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The Hairy Woodpecker


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Triumph Plant Co.

Triumph Plant Co. and their Little Kay Gardens Product Line

Meet Little Kay Gardens co-owner Jim Johansen as he is interviewed by Ken Spector of LivingECO.com


The above package contains 4- 2x3' sheets with gift cards and raffia. The gift cards include instructions. Wild flower mix can grow just about anywhere. Winner of the 2015 Dealers' Choice award at the National Hardware Show. Packaged at the Van Buren Mental Health Association - providing jobs for the disabled.


Birding Business September 2015 : Internet-proof Your Small Business

Internet-proof Your Small Business

BY JOHN E. RIUTTA | Contributing Editor

Beat the big Internet sellers at the sales game.

WHILE THE INTERNET HAS ALLOWED SOME TRULY revolutionary things to be accomplished during our lifetimes, not all of those things have been for the best - particularly if you’re a small business owner with a birding and backyard nature shop. Gone are the days when so long as you maintained a good selection of the items best suited to the interests and preferences of your local customer base, and provided good customer service, that you could count on a fairly steady level of trade. Now, with most everything for sale - and too often at prices discounted beyond what “brick and mortar” stores could possibly sell it for - with just a few clicks of a mouse, more and more people are choosing price over proximity in their shopping habits. However all is not lost; you can still beat the big Internet sellers at the game if you give a little thought to where your strengths lay and play to them as much as possible. It’s a little thing I like to call Internet-proofing your business.

As a birding and backyard nature shop owner or manager, you have one particularly strong product group that will never be effectively sold online: seed and feed. Seed is heavy in relation to its price at retail, which is exactly the type of product that large scale Internet sellers hate most. It ruins the model of “purchase this dollar amount and we’ll ship it to you for free.” Just think about it; how much does thirty five dollars worth of black oil sunflower seed weigh and how much would it cost to ship a package of that weight to an individual customer? And as for suet, at a buck or two per cake, it doesn’t take much time at all to realize that if a person just wants one or two cakes that the shipping is more than the retail price for the purchase. Of course, even though seed and feed is Internet-proof, it isn’t big box store proof; which is where quality comes into play - but that’s another subject entirely.

Then there are feeders. After all, if you’re drawing customers in for seed and feed, they’ll naturally be needing the apparatus from which to dispense that food. Being somewhat bulky and often needing large boxes to pack them securely for shipping, many feeders are another strongly Internet-proof item - particularly as both the postal service and the parcel carriers are adjusting their pricing schedules to place more importance than ever before on the size of a package being shipped. Additionally, feeders are one of those items among nature enthusiasts that seem to benefit from being able to be seen and touched before being selected for purchase.

“But,” you might say, “doesn’t this just mean they’ll be ‘show-roomed?’” Not necessarily. Show-rooming, the practice of a customer looking at a product in a shop and the buying it through an Internet retailer instead in order to save a few nickels, requires that the product be easily locatable online. While it might be easy to find a few of the big-name feeder brands online, finding the exact model is often quite difficult, and with lesser known brands often all-but-impossible. And even when they are found, we get right back to that “large box size” dilemma.

So long as we’re on the subject of feeders, take a look around your local area and see if you can find some models that are made by local artisans. Such feeders - as well as a large number of other decorative backyard items made by small artisans - are some of the best Internet-proof products available. Building relationships with such local producers not only strengthens your business ties with the local community, it gives you a selection of items that your customers will never be able to find online.

Of course, there are some other products common to birding and backyard nature shops that are anything but Internet-proof; books, for instance.

With independent book sellers going out-of-business at an alarming rate all across the country and even large national bookstore chains struggling against the massive Internet retailers, many small birding and backyard nature shop owners are opting to pass on books entirely. While in some ways this is not at all a bad decision, at the same time the idea of such a shop having no field guides at all just seems wrong. So while you may not wish to stock heavily on a wide range of titles, having the staple field guides on hand is still a good idea if for nothing else than public relations alone. And so long as you have those, seeking out and stocking very localized guides to your particular area is always both worthwhile and worthy of praise - particularly as such publications are often the product of local small publishers and local authors.

Books having now been addressed, we thus we reach biggest Internet-proofing bugbear of them all: optics. With optics so widely available at such steep discounts through the largest of both general and camera Internet retailers, why even bother? It’s a fair question indeed. Certainly there’s no realistic way around the fact that if you stock optics in your shop that it will regularly be used as a show room for purchases that will later be transacted online. But so long as you’re willing to accept that, there are still things that can be done should you want to sell optics which can make your business not exactly Internet-proof in this product area but perhaps at least Internet-parallel.

Discounts and margin points aren’t everything; policies can sometimes be even more important for the long term viability of a product category. Look for optics brands that have and enforce MAP. Many have long since given up the practice but there are still those that retain it and it’s well worth asking the sales rep if his or her products are supported in this way. Not that there aren’t still “letter versus spirit of the law” ways around MAP practiced on the Internet today, but it’s a good place to start a conversation. Another is to ask about limited distribution product lists. Some optics manufacturers identify a certain selection of products that they will not sell to the big Internet retailers specifically in order to try and help smaller and medium size businesses remain competitive with their products. Even if a brand only has one of these two things, it’s a strong step in the right direction for your business if you choose to add optics to your stock list.

When you come right down to it, Internet-proofing is really mostly common sense. Take a look around your shop and for each product category ask yourself “could someone just as easily buy this online as from me?” Play up those things where the answer is “no.” Where the answer is “yes,” think about if those things are important to your customers. If not, close them out. If they are, then think about what you’ve read here and you’ll likely find a way to continue offering them in a way that will make your business healthier in the long run.

Birding Business September 2015

Dissenting Views

BY RAY DAVID | Editor/Publisher

birding business sept. 2015 400 coverRecent polling shows that nine out of ten Americans want the right to know whether their food has been produced with genetically modified food ingredients. Vermont, Connecticut and Maine have acted to give consumers the right to know what is in their food and how it is grown.

H.R. 1599 would preempt states from labeling GMO foods and would invalidate existing state laws. H.R. 1599 would make it virtually impossible for the Food and Drug Administration to craft a national mandatory GMO labeling system. It would codify the existing voluntary non-GMO labeling policy that causes confusion among consumers. H.R. 1599 also would allow ``natural’’ claims on foods with GMOs, which adds to consumer confusion. Consumers have the right to know what is in their food and how it is grown. H.R. 1599 makes it more difficult for consumers to know that information.

This is the closing paragraph of House Bill HR 1599, passed July 23rd by the United States Congress. The single paragraph contains the only objections to the preceding hundreds of pages written specifically to allow Monsanto and others like it the authority to deny us the right to know what’s in the food we eat.  The bill, as it stands, would prevent the FDA from ever implementing food labeling laws, and enable corporations like Monsanto to make misleading ‘natural’ claims for food products that contain genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients.  

Put another way, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would be permanently prevented from allowing the public to know if the food we’re eating contains harmful, even untested, chemicals.
The bill, as it stands, will also rescind food labelling laws already in force in those states, and nullify over 135 state and local regulations that currently restrict the use of GMO crops or pesticides.

Full Disclosure:  I hug trees on weekends.  That is, I’m a believer in conservation, recycling, organics, free choice, and so on.  But I’m not inflexible, there are some lines I’m willing to cross if I see a valid reason.  But fairness, to me, is paramount – Monsanto isn’t fair.  And now the monolith has forbidden our lawmakers from being fair too.  Their legions of armed insurgents in lawyer guise have descended on D.C. with a vengeance and buckets of cash to ensure our free choice is sublimated to Monsanto’s will.  Monsanto’s will is that voters should be denied the right to know what’s in the food we eat, (what we huggers call the DARK Act - DENY AMERICANS THE RIGHT TO KNOW) and Congress is singing the company song just as they’ve been instructed.  

The states and counties mentioned have passed laws to give shoppers the option to know what is being added to our food during processing.  Commonly referred to as truth in labelling. Monsanto feels shoppers should not have the right to know.  Monsanto also feels that those same states and counties should be denied the right to tell us, and to determine what food crops can or cannot be grown in their regions.  That’s what HR 1599 was designed to do.  

BE AWARE, HR 1599 ISN’T LAW YET… it has only passed Congress.  The Senate is next.  
A new bill will be written for the Senate in September, and if that one passes it will become the law of the land.  We still have that one chance to save our freedom of choice.  Get in touch with your senator NOW!  The senate needs to know if you want your rights or you don’t.

In this Issue:
Bee Whis
Suet: An Unsong Staple
Bird Walks Build Business
Internet-proof Your Small Business

Book Reviews
Industry News
New Products

Birding Business September 2015 : Bee Whiz

Bee Whiz

BY MICHAEL ANDERSON | Contributing Editor

Loss of Bees Creates a Buzz

WE HEAR THE PLEAS OF naturalists. The media is taking notice. Educators are teaching kids about it.  There’s a pollination crisis going on and wild bird stores and birding departments can help. They can take the lead and champion the cause in their communities.

Bees pollinate the fruit, vegetable, and seed crops that we rely on to survive. So what’s the buzz about? Bees, crucial to the reproduction and diversity of flowering plants, are dying at an alarming rate.

Just Bee Cause
“It’s much worse than we initially thought even a few years ago”, says Martin Parkins, an Apiary Inspector with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “It’s been given a name, CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder, the phenomenon where social bees suddenly, mysteriously, and completely disappear from their hives.”

“In the U.S., some farmers are desperately turning to human hands equipped with pollination wands and swabs as a means to guarantee crop yields,” says Noah Wilson-Rich in his recent book The Bee – A Natural History, (Princeton University Press).

“Bees are dying at such a rapid rate that there are no longer enough hives to pollinate our nation’s commercial crops,” adds Alethea Morrison in her book Homegrown Bees (Storey Publishing).  “Now is a great time to take a part in providing a backyard bee habitat to protect our future one bee at a time.”

Birds and the Bees?
More people are hearing about CCD, but why would wild bird stores mix it up with anything “bee”?   
Most specialty wild bird retailers stock multiple product lines these days, developing niche markets that mesh with their birding/nature emphasis.

“We’re always looking for different and unique products,” says Terry Allen, Owner of For The Birds in Salem, SC. “If we can be the ones to educate customers on this bee crisis and provide them with specialty products and resources, the word-of-mouth within our community will take over and more people will come in”.

Bees Will Be Bees
At this point, you might be thinking Bees? Seriously? For my store?  You are likely visualizing bee keepers wearing white suits with netted hats sliding drawers of honey combs in and out of large boxed hive furniture covered by militant worker bees with locked-and-loaded stingers.  Forget those images. This article’s objective is: we need pollination boosters (not more honey) and wild bird stores and birding departments can help.

Indeed, honey bees pollinate, but other bees pollinate too --and do a better job of it.  Enter our hero--the Mason bee; the Ant Man of 2015--coming to save the day.

Johnny Bee Good
There are about 20,000 species of bees and only 7 are honey bees. The remainder—the biggest group of all—are the solitary bees.  Of the solitary bees, about 130 species of Mason bees live in North America. Popular family members include the Blueberry bee and the Orchard bee.

Unlike social honey bees, every Mason bee female is fertile and makes her own nest. Mason bees produce neither honey nor beeswax. Considered “super pollinators”, as few as 250 female mason bees can pollinate an acre of apple trees, compared to a colony of honey bees numbering 40,000.

The bees emerge from their cocoons in the spring, with males coming out first. The males remain near the nests waiting for the females. When the females emerge, they mate. The males die, and the females begin caring for their nests. In six to eight weeks the life cycle is over. Each Mason bee, however, has a pollinating potential of 100 times more than a honey bee.

In the wild, Mason bees nest in tree holes often made by woodpeckers and sapsuckers. They build their homes using mud (hence the name Mason). To invite them to stay around your garden, you only need to provide food for them (pollen sources).

Mason bees go about their daily business alone. They are gentle, non-aggressive, non-territorial, non-swarming, and native to North America.

“Masons are the perfect urban pollinator,” according to Brian L. Griffin, author of The Orchard Mason Bee. “They simply will not attack, singly or en-masse.  You won’t even know they’re around unless you stand and watch a nesting block. They’re easy to keep in your yard from year to year. They propagate in the smallest of back yards, and they’re fun and fascinating to watch.”

Mason bees nest most readily in straws; stiff paper tubes placed 3-6 feet above the ground.  The mated female prepares her nest by lining it with pellets of soft mud which she carries in her jaws. She uses her horns to smooth the mud into the tunnel walls. She then provisions the cell with pollen, kneading it into a paste. Each completed cell is sealed with mud.  She lays 4-6 eggs. The young bees hatch, and during the rest of the summer and through the winter, develop inside their nest cells for the rest of the summer and over winter into fully-formed bees in brown silken cocoons. They eat their way out and become active in early spring.  

To Bee or Not to Bee
Some stores are seeing an increase in their customers’ interest in bees.

“The customers are aware of the problem,” says David Peterson, Owner, Wild Bird Center of John’s Creek, Suwanee, GA. “The subject is coming up  more this year than last. Also, I have started promoting the issue by re-tweeting any article I see on the subject. Earlier this year I brought in Mason Bee Nest Kits. The customer who buys these knows of the problems. I would be open to carrying additional items.”

“We have seen a lot of interest in the bee problem here in the twin cities area,” comment Le Braun and Pam Kaufenberg, Co-Owners, Cardinal Corner, St. Paul, MN. “We started last summer selling Mason bee houses and offering information about protecting bees. We have expanded our lines of bee houses this year along with offering actual Mason bees to purchase. Some people are really stepping up and doing what they can for bees.”

“Our customers seem to have an awareness of the importance of bees and their impact on the environment,” adds Rob Blackhurst, Co-Owner, Backyard Birds, Salt Lake City, UT. “We’ve noticed that more people are telling us about the nesting boxes they’ve set up in their yards. We’ve sold Mason bee lodges for several years now. Each year, we have more people buying them.  Our customers appreciate nature and enjoy their gardens. Most of them welcome butterflies, ladybugs, and any beneficial insects to their yards.”

“Customers are starting to be aware of a shortage,” says Deborah Early, Owner, Wild Birds Unlimited of Tulsa. “We carry bee products like bee guards and mason bee houses.  There has been an increase of bee guard sales to keep them out of the hummingbird feeders and from drowning in them (resulting in fewer pollinating bees).”

Bee Fear Factor to BFF
“We have seen a significant increase in customer inquiries about bees, with a focus on Mason bees,” says Paul Oliver, Partner, Urban Nature Stores, Toronto, Canada. “In many cases, it is the kids that are aware of the problem and potential solutions because they have learned about our declining bee population in school. When customers get over their concern about bees stinging and find out that mason bees are non-aggressive and non-colony bees, then they become very interested in doing ‘their part’ to help protect and rebuild our critical pollinator population.”

Mason Meets a Mason Bee is a newly released book for children (and adults) by author Dawn Pape that helps people overcome myths about bees stinging. In the book, Mason conquers his fear of bees and is empowered to be like a superhero to help protect them.

Selling Bees
Similar to a store offering live mealworms for sale, stores can purchase Mason bees from several wholesales vendors. Only buy bees when they are dormant and in their hard-shell cocoons (November 1st - March 1st).

“We definitely do well with mason bee houses and also sell the cocoons in Feb/March,” says Linda Marzocco, Buyer, Backyard Bird Shops, Portland, OR. “We even offer classes in Mason bee housing, cleaning, etc. and they fill up fast. We have been selling mason bees and supplies for at least 5 + years. We’ve seen a steady interest in them in the Northwest and that translates into sales for sure.”

Some stores refrigerate the Mason bee cocoons to ensure a steady temperature. In the wild, a freak warm winter day could prompt the bees to emerge before there are any flowers. Not good.

The Bees Knees
If your store or birding department is ready to grab the bee by the horns, you can offer several products in the birding marketplace to help you to easily become the bee destination store.

Many ready-made houses/shelters for Mason bees can be purchased for re-sale. Look for a model built from non-treated wood with hollow tubes about 6” long and 5/16” in diameter (Bees will move in by themselves). Other consumer-desirable features include clean-out traps, roof overhangs, and predator guards.  Several books are available too.

Birding is our passion, but sharing with our customers about the bee crisis and offering customers books, nesting boxes, and other products to help with pollination could help ensure birding retailers are the ‘go-to’ places for all backyard nature products and expertise.

Birding Business July 2015 : State of the Optics Industry 2015

State of the Optics Industry 2015

BY JOHN E. RIUTTA | Contributing Editor

IT’S TIME FOR US ONCE AGAIN to revisit a question that periodically demands fresh consideration. I mean, of course, “What is the state of the sports optics industry today?” As business owners, managers, and other participants in the commercial side of the one activity that more than any other is inextricably bound to binoculars and spotting scopes, it is not only beneficial for you to stop and consider this question, it is vital to your business’ interests that you do so.

To put it bluntly, the state of the optics industry in 2015 is that it is more deeply entangled than ever in trying to sort out the dramatic changes that have been sweeping through it for the past decade; changes so dramatic that some long-established participants have left the market entirely, one (Opticron) has “jumped the pond” from England and expanded into the U.S., and wholly new players have been enabled to spring up seemingly ex nihilo. Add to this the further proliferation of original equipment manufacturing (OEM) production and sourcing by non-optics related companies, the changes in marketing, and the continued strengthening of social media and its transfer of power from the professional product reviewer to the amateur, and it’s not difficult to see how the established optics firms are fighting a multi-sided front in the battle for market share and visibility.

Now, to be fair, OEM manufacturing has been going on for decades. Many well respected optics brands have been getting their binocular and spotting scope products from specialist manufacturers in Asia since before many of us were even born. The problem is that now not only are companies, whose primary business is not the marketing and sales of sports optics, going direct to OEM manufacturers for the acquisition of “house-branded” products, some of the companies from which they obtain them are not particularly adept at producing a reliable product. Consequently, whereas a few years ago, sporting goods retailers and others sourcing OEM products for themselves simply muddled the market space at the retail level, now a disturbing amount of low quality, low cost products are available through the OEM channels. As inexperienced OEM “shoppers” often don’t have the experience to distinguish between factories offering good quality products and poor quality products (indeed, in some cases a customer may not even know the actual factory from which the product is coming as the entire purchase is transacted through agents), the results are now not just a muddled market but one rife with unrealistically inexpensive products as well.

As I’ve written in the past in this very publication, the proliferation of OEM sourcing has also led to a stagnation in the levels of innovation seen in the sports optics industry. Not that the basic designs of binoculars and spotting scopes particularly lend themselves to dramatic innovations; the essential design of both types of optical products are, at their core, not very different now than they were decades ago. And this is certainly not to say that the better OEM manufacturers are not capable of developing new ideas; truly, some of the best binocular and spotting scope designs of the past two decades were created by engineers at OEM manufacturers. Yet beyond the seemingly endless struggle to position products at lower price points in all but the highest brackets, and the expansion of ED glass into products as low as the $300 price point, aside from Swarovski’s modular spotting scope design and Maven’s customizable binoculars, little that is truly innovative has been seen for some time.

Marketing has tried to fill in some of this innovation gap but there are only so many ways that lens and prism coatings can be written about before the effect on the customer becomes numbing. With so many products now being OEM, and so many of these being the same as others also on the market, differentiation is more critical than ever to draw a customer toward one brand over another. At the premium price and performance brackets this isn’t an issue; companies selling products at these levels have effectively employed identity marketing for years, which is ironic as their products are the most visibly distinctive from one another. Yet even here, with the advent of the Zeiss Terra and the higher priced but still lower than highest level bracket Swarovski CL Companion, there is a realization that identity marketing only goes so far and that good, old-fashioned price and market size competition is as relevant
as ever.

But with the increased power of social media, marketing professionals themselves are enmeshed in a struggle for their own positions of influence. Whereas once an optics firm’s marketing department may have structured and controlled the ever-important “message,” Facebook and Twitter users are now calling many of the shots, to say nothing of the new-found power of amateur, and often anonymous or pseudonymous “reviewers” publishing to online retail websites. Weeks, even months of carefully wrought marketing messages can be quickly undone by the idle thoughts of a few individuals who may have little to no understanding at all about what they are writing. Of course, this is not the exclusive bane of the optics industry; a host of other industries are also struggling with this same challenge. Thus, particularly when it comes to binoculars and spotting scopes, the managers of retail businesses, as well as the individual customers, are now in the unusual position of having professional marketing campaigns be their most reliable source of useful and reliable information.

In time, as the market re-saturates after the change in participants, social media plateaus, and people become as cautious about online retail site reviews as they once became of professionally developed advertising, things will begin to settle and - it is hoped - a bit more normality will return to the industry. Until then, many things will remain somewhat fluid as firms both old and new continue to weather the winds of change that as yet show few signs of calming.