The number of people feeding wild birds actually outnumbers those who own pets, according to many surveys. While there are many people who can’t have a house pet for whatever reason, they still may enjoy caring for animals, such as wild birds. This is where a pet store, which is already in the business of offering pet supplies, has a huge advantage. If you market something the right way and in the right environment, you can sell it.   

The nice thing about wild-bird feed and related products is that there is a small learning curve compared to selling a parrot or fish-tank setup, for instance. At every trade show there are premium wild-bird food companies that don’t sell to the mass-market. These products tend to have less waste and attract more bird species and are therefore a better value than others on the market.

Wild-bird product manufacturers also often have great merchandising displays that are easy to set up and include signage and literature to tell customers why they should be feeding birds that food. The pet store’s job is then to tell the customers why they should be feeding their wild “pet” birds to begin with by making them feel that the outdoor birds are their pets, and therefore, their responsibility.

Many bird enthusiasts these days are not only referring to wild birds as “outdoor pets,” but are also recommending that people buy high-quality birdseed to draw a wider variety of species and in greater numbers. Certainly, as pet stores, we need to be sure that customers can find those premium mixes of wild bird food easily on our shelves.

Stores also need to effectively market these products. Employees can help by being informed about the products they are selling, and retailers would benefit from encouraging employees to use these mixes at home.

Selling products for wild birds is a win-win for everyone, as the birds get a high-quality food to eat, the customer feels they are caring for their wild birds and the store brings in more business.


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