Make Birding Sales Sing

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The American public is infatuated with its feathered friends. The numbers are there to prove it. More than 80 million people in the United States consider themselves recreational bird watchers. An estimated one million more add themselves to that list each year.

So what’s a garden center with limited space for such a category to do? Just look up, says Larry Grossman, CEO and co-owner of Grossman’s Country Nursery near Rochester, N.Y., along with his partner, Frances Grossman.

His birding section takes up about 6 percent of the total retail space, but he says the percentage isn’t important when there’s vertical space available.

“It’s more functional and visible,” he says. “We go up to 11 feet in height; we’re vertical – it makes it much more cost effective.”

For Grossman, it allows for unique display opportunities by hanging some of the bird feeders and keeping the seed and other ancillary products close by at eye level and below.
For Hastings Nature and Garden Center in Atlanta, Ga., the problem was different.

“At our store, we have limited wall space for hanging merchandise, so we like to use display pieces offered by vendors,” says Retail Store Manager Jenna Bornschein. “However, we have very creative display units. For example, we put wooden shutters between the legs of an old wooden ladder. This is used as a shelf for merchandise such as suet cakes and seed cakes.

“It adds a rustic look with a creative touch.”

The birding category accounts for about 12 percent of the garden retail sales at Hastings, and the center is planning on expanding its birding section even more this year.

What To Offer

The world of birding can be confusing, especially for the garden center owner, manager or buyer who doesn’t have a lot of time to research the subject. Bornschein suggests taking a look at the local marts and markets for specialty birding items, like feeders and supplies. “The mart is a great way to see how product is displayed,” she notes. “The shows are very helpful because you get to see the actual product, and the sales reps can show you special features of the product and answer any questions.”

Of course, there’s also BirdWatch America, a trade show in Atlanta every January that features vendors from all aspects of the birding category.

But if all those trips start to overwhelm you, take a little advice from Larry Grossman: simplify.

“I looked at it as a layperson,” he says. “I like birds, I like looking at them; I don’t necessarily know what they all are. What we did was put together a connect-the-dots system.”

Quite literally, the system connects the dots. There are different colors of dots, and each corresponds to other products. For example, a bird feeder that pertains to certain birds is marked with a colored dot. That same colored dot is also on the bird feed that pertains to those birds. The dot also is on a picture of the bird, so customers don’t have to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed that they don’t know the name of the bird.

It makes it easy for the customer to find what he or she is looking for without a lot of support or waiting for sales assistance. It also keeps it simple when buying product.

“I created that because I wanted it to not be intimidating. It wouldn’t be intimidating to me, for someone who hardly knows anything about birds,” Grossman adds.

There’s always a fine line between stocking too many products and overwhelming the customer and not having an adequate selection. Bornschein recommends making sure the section is a one-stop shop, providing everything a customer needs to get started or keep going with the hobby.

“An example would be making sure to have suet cakes and suet feeders,” she adds. “You can satisfy your customers and keep them coming back for more supplies and recognize that your company is a leader in birding, not just a supplier.”

Know Your Stuff

It goes without saying; someone should have knowledge of the products you carry in your store. Just like it’s vital for sales people to know about plants, they also have to understand the birding category. They don’t have to know it all, but a general understanding of the avian population around the center is a good start.

“I think that employee training is very important when it comes to selling birding merchandise,” Bornschein says. “Employees need to be familiar with the types of birds in the region and supplies needed for that region. Also, signage allows for a self-service category for customers and a reference for employees.”

If the garden center has a Web site, it might be an opportunity to allow customers to start a community, posting pictures of birds and trading stories. That could be a valuable reference for employees to check and find more information on birds local to the region.

But above all, if you’re dedicating space to birding, you also need to dedicate some time to easy-to-use displays, buying the proper products and educating your staff to make the category take flight in the long run.

Jennifer Polanz is a freelance writer with Grasshopper Freelance. She can be eMailed at

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