The Next Gift Thing

The Next Gift Thing

BY MICHAEL ANDERSON | Contributing Editor

MANY BIRDING RETAILERS began with the purist's vision. Mission statements boldly expressed their lofty goals of impacting communities with only fine functional birding products. Customers would surely come to prefer morning bird walks to Starbuck's and they would silence their smart phones just to listen to a Carolina wren. All other non-birding merchandise would be considered trinkets, unworthy of store shelf space. But then something happened a decade ago: birding-only merchandising toppled.

Then, just prior to the "Great Recession", birding retailers seemed to be heading in wrong directions. Some stores morphed into high-end boutiques, complete with art galleries, home dÇcor, and over-priced candles. Other retailers tried to dumb down their merchandise in a weak attempt to compete with the local mass merchandiser. Both strategies failed.

Today, successful birding stores and departments find themselves returning to basics. They stock quality functional products, all while attempting to find the sweet spot mix of popular peripheral merchandise that can attract and retain customers.

How does a storeowner, manager, or buyer know what new products to bring into inventory? What are the next big trends? I talked with some experts that shared with me some insightful nuggets.

Choose Your Trend
Temporary booths at major gift shows are like incubators for upcoming trends. With 4000-plus "temporaries" showcased in Atlanta each January, including a new Birding and Backyard Nature category section, Jo Ann Miller Marshall, Senior Vice President at Americas Mart, really knows trends.
"2011 will bring a re-emergence of creativity and excitement," says Marshall. "Small companies and individuals are resurfacing and introducing their unique product, so expect to see lots of new names and new interpretations of gift product."

Sherry Morris, Marketing Manager for Carpentree, Inc. agrees. "Vendor-driven trends are a thing of the past as consumers dictate what new trends will be. As they vote through their spending dollars, we see a mix of buying types. Retailers need to mix it up. Try cross merchandising home dÇcor, birding, and gifts with different kinds of buyers in mind. Practical and functional gifts - gifts that recipients not only appreciate, but also actually use - are up trending."

Growing Green
Whether you call it "green" or "recycled" this has become a major category.

"Buyers have become much more likely to buy green products even if the cost is somewhat higher," states Jhana Jordan, Buyer Relations Director, Urban Expositions, operators of Birdwatch America. "Check out major big box stores who have definitely heard the message as evidenced by whole new areas of organics appearing on their shelves. Some buyers have said they have seen increases between 50-80% in these products."

In The Pink
The "Pink" buzz, and barrage of pink products where a portion of the purchase price goes for breast cancer research, represents another trend.
"Companies are broadening their corporate vision and leveraging their position to give back to communities, both locally and globally," says Marshall. "Expect to see more products in coming months that have a philanthropic cause and awareness."

Occasion Driven
Christmas, Mothers Day, and Fathers Day have traditionally been solid gift-giving seasons for birding retailers and wild bird departments, but with some inventory additions these stores could increase their destination value.

"Our dealers are steadily realizing that birding isn't just seasonal," says Sally McClary, Category Coordinator for Bradley Caldwell. "It's all year long and covers all gift-giving holidays and occasions. So we are seeing more decorative birdfeeders entering our market arena. Hummingbird feeders, especially, is a growing category and we are seeing more creative marketing tools from suppliers trying to promote this area."

"One of the biggest gift trends in our marketplace is reasonably priced, occasion driven products," says Brian Bossman, co-owner of Integriteam Sales & Marketing. "Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and house-warming are important gift giving events. While traffic may be down and disposable income tight, consumers still seek new, fresh, and exciting special occasion products when they shop."

Pop Goes the Paper

Paper crafts, whether making greeting cards, gift tags, or gift wrap/bags, are popular and part of a larger trend toward handmade products.
"This category has shown a big jump in sales over last year and the reason is simple," Jordan shares. "During a recession, if you can't afford a gift you usually still give a card... and if you give a gift, you always include a card with it. Cards also cover other trendy product categories like "recycled", "handmade", and "made in the USA."

Backyard Bound
Have you noticed families spending more time at home and in their yards? Bird watching/feeding is the fastest-growing hobby in America. There is a tsunami of interest erupting in urban homesteading including residential poultry, beekeeping and worm farms. Are trendy products ripe for including in your merchandise mix?
"Look for a growing collection of home accents," says Marshall. "While some individuals may be scaling down their remodeling & redecorating projects, consumers continue to seek high quality, cost-friendly gifts, dÇcor and furnishings that add aesthetic value and comfort to their homes."

"Gardening is still the number one hobby in the U.S. and it has become practical as well as enjoyable today," states Jordan. "With green products and gardening, retailers are finding they have a powerful double whammy to keep their tills ringing up sales. From the useful to the decorative to just plain fun, consumers are buying gardening products."

"A trend that continues to be strong is the demand for gift product that addresses entertaining and lifestyle at home," adds Marshall. "This includes product from tabletop pieces for entertaining to gardening and backyard nature for hobbies at home."
Hopefully these trend insights will better equip birding retailers in their quest for the right product, merchandising, and marketing campaigns throughout the coming months.

Michael Anderson is a veteran retailer of award-winning stores. You may contact  Mike at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.