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This month’s bird

The Hairy Woodpecker

From Barns to Birdhouses

Barn Becomes Birdhouse - Alert the Media!

An old barn's job is never done. John Guertin finds work for them long after they've been retired from active farm duty.


John Guertin has an interesting story to tell and he's not afraid to tell it.

One of the hardest jobs of a retailer is getting attention in the community - in a way that does not involve taking out ads in the media. John Guertin's Hearts & Eagles Company manages to do just that. The story behind his work has gotten him local, regional and national coverage and it may give you some inspiration and P.R. ideas of your own.

Guertin handcrafts birdhouses and feeders out of salvaged wood. Some of it came with the old Victorian house he and his wife own in Grand Rapids, Michigan, some he purchases, and a great deal of it comes from the old Patterson barn where President Gerald Ford worked as a kid in the 1940s.

When Guertin saw that the Patterson Barn had been mostly blown down and was slated for demolition, he asked if he could salvage the wood. He did, too, every ancient slat and board of it.  He then contacted the Ford family to tell them what he was doing and he made a special birdhouse - the "Liberty Box" featuring stars and stripes - to give to Ford's daughter.  Naturally, each step of this made an interesting story for the media.
And the media has flocked to him. He has been covered nationwide on ABC and Fox, and on MLive.com and WoodTV as well as local and regional print media. All of these sources are featured on his website, and at least one is up on Youtube as well.

Obviously, after working for most of his life in the film industry and advertising, PR may come naturally to him, but Guertin isn't a grandstanding kind of guy. Everything he does is to raise awareness of birds and nature.  As a conservationist, John says, ""What drives me is popularizing conservation and helping birds!" He says his boxes can be used as a "PR gesture for conservation in a visible manner."

John learned all about caring for and restoring old wood after he and his wife bought a Victorian "fixer" in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he found a coal bin of wood and wondered what he could do with it other than use it for firewood. 

Handcrafting birdhouses and feeders from 100-140 year old salvaged wood, using 19th century handcraft techniques, and incorporating Victorian flourishes such as violin "f-holes," Guertin spends hours getting the details just right. He also uses DNR resources to address the needs of native birds. "It's paramount to discourage invasive species such as sparrows and starlings and it helps to get the nestbox specifications exactly right in order to do so." But that's not all: "Old wood needs a lot of care," Guertin says, and he makes sure that this delicate material is preserved using 6 different steps to allow the beauty and age of the wood to shine through for another century or more.  The patina of age is "the handiwork of the Almighty," he says. "How can you improve on that?"

Guertin's stories, products and use of media may inspire you to try his birdhouses in your store and use his resources to generate interest. But if you're still stuck for some PR ideas of your own, here are some to get you going:

- Hitch a ride on the coattails of manufacturers like Hearts & Eagles who have already established media presence. Your manufacturer or distributor can help you find a story that goes with a product to generate excitement.

- Find a local artisan with an attention-getting story. In my experience, creative people who love nature always have a story to tell. Give their products a place in your store - make it short term if you just want to test the waters first.

- Your own story is probably fascinating. Tell it!  What did you do before opening a birding/nature store?  What were the steps that led you to the decision, what keeps you going, what are you most passionate about?

 - Alert the community to your own involvement in local or regional nature events or issues. You're doing good in the community - don't be shy about it!

Hearts & Eagles
John Guertin
Phone:  616-456-5991

BY MARINA TIDWELL | Contributing Editor