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July 12, 2017

Few things warm bird lovers’ hearts more than seeing their winged companions busy at play. But avian amusements only go so far in a cage lacking bird-friendly baubles, trinkets and toys. And therein lies an opportunity for pet store retailers, who can position themselves as the go-to source for fun products designed to stimulate birds and endlessly entertain their owners.

We may not be able to reinvent the wheel, but brands have shown that they can reinvent the mainstay mirror and bell and infuse more shapes, colors, textures and materials into the bird toy space—to the amazement of many pet supply retailers.

“Manufacturers keep introducing new and different toys to the market that get customers excited,” says Kimberly Kay, manager for Bird Hut, a standalone store in Portland, Oregon, that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. “The trend is toward busy, bright colors, more wood, and different types of pieces clustered together.”

The latter of that description fits one of Kay’s most popular new shelf additions: the Ripple Mobile by Super Bird Creations, a hanging contraption sporting multi-colored wooden blocks and chains with a classic metal bell at the bottom. It’s one of over 40 new bird toys the company rolled out in spring 2017 alone.

Toy Polloi

Bill McGrath, bird product development specialist with Caitec Corporation, a Baltimore, Maryland-based company founded 25 years ago and one of the largest bird toy makers in the industry, can vouch for Kay’s claim that bird toy makers have been increasingly busy inventing new wares. He says Caitec’s goal is to introduce up to 36 new toys per year, one-third of which will try to incorporate new raw materials.

“Today, destructible and interactive toys continue to be category leaders,” noted McGrath, who added that Caitec launched 16 new “Jungle Theme” small bird toys and cage accessories at the 2017 Global Pet Expo, including the Jungle Mirror—a bright green plastic gizmo with a built-in perch, spinning beads and bell. “Foot toys, which are highly entertaining and inexpensive, are also doing well.”

Value-added products that serve as multiple toys in one are high in demand, too, says Jason Casto, director of Pets International for Chilton, Wisconsin-based Kaytee Hard Goods, originally founded back in 1866.

“Our Forage-n-Play line of ladders and swings remain our most popular bird toys because they are each both a toy and a functional bird cage accessory,” said Casto, who adds that the perch portion of any Forage-n-Play Bird Swing can be swapped out with different Kaytee perches. “Bird owners love the value of getting a toy and a swing or a toy and a ladder with just one purchase.”

Hagen’s Living World has also embraced the swap-out concept in the form of a unique do-it-yourself toy kit it calls Create Your Own Bird Toys. The kit is comprised of 31 assorted acrylic pieces, four clasps, two leather ropes, one cotton rope and one sisal rope that can be mixed and matched to make at least four unique bird toys.

Sweet Feet & Beak, a Cleveland, Georgia-based hard goods manufacturer that won a best new product award at Global Pet Expo for its line of cardboard and cotton rope toys, has been able to expand its offerings and please the public thanks to an inexpensive and readily available material: industrial cardboard.

“We’ve taken a readily available and inexpensive bird-safe resource and created a new line of toys for the pet market that is both affordable for owners and entertaining for pet birds. And because they can be shredded up for nesting material, they’re also great for nesting birds,” said Jason Bohannon, sales manager for Sweet Feet & Beak. The company’s newest cardboard and cotton rope product is the Pic-A-Roni Pizza—a round chew-and-shred toy that looks like a mini-pizza.

The success of companies like Sweet Feet & Beak demonstrates that consumers are gradually gravitating away from private label brands carried by a lot of the big box stores “in favor of boutique and unique pet brands in the industry,” Bohannon said.

Brands boasting natural materials seem to be garnering more attention, too. Several of Prevue Pet Products’ newest items fit this description, including its Naturals Gorilla, consisting of banana stem rope, sisal rope, coconut shell, bamboo and mangrove wood. A&E Cage Company’s Chunky Monster, a multicolored java wood toy with sisal rope, various wood blocks and round wicker balls, is another example.

Overall, the bird toy segment is evolving and expanding primarily due to one important factor, the experts say.
“Bird owners today are more educated. They’re eager to improve the bird’s environment and provide them with a good quality of life,” McGrath said.

Turn Play into Profit

To help your register ring more routinely with toy sales, train your staff to divvy out more TLC to patrons. Kay’s crew, for instance, personally escorts shoppers to the toy section and offers recommendations to guide the purchase.

“Listen to your customers attentively, and ask them important questions like what type of toys they currently have in the cage, how often their bird plays with the toys, how quickly before the toy needs to be replaced and what toy colors their bird prefers,” Kay suggested. “Remind the consumer that the toy needs to be chosen for the pet, not the person.”

When explaining the value of a toy to a customer, “talk about how the product helps satisfy the bird both mentally and physically,” said Mary Wyld, owner of Wyld’s Wingdom, a Norfolk, Virginia-based pet bird supplies distributor. “Explain how their little brains need to be engaged and their bodies need to move for optimal well-being. Remember that taking the time to discuss the pet and its needs increases sales and enjoyment for the birds.”

When it comes to ideal toy placement and stocking considerations, ponder your options carefully.

“Organize toy products according to bird size and/or product type. Discount slow-moving SKUs, and replace them with new products every two to three months, which coincides with most owners’ food-buying cycle,” McGrath advised. “Also, don’t allow empty hooks or holes in your set. And do a reset once a year—preferably before the Christmas holiday shopping season.”

Lastly, appeal to your clientele’s mobile- and social media-minded sensibilities.

“Try offering a store discount to any customers that record and share videos of their birds playing with the toys you carry and who allow these videos to be shared with your social media followers,” Bohannon recommends. “Nothing sells a toy better than watching a bird have a blast in its cage with it.”

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