Working Together

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Q: We are small breeders that have always found a local market for our babies. Over the past two years, we have found it to be more and more difficult to sell our production. The number of hobbyist breeders is continually growing, and they have begun to flood the local market with what they produce. We often see ads in the local classifieds for babies that are being offered at prices that are below wholesale value. It has gotten so bad that last year most of the local pet shops stopped handling birds because they couldn’t compete with the prices that the breeders were selling for in the newspaper. We thought that would give us a stronger demand this year. Unfortunately, things are worse. We don’t produce enough to handle the expense of national advertising. Can you suggest any marketing strategies?

A: Yes! Get out of town! With your production, that is. What you have explained is a typical example of how a local market is ruined. In fact, now that the local pet shops have stopped handling birds, you can bet that the market will continue to erode. Contrary to what most people would believe, the elimination of pet shops as sellers in the marketplace does not strengthen the demand; it weakens it.

What most aviculturists do not realize is that pet shops are the vehicle that creates demand. Pet shops are the only locations where the public comes in close contact with parrots. The largest markets have always been the replacement of birds that died and the creation of interest, hence desire, in people who previously did not own birds. The former has, to a large extent, been eliminated by advancements in avian medicine and nutrition. The latter will also be eliminated if pet shops discontinue handling birds.

Only in pet shops do non-bird people become sold on the idea of owning a parrot. It is here where they are educated about the advantages of having a bird as a pet. A pet shop is the place where animal lovers go to buy their supplies for the pets that they do have. This is also the place where they get the ideas for other things they would like to have. No careful breeder would advertise for the public to come and browse at will among a collection of potential pets. Only a pet shop is set up to do this. The demand is weakening because the pet shops are not selling their clientele on the idea of owning a bird since they no longer stock them. Pet shops throughout the United States continually complain to me about how they invest hours of their employees’ time in selling customers on bird ownership, only to have them buy directly from breeders through the newspaper. They find out about this when the client returns to buy a cage and supplies. Unfortunately, displaying cages and bird food in pet shops does not create a strong demand for birds. Wise breeders realize that, in many ways they are partners with the pet shops that sell their birds.

The best advice I can give you is create a co-op. Get together with several other breeders who are having the same problem you are. (I’m sure there must be quite a few.) Pool your resources so you can afford to advertise in the national magazines. This will enable you to market your birds in areas that have not been hit so heavily by direct sales. At the same time, I would approach some of the local shops you feel you can trust. Ask them if they received the birds on consignment, could they afford to sell them at competitive prices? Often, a shop will be willing to sell birds at very reasonable profits if they do not have to tie up their working capital in them. Those shops that have stopped selling birds are your best bet, since they do not have their own inventory to worry about. A smart retailer realizes that selling birds increases sales of cages and supplies.