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Birding Business

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This month’s bird

The Hairy Woodpecker

No Crisis in Avian Housing Market

BY HANK WEBER | Contributing Editor

Homes for sale - see your birding realtor.

HOUSING HAS BECOME THE "POSTER CHILD" of the economic recession. To dramatize the continuing depth of the recession, the nightly news trumpets the plight of the real estate market. Headlines scream that house sales have dried up. Prices are plummeting. Many families cannot afford to make their monthly house payments but can't sell their home for enough to cover the mortgage. A glut of unsold houses looms over much of the country foreshadowing continued future woes. The residential housing market is a mess.

Fortunately, the market for avian housing has not been so adversely affected. It is still as good as ever. Sales of nesting boxes, perches, houses, and related items continue to be stable. In fact, the rapid expansion of human housing and development over the past decades has actually increased the demand for bird housing by destroying much needed natural habitat. There are fewer old or dying trees available, so nesting birds find it harder to locate the natural cavities they seek. As a result, they are more dependent on human-supplied alternatives.

The avian housing market remains stable. That should be good. Yet some store owners don't get excited about nesting products. They only sell houses because it is expected. They hesitate to put a big marketing and promotional effort into houses for two reasons. First, they don't like the fact that house sales are primarily seasonal, peeking during the traditional spring nesting period, then absent the rest of the year. A special marketing program is lot of effort for one good sales month. Their second concern is that a house sale is a one-time sale. Unlike feeders, there is no opportunity for continuing or follow-on sales. However, if you examine the housing market both these concerns can be easily overcome.

Houses for Nesting Season

Birds do nest at specific times during the year. We can't change that basic instinct. So houses naturally sell best in spring. During this nesting season traditional nesting boxes sell best - a basic well-constructed wooden house of the appropriate size with ventilation, drainage and proper entry hole. Not fancy but functional.

However, birds don't buy bird houses. People do. That means that you can and should be selling houses all year, even during non-nesting seasons. In the non-nesting season, a house is purchased primarily as a gift. It makes a unique gift for a birthday, Mother's or Father's Day, a house warming or as a thank-you. Realtors sometimes buy them as a gift for a client who buys a new house. A house with a bright red ribbon and bow looks festive under a Christmas tree.

Houses for Gifts
As a gift, however, a basic nesting box will not do. It is too plain. No pizzazz. You need to offer a different type of house. A house purchased for a gift must look good and have a certain amount of style. It needs what realtors call "curb appeal". The buyer just looks at it and it feels right. So to increase your off-season sales, bring in fancy, cutesy, and cuddly houses. Of course, to maintain your reputation as a bird expert, make sure the fancy houses also have the basic functional features that birds need, ventilation, drainage, etc.

We know that birds don't really care about the look or style of the house they choose, but gift buyers do. And birds are just as likely to use a fancy house as a plain one, so why not sell the fancy one. As an added bonus a cutesy, decorator house has a higher price point than a plain vanilla nesting box. So go with style for most of the year and your annual housing sales will perk up.

Piling on
When you sell a feeder there is always the potential for future sales of bird seed. And you can add a tray or other accessory to increase the value of the purchase. But a nesting box is a one-time sale. There is little opportunity for continuing birdhouse business. So, to maximize revenue you must promote accessories and related items at the time of the initial sale.
Fortunately, many products are available to increase the value of that sale. The most obvious is the addition of a chain or a hook to hang the box from a tree branch. Or a stand, pole or bracket to mount it. The pole and accessories for a martin house often sell for more than the house itself.

A less obvious (to the customer) addition is a baffle or predator guard to deter critters. Add a package of nesting material. Recommend a suet cage that can be filled with dryer lint, cotton or short pieces of yarn for birds to pick for lining their nest. A metal predator guard or portal escutcheon can restrict the size of bird that can enter and prevents woodpeckers or varmints from enlarging an entrance hole by pecking or chewing. A long tunnel-like extension in front of the entrance hole can further deter nest predators. Cleansing products remove contaminants that can build up inside a nesting box. The highest value accessory may be a digital still or video camera to document the growth of the new family in the nest.

Including one or more of these accessories to the house sale increases the full ticket value of that sale. It shouldn't be high pressure. Simply make your customer aware that accessories are possible. Add one accessory to each house you sell and your yearly revenue increases without the need to sell more houses.

Get in the Game
The human housing market remains in the doldrums, but demand for avian housing continues to generate business. Now is a good time to be in the market - year-round, so be sure to participate. Don't succumb to the hype of a housing slump.