Pet specialty retailers searching for a reason to devote valuable shelf space to wild bird products need look no further—recent statistics give all the evidence needed.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “more than 82 million Americans feed wild birds.” That adds up to a lot of people who enjoy waking up to the sounds of birds visiting the feeder in their backyard or who get a thrill from bird-watching right from their front porch, where birds can take a dip in a decorative bird bath.
The question is: how many pet owners feed wild birds? The APPA National Pet Owners Survey 2011-2012 notes that more than half of pet owners have some type of home and garden item, with bird feeders ranking as the most universal item owned—40 percent or more of all pet owners. The survey notes that nearly 30 percent of pet owners also have a birdbath at their home.
The trend offers both pet specialty retailers and manufacturers a great sales opportunity, and not surprisingly, some manufacturers are producing products to appeal to those who want to nurture and provide for wild birds.
Into the Wild
Blue Ribbon Pet Products, Inc., in Commack, N.Y., is a well-established manufacturer, known for making bird cages and aquarium products like ornaments. A couple of years ago, it began to manufacture wild bird feeders under a line called Wild Bird, Nature’s Feeding Time Premium Bird Feeders. “Feeding wild birds is a natural partner to pet keeping,” says Gary Meyers, sales manager for Blue Ribbon. “People who enjoy their pets find wild bird feeding to be an enjoyable, rewarding activity.”
Pet store owner Laura Hines, owner of Pethingz in Westford, Mass., agrees that the relationship between owning pets and feeding wild birds is strong. “We have often found a link between pet owners and wild bird enthusiasts,” she says. “I guess an animal lover is an animal lover, whether furred or feathered!”
Hines has been selling wild bird products successfully for many years, mainly thanks to how well the store’s stock feeders and food are presented. Displaying wild bird products, however, can be challenging for pet stores, especially for those with space constraints. But considering how many people feed wild birds these days, making at least some space for wild bird food and possibly some feeders should be a priority.
Pet specialty retailers can make it easy for customers to grab wild bird feed while getting food for their dogs, cats or bird. Stores also need to keep in mind that their customers are more likely to be discerning shoppers who understand the importance of quality. They may apply the same standards to buying wild bird foods.
Wild bird food runs the gamut from extremely cheap to premium. The inexpensive mixes produce a lot of waste and generate very little in bird visitation—and those that do come tend to be “undesirable ones,” like house sparrows and grackles. Less expensive products will also attract more squirrels, a four-letter word for most wild bird enthusiasts. High-quality feed, on the other hand, will bring in not only more birds, but it will also attract the species many bird watchers want to see. And since the quality of the food is higher, none will be wasted.
A number of pet food manufacturers, such as Chilton, Wis.-based Kaytee Pet Products, Inc., and Sinking Spring, Pa.-based F.M. Brown’s Sons. Inc., also produce specialized wild bird diets. Kaytee offers seasonal mixes, for example, and F.M. Brown’s produces fruit-scented varieties designed to appeal to scores of birds.
Sue Brown, vice president of F.M. Brown’s, notes that the company is always trying to be innovative, making high-quality mixes that will attract the highest number of wild birds. Its newest creations are Orange Scented and Cherry Scented Dark Oil Sunflower seeds. The seeds themselves are a great lure for birds, but the addition of the fruit scented oils will bring in even more birds, according to Brown. The fruit scent is an added advantage, as recent research shows that birds rely on smell more than previously believed.
Manufacturers are also being innovative in the feeder category, and selling feeders can be a great entry point for retailers looking to get into wild-bird product sales. Cathy Byrnes, product and marketing manager at Blue Ribbon, explains that there are generally four types of bird feeders: seed, nut, suet and hummingbird. But manufacturers are improving their offerings continually.
“The feeders range in cost based on different features, both functional and aesthetic,” Meyers says.
Hines says the newest innovations in feeders are eco-friendly and made from recycled materials that wear well, even in bad weather. She adds that companies are also doing what they can to help keep squirrels out of the feeders. “Droll Yankees has a line of ‘Dippers, Tippers, Whippers and Flippers’ that do each of those things once the squirrel places its’ weight on the feeder,” Hines says.
Pet stores can make the most of the category by being a resource of information on feeding wild birds and by stocking high-quality wild bird food and feeders. Be sure to use signs to highlight the food and feeders—for example, post a sign that says, “Ask Us How Our Wild Bird Feed Will Save You Money and Bring in More Birds!”
Educating staff on feeding wild birds is generally easy and quick with all the guides manufacturers offer. Many have brochures, charts and websites with information about what foods should be offered and the types of birds they attract.
Why do people own pets, or for that matter, work in the pet industry? People love animals. Those that have pets often feed wild birds. Even people who can’t own a household pet can get joy from caring for wild ones, so it makes sense for a pet store to sell at least some wild bird products.
“It’s a lot of fun to feed wildlife,” Hines says. “And we are glad to be able to assist our customers in doing so while enjoying the sales it generates.”
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.