Industry Trends - April 2010

A single event doesn’t define a trend

By Hank Weber

EVERY EVENING THE TALKING HEADS ON TV PREDICT FUTURE TRENDS BASED ON TODAY’S NEWS.  Next week, when the news changes, their predictions will change as well.  A single event does not define a trend.  Just because you sell eight feeders on a single day, it doesn’t mean you will sell eight every day.  If sales are down one month, it doesn’t mean they will continue to be down forever.

Trends can be hard to spot while they are happening.  They develop slowly, a little at a time, over longer periods of time. As a result, it is easier to spot a trend looking backwards when you can see what actually has happened.  Once you recognize a trend you can then plan how to best adapt and take advantage of it.  So let’s look back at some of the major trends in the birding business over recent months.

Return to Basics
The most obvious trend has been the impact of the economic crisis.  Consumers became worried.  They spent less, watched their purchases, reduced debt, and, when they did buy, avoided expensive, frivolous and ostentatious items.  Seniors on fixed incomes and those nearing retirement age (a major portion of our customer base) retrenched the most.

Major retail chains recognized this trend early.  Their reaction was to emphasize sales and discounts to encourage shoppers.  In addition, they began promoting “value” in their products, stressing a good-buy-for the money.  They feel consumers want a return to basics and simpler times.   So they are promoting the warm, comfortable feeling of family and home while touting solid products at a good price.
How can you take advantage of this trend?  There are many things you can do:  Implement a special discount day for seniors on one day each month, say, the first Monday.  Stress products that involve the family or at-home activities.  Focus on the quality of your feeders.  Emphasize that they are rugged and are built to last.  Describe how your quality seed is better than the lower price junk food offered in the grocery store.  And, remember, even when money is tight, seniors are always willing to spend for their grandchildren (particularly for products that introduce them to nature).

Industry Consolidation

Another trend I’ve noticed is a reduction in the number of manufacturers in our industry.  Some manufacturers have gone out of business.  Some have decided to focus on other markets.  Others were sold or acquired by larger and more aggressive companies.  

What does this trend mean for your store?  You will be working with fewer vendors, having larger order sizes, resulting in lower freight per item.  Unfortunately, I also foresee potentially higher costs because of reduced competition.  We should also expect a huge reduction in the variety and choice of products available as the larger remaining companies consolidate their product lines.  All retailers will be choosing from this more limited selection of products.  As a result, the same products will appear in more retail outlets.  That will make comparison shopping easier for consumers resulting in retail price pressure.  It will be more difficult to differentiate your store.

In a perverse way, the economic slowdown and associated job losses may help reduce the impact of this product consolidation.  Some laid-off employees will start new companies producing new products with unique, local flavor.  Promoting such locally made products can separate you from the big chains, save on shipping cost, and piggyback on another growing trend among the eco-conscious and food-conscious shoppers to buy local products.  These small, start-up companies will be eager for your business and will provide more personal service.

Greening of America
Green products are everywhere.  Hundreds of consumer products, from soap to automobiles, now claim to be green.  Advertising and colorful packaging shout how green they are.  Green has become a product feature.  Being green sells better than being a good product.  Consumers who prefer eco-friendly soap, will likely favor green birding products also.

Some birding industry manufacturers have already recognized this trend and have introduced a few green products:  feeders made from re-cycled materials, recyclable seed bags, eco-friendly packaging.  Join this trend by promoting green products.

I’ve even considered making my own suet.  Buy suet from my neighborhood butcher, render it, add special seed or locally grown goodies, and package it.  I don’t know how well it will sell but it is definitely green and would be unique to my store, attracting attention and conveying our interest in the environment.

Digital Field Guides
Digital technology, which has invaded all aspects of modern life, is even creeping into the birding and nature world.  CDs and DVDs covering species identification, bird song recognition, and natural history have been available for several years.  You can’t find a tape cassette any more.  Everything is digital.  Recently, digital field guides have appeared for use on PDAs and smart phones.  Apple even featured one in national TV ads for the iPhone.  And they sell millions of iPhones each year.  Don’t ignore the digital trend.

Digital Photography
The camera industry has been revolutionized by digital technology.  You can’t find a film camera today.  But, I’ll bet most of your customers own a digital camera or snap digital photos with their cell phones.  
This is an easy trend to identify but it is more difficult to figure out how to take advantage of it.  You don’t want to sell digital cameras.  But we can promote their use for bird and nature photography.  Because of the lower cost and ease of use more customers are using digital cameras and taking more photos than they ever did with film cameras.  Post your customer’s photos in your store.  If you have a web site, post customer photos there.  Give credit to customers by name for their photos.  It will encourage visits to your site.  Be sure to change photos frequently to encourage people to visit frequently.

Promoting digi-scoping will help sell spotting scopes.  Sell books on nature photography.  Have a local camera retailer lead a program on “Improving your Digital Bird Photography”.  Hold a bird photo contest.  

Go with the Flow
Ignoring emerging trends is like swimming upstream.  You can get there but it takes more effort to move ahead.  It is much easier to go with the natural flow.  Customers are always changing.  So you need to continuously review and adapt your business to keep up.