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July 5, 2016

What’s the surest cure for a bored bird? Something she can get her claws around, hook her beak into and stimulate her curiosity. A simple perch and mirror aren’t going to get it done; this tall task of providing a lasting pastime calls for a well-stocked product category that can be as fun to merchandise as it is rewarding at the register. We’re talking toys here—and plenty of them—to keep customers and their fine feathered friends happy.

Bird toys are indispensible products in a pet shop because they engage the shopper’s imagination with their bright colors, peculiar shapes, varied textures and materials and, depending on the item, relatively inexpensive price point as an accessory.

Thankfully, toy choices are plentiful today, with an infusion of more natural materials used in their construction, like natural fibers and ropes, java wood, loofah, rattan, leather and bamboo. The days of the plain plastic trinket fastened to a cage corner have progressed to an era where toys increasingly reward feathered pets with interesting noises, spinning movements and puzzle-like games.

Bird Baubles Evolve
“Birds are a lot like children—they want to be challenged,” said John Lance, owner of A&E Cage Company in Burlington, New Jersey. “Toys that were previously hung in a cage are now being used interactively by the bird and the owner, resulting in a stronger bond between owner and companion.”

As the industry learns more about the behaviors and needs of parrots and other birds, “toys are beginning to address those needs.”

“For example, the proverbial hanging blocks of wood are taking a backseat to toys that provide foraging opportunities,” Lance said, citing as an example his company’s Coco Monkey toy, featuring a coconut shell fashioned into a monkey mouth shape with cuttlebone and wood blocks to chew on. Owners can place treats in the mouth to offer birds an opportunity to forage.

“Birds want to have a job, so toys like acrylic wheels and shreddables in which to hide treats all address the innate desires and intelligence of these animals,” Lance said.

Melanie K. Allen, avian product specialist with Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Massachusetts, said modern bird toys are built to serve a function beyond being a decorative distraction, be it exercise, foraging or something to chew and destroy.

“The most popular toys nowadays for bird owners are those that provide both a foraging activity as well as physical activity,” Allen said. “Pet birds are often challenged with obesity due to the rich diets pet owners offer combined with a lack of exercise, so an occupational therapy device like a well-designed toy is an essential component in keeping birds both physically and mentally happy.”

For a foraging toy to withstand the rigors of a merciless beak, it has to be built to last. Hence, many manufacturers employ tough materials like polycarbonate, used by Caitec in its Creative Foraging Systems Food Tumbler, an interactive treat holder that spins and provides changeable levels of difficulty. Sweet Feet & Beak, meanwhile, offers a Bullet Proof line of toys, such as the Treasure Chest, Shred Master and Chew Popper that benefit from virtually indestructible acrylic.

Marketing with Mother Nature
While perfected plastics are appreciated, Allen notes that consumers today are clamoring more for hand-crafted, non-toxic and environmentally friendly bird toys. Tapping into this trend, Hagen recently released its HARI Rustic Treasures toy line for parrots, a collection that boasts natural components like palm leaves, bamboo, oyster shell, corn husk, abaca and coconut. Products in the new series include a Woven Ball Foot Toy, Chopstick & Perch Foraging Tube, Silk Cascade preening toy and Foraging House.

Indeed, natural toys are more than a fad, said Ivan Fielman, vice president of National Accounts at Penn-Plax, Inc. in New York City.

“Everybody wants natural and replenishable ingredients these days—from straw to wicker hay to coconut—which is a big reason that sales for many of our toy products are going great, including our Natural Weave Kabob made from wooden beads and dried seagrass, which is soft and easy to climb on,” Fielman said.

Among other major players capitalizing on the nature-made trend are Prevue Pet Products, which recently debuted six new toys, notably the Octopus, wrought from colorful ropes, wood blocks, coconut shells and sisal fibers; Super Birds Creations, which rolled out 45 new creations for 2016, including the Rattler Ring, Balsa Peacock, Seagrass Tent and Knobby Bagel; and Birdy Boredom Busters, maker of Pretty as a Peacock, a hanging toy with colorful wood slats, funky beads, a cotton cord and a rubber ducky at the top.

More Play, Less Work
Retailers can’t rely on a simplistic “stock it and they will come” overconfidence. Toy SKUs have to be diversified, which means carrying a wide variety of brands, new offerings and species-specific products. What’s more, staff need to know how to hawk the right goods to the right owners to best benefit the bird and avoid injury or buyer’s remorse.

Terry Gao, president of Baltimore-based Caitec Corporation, said the most effective way to promote any products you want to sell is “to have store birds use these products in their cages.” Additionally, he said, “you should also categorize your toy products into different groups and use shelf talkers to help merchandise, which most manufacturers can provide.”

Lance recommends strategically placing new bird toys near the counter by your register.

“It is the impulse sale that never seems to fail,” Lance said. “And once that initial toy sale is made, retailers usually have a repeat sale they can count on.”

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