Birding Business July 2014 - Location

It’s Not Location, It’s Education

Want to know how to generate sales of $900 per square foot in a small store?

EDUCATION, says Dave Titterington.  Dave owns the Wild Bird Habitat Store, a small (1040 sq. ft.) birding specialty retailer in Lincoln, Nebraska, and has been serving the area’s birding community for twenty years.  Before getting into retail Dave had been a naturalist at a local wildlife sanctuary, and part of his job entailed guiding folks – mostly school kids – on nature walks, pointing out the various plants, insects, birds and small animals they’d see on their walk.  But it wasn’t just conversation; he spent time explaining where each life form fit in nature’s matrix, how it related to the others in that same area, key facts about them such as expected life span, diet, territorial habits and instincts, and in what ways they were adapted to their habitat.  All that detail, presented with a deep personal interest and knowledge of the subject, found a ready reception in the minds of his students, both young and old.  Parents were proud to be able to explain nature to their children the way Dave had explained it to them. And older kids were imbued with the curiosity to come back to learn more.

When he opened his retail outlet some years later Dave made sure his primary focus would continue to be the education of his customers.  “Any store can sell bird feeders”, says Dave, “but at Wild Bird Habitat we educate people on how to feed birds and use bird feeders. We are actively involved in environmental education, bird conservation, and outdoor recreational birding, and we work to build community among our customers which is, and should be, a vital component for any backyard specialty store. Building community builds credibility.” 

The more a customer knows, the more he or she will buy.  It’s easier to expand one’s interest in birds when you can offer detailed knowledge of the type of food the bird requires, the habitat that supports that food source, and how that same habitat must provide birds the other basic needs that will keep them in the area. Moving 15,000 lbs of bird seed a week is a pretty good indication that Dave’s philosophy works. Some of those shoppers are now older kids spending their own money.

“We were the corporate sponsor for a three day gig by Greg Miller, played by Jack Black in The Big Year, and we had the opportunity to go birding with Greg.  We organized a three day community event in the lobby of the Marcus theater in Lincoln, NE for the premier of The Big Year bringing in numerous birding organizations to participate – that is building community.

“We also sponsored David Yarnold of National Audubon, the keynote speaker at our local Wachiska Audubon’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, dinning with him and other local officials at the head table – that is building community.

“Offering programs on various birding topics at numerous venues drawing from 5 to 100 participants is community building. No number is too small. Everyone’s interest counts. Wild Bird Habitat works closely with the University of Nebraska’s School of Natural Recourses, our Game and Parks Commission, and numerous conservation organizations. That is how we build community and that is how we built a successful birding business.

“Our locations aren’t free standing concept businesses, and would probably be considered unconventional by some standards. But although we are a full service well-inventoried backyard bird feeding specialty store, it is our educational component and community involvement that makes Wild Bird Habitat a top grossing backyard birding store. “

Dave once worked as a conductor/brakeman for Burlington Northern. Railroading is not a job nor is it a career – it’s a 24/7 way of life. “To run a successful backyard birding business, it too needs to be a way of life”, says Dave.  “As my mentor Weir Nelson of Wildlife Habitat told me some twenty years ago; ‘Where else can you have a job to go to everyday and have so much fun?’”