Pet store owners often bemoan the fact that they never seem to have enough space in the store, and it is the first excuse given on why they don’t offer wild bird products. Although the number of pet owning households is 84.6 million, according to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes that "more than 50 million Americans feed birds around their homes." If this is remotely accurate, selling wild bird products should be a no-brainer for any pet store. Plus, pet specialty stores have the advantage of being able to sell better quality food and wild bird products than the big-box stores.
Another benefit that pet shops have over mass-market locations is the ability to give sound advice on how to bring more birds and different species to their feeders. The biggest problem with the cheap wild bird food mixes is that they have a lot of filler seed that will not be eaten—which means more cleanup. Cheap mixes will also attract unwanted creatures like pigeons, house sparrows, starlings and other blackbirds, as well as squirrels who can empty a bird feeder in no time. The wild bird mixes sold in big-box stores hold a very low value—in both money and bird attraction—to customers that feed wild birds.
Unlike pet care, learning about the best ways to attract more species of wild birds is not very time consuming or difficult, but the rewards can be so much greater. People who have pets often feed wild birds, including two-thirds of those with pet birds, according to the 2017-2018 APPA Survey. Also, many people who cannot keep pets in their home due to allergies, space, rental agreements, etc., will feed wild birds. These feathered creatures often are thought of as wild "pets," whether the person has pets in the home or not.
Pet stores do not need to designate a large section to wild bird products since they can stock only high-quality feed. There are a number of manufacturers that cater to the pet industry, and often these companies have great marketing materials and can give a great layout for a 4-ft. section. Manufacturers can offer great point-of-purchase materials, such as shelf talkers and charts, to show customers why certain food is of a much greater value than cheap mixes, even if the initial cost is more. Staff should be able to explain why the store’s wild bird food is better due to factors such as attracting more species of birds, having a higher nutritional value and containing no fillers, therefore producing less waste.
The seed to attract the largest number of bird species is black oil sunflower seed, and high-quality mixes will usually include this seed or it can be sold on its own. Niger—or Nyjer—thistle seed is fantastic when a customer wants to attract finch species, and suet is a food that should be offered to bring in woodpeckers and nuthatches. Suet, like seed, can be very low quality with lots of fillers in them, or high quality, which is what pet stores should offer. The last food that stores can sell would be a hummingbird food that will have extra vitamins and nutrients and no red food coloring, which is not good for these high-energy flyers.
Along with food, feeders need to be offered and often can be hung, so no shelf or floor space is used. Platform and tube feeders are very popular for seed, and feeders should be high quality and, preferably, squirrel proof. These intelligent and often very persistent furry creatures can be the hardest to keep away from bird food, so many feeders are manufactured to keep them away—usually by either closing the feeder holes when too much weight is on them or having a cage around the feeder that birds can get through, but squirrels cannot. Large disks can be sold to keep squirrels from coming down a wire or up a pole, but the wire or pole has to be long or tall enough so the squirrel cannot jump down from a tree limb or up from the ground onto the feeders—they can be very crafty!
Being squirrel proof is also important for suet feeders since squirrels will happily eat all the suet if possible, so there are some configurations that will prevent this. Many of these feeders allow for two or more cakes or suet balls to be used at once, saving time for the customer. Note that suet should be offered at all times of the year, not just in the cold winter months. It is wonderful to see woodpecker parents, for example, bringing their young ones to the feeder in the summertime.
Hummingbird feeders can be offered for sale in the spring and often come in bright colors and designs to attract these birds. Red is a favored color and usually the spout where the sugar water mixture comes out has a plastic red flower around it. Note it is important to change out the mixture and wash out the feeder every couple of days—or even every day in hot weather—unlike other feeders that only need to be cleaned once or twice a month. Hummingbird food can be offered as a powder to mix at home or a liquid that is ready to go, with no artificial coloring added to keep these birds healthy.
One other item that can be fantastic to sell at pet stores is a bird bath/water fountain/pool since having fresh water to offer birds year-round can attract birds more than food does. If the water is shallow—and has a shallow part of two inches or less—and if it is moving and makes a splashing sound, it will bring in even more birds. For those in areas where water freezes in the winter, a heating element can be added so water will be available at all times.
Placement of wild bird feeders is almost as important to consider as the food used in them if a customer wants to be sure to have many feathered diners. Birds need to feel secure, so placing the feeders in an open area where there is no shrubs or small trees for them to escape to easily will not usually work. Also, yards that have pesticides and other chemicals used a lot can kill off insects and deter birds from coming to the feeders. When possible, use all-natural and non-toxic products outside, such as CO2 units to trap and kill mosquitoes. Yards with some wild untouched spaces will attract more birds to the area.
Selling wild bird products from pet stores can be easy with a bit of education. Offering high-quality food that will attract more desired species of birds, and feeders that work well and last a long time, will bring customers back to the store over and over again. Also, pet stores must consider the convenience factor, which is the strongest reason a person will buy from any location—because they are there already. So if a customer comes into a pet shop for their pet food and supplies and they can get their wild bird supplies there as well, then pet stores really should find a way to fit this category into their business and therefore increase sales. PB
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 40 years of pet industry and retailing experience.