Customers Go Wild
by Robyn Bright
October 1, 2013
Bird enthusiasts who revel in caring for local wild life are driving the market for quality wild-bird feed, feeders and accessories.

 

 

It is a fact that most pet retailers do not sell wild bird products. The reasons range from not having enough space to not wanting to compete with mass-market stores. But today’s bird lovers are giving retailers good reason to reconsider their stance on these products.


As people grow increasingly fond of providing and caring for the wild birds that visit their yards, they are looking to buy feeders and bird feed that will attract their favorite species. It is a serious shift in thought, and one that pet stores should certainly tap into when considering whether to stock wild bird food and other items, such as feeders.


But people don’t care about what they feed wild birds, right? Actually, this is not the case anymore. Susan Brown, senior vice president of sales and marketing at F.M. Brown’s, which makes products for wild and pet birds, notes that customers “consider wild birds to be their outdoor pets and want to provide them with the best products available.”
Edward ‘Anthony’ D’Avanzo II, president of sales and marketing Kaylor of Colorado Pet Nutrition, along with Janet Harrison-Lagarenne, marketing consultant, and Michael Guarino, creative/branding consultant, echo the sentiment and even use the term “wild bird pet parent” to describe their customers who feed wild birds. In fact, say experts, retailers should find shelf space for a variety of high-quality brands that customers can feel good about feeding their wild pets.


As with dog food, the quality of wild bird food runs the gamut. Options include inexpensive mixes that may contain fillers that the birds will not eat, therefore leaving a mess on the ground and inviting unwanted bird species. High-quality blends, on the other hand, have no fillers and create no waste. These mixes not only bring in more species, they also attract the more desirable birds that customers want to see.


Becky Krause, pet and wild bird division manager at Prince Corporation—a wholesale distributor and manufacturer of agricultural, lawn and garden, pet and wild bird products—says pet stores are uniquely suited to selling premium foods, since customers often need some explanation about what makes these foods higher in quality or in price.
“Wild bird consumers have difficulty identifying quality bird products versus cheaper substitutes,” she says. Pet stores can show customers what the difference is and why buying a better-quality mix is important.


D’Avanzo notes, “The wild bird food category will soon evolve into the wild bird super-foods category, much like the dog/cat food category evolved into the canine/feline super-premium foods category during the past 20 years.”
What should a pet store stock in their wild bird department? It depends on the location of the store and what customers are looking for. “Many times, consumers are looking to attract a specific type of bird, keep squirrels away, or feed a specific grain or product, such as peanuts or mini suet balls,” says Krause.


The most well-known and widely fed wild bird food is seed, and the packaging of many premium mixes name the bird species that they attract. Cardinals, chickadees and goldfinches are among some of the most desirable.


The second food most often bought by wild bird enthusiasts that live in cold winter climates is suet, although it can be fed year-round with formulas that don’t melt. Suet is a favorite food of woodpeckers, which are popular with almost everyone that feeds wild birds. Suet is such a popular wild bird food that companies such as Wildlife Sciences in Minnetonka, Minn., specialize in it and offer everything from suet cakes, balls and plugs in many different flavors including peanut, sunflower and even mealworms.


Retailers that offer wild bird food should also stock feeders, as well as the many accessories used to mount the feeders and keep away unwanted pests like squirrels—although there are feeders just for squirrels, too. Not including these products in the assortment would be like selling pet birds and not selling birdcages.


It is extremely important when bringing in any new category or reviving an area, to not only offer high-quality products, but also stock a large variety. Nothing will kill a department faster than offering only a small selection. It sends a message to the customers that these products are not important—or worse, not worth buying. So, be sure to have a nice, large display rack merchandising plenty of food options, alongside feeders with accessories, which often can be hung from the ceiling to save space and show off the product.


Bringing in new items and rotating stock is always a great way to sell more in any department. “While customers are shopping for their beloved indoor pets, they can also look for what’s new and different for their outdoor feeding stations,” says Brown.


Krause concurs, noting that, “It is instrumental to change your product offerings on a regular basis [and] to recognize the seasons.” For example, products such as nests should be offered in spring, while heated bird baths will attract more species than food will in the cold winter months.


Pet stores should also take advantage of the many resources offered by high-end wild bird food and product manufacturers when deciding what to offer and how to sell it to clients. For example, Prince Corporation, like a number of premium wild bird food and product manufacturers, offers to help “guide and educate their dealers in [adding or] redesigning a wild bird department” so that a customer’s “buying experience is easy and enjoyable,” says Krause.


Of course, it is always essential when adding or expanding a category to educate the staff, especially when selling premium pet products such as high-quality wild bird food. The good news is that it is much easier to learn about feeding wild birds than caring properly for any pet.


The better news is that selling premium wild bird products in a pet store is really becoming a no-brainer when we consider how people’s views are changing. Wild birds are now thought of as pets that should be cared for and given the highest-quality foods. And the best news is that this attitude shift gives retailers the opportunity to make more money in a category that is easy to learn and that everyone can participate in and enjoy.


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