May 3, 2016

Your pet store may be hundreds of miles from the nearest farm and you might think that selling chicken feed will net you little more than, well, chicken feed. But backyard poultry can actually be a profitable growth category for well-prepared retailers who want to spread their wings beyond the confined coop of conformity and conventionality.

Truth is, you don’t need countrified customers to be successful in this niche. Plenty of metropolitan consumers have become owners of chickens, pigeons, ducks, turkeys and other urban poultry companions, and this trend that began several years ago doesn’t appear to be quacking up anytime soon—not when you consider the ownership perks. Urban chicken farmers, for example, when polled in 2014 by the Poultry Science Association, cited multiple benefits for keeping chickens, including: food (eggs) for home use (chosen by over 95 percent of respondents); gardening fertilizer/pest control (approximately 63 percent); and pets (over 57 percent).

“As poultry products have become more visible in pet stores, it has created a spark that gets people thinking about chickens as an option in their backyard—an option they may never have considered before,” said Byron Parker, vice president of Happy Hen Treats, headquartered in Boerne, Texas. “And whether they call them pets or not, owners are treating their backyard chickens like pets.”

Backyard Poultry Basics
Alan Stone, marketing manager for eFowl, a Denver-based online supplier of live poultry and related products, said many new owners are families who are raising backyard poultry for the first time. Hence, it’s smart to offer starter kits that bundle together all the initial essentials, including a brooder home, bedding, heat lamp, starter feed, feeder and waterer, vitamin supplements and a beginner’s book.

“Small chicken coops for two to five hens as well baby chick starter kits are becoming more popular,” Stone said. “Also, many families and schools are purchasing tabletop incubators that allow children and adults an opportunity to experience the incubating and hatching process before raising them to become backyard egg layers and members of the family.”

Additionally, Stone has observed a greater influx of chicken toys, including coop swings, treat balls, mini piñatas, and other goods aimed at entertaining fowl favorites.

Organic poultry goods are on owners’ radars, too. In response, Purina launched a new line of Organic Premium Poultry Feed earlier this year, featuring four new products formulated with zero genetically modified organisms, antibiotics, animal byproducts, fillers or added growth hormones. Organic nesting herbs, like the popular bagged variety offered by Happy Hen Treats that are designed to soothe and calm stressed chickens, are increasingly in demand as well.

“We’re also seeing a rise in smaller companies manufacturing urban poultry products,” said Stone, who cites as an example The Chicken Fountain in Davidson, North Carolina, makers of an automated poultry watering system with unique drip heads designed to make hydrating easier for owners and cleaner for the birds.

A newer product Stone carries and recommends is the Solar Nite Eyes Predator Protection System. It is a black rectangular box with solar-powered flashing high-intensity red lights that mimic the eyes of a nocturnal hunter—ideal for warding off nighttime predators hungry to feast on backyard fowl.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for new wares from the big companies in this space. Kaytee by Pets International recently threw its hat into the pen by rolling out a new line of urban poultry hard goods, including a chicken starter kit for chicks and hens; a chicken coop with a nesting box and enclosed run surrounded by durable metal mesh; a chicken pen with three large doors for easy access; a wire pen for baby chicks; medium and large feeders and waterers; a toy ball that dispenses mealworms or other edibles; and a hanging fruit and veggie basket.

Ware Manufacturing also offers a full line of chicken products, including a wide range of pens and hutches. One of the company’s newest offerings is the Backyard Charm Garden Hutch. It is a two level, house-shaped hutch with an area on top for growing potted herbs, flowers or other plants.

Jumping on the Poultry Bandwagon

Just as some manufacturers have entered the game in later innings, it’s never too late for pet store owners to enter this domain and capitalize on the urban poultry movement according to Jason Casto, director of hard goods for Kaytee-Pets International in Schaumburg, Illinois.

“Retailers can hatch into the new category by starting as simple as adding a four-foot wide gondola section or endcap showcasing poultry and chicken products,” said Casto, who recommends avoiding the mixing of too many different brands into what will likely be a small section.

Parker suggests grouping backyard fowl products together and clearly labeling these products and their uses via eye-catching signage.

“Don’t assume that customers have all the necessary knowledge to properly care for their new flock or that they know to look for poultry products in your store to begin with,” Parker said. “That’s why it’s best to place these products where customers can easily find them.”

Lastly, if you plan on carrying live baby chicks under your roof, be sure you have all the necessary supplies to care for them. They’re an awfully cute impulse buy for families, but mom and dad are going to expect you to be a one-stop-shop expert.

“If you don’t plan to sell baby chicks in your store, try to partner with a reputable hatchery you can refer your customers to,” Parker said.

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