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This month’s bird

The Hairy Woodpecker

Birding Business July 2015 : Sell Solutions, Not Products

Sell Solutions, 
Not Products

A philosophy all bird and nature stores should adopt

BY HANK WEBER | Contributing Editor

When I need a part for my car I have a choice. Either I go to a big box store or to the local specialty auto parts store. The big box store sells a large variety of products at relatively low prices. Unfortunately the quality sometimes matches the price…  and the buying experience is often worse. Certainly none of their so-called sales associates can help recommend the correct part for me to buy. So sometimes I buy the wrong one.

The auto parts store, however, always has the part I need.  And much more.  Knowledgeable employees not only ensure that I get the proper part they also provide tips on installing it and point out potential problems that might occur.  Rather than sell me a kit consisting of several parts, they often recommend only the one part in the kit that I actually need.  That saves money in the long run.  Moreover, they love talking about cars.  They comment on the hot new car models.  They offer opinions on the latest features and point out the ones they consider useless.  I like car talk.  

The specialty auto part store doesn’t just sell me things or parts.  It provides the solution to my car problem.  And creates a pleasant buying experience at same time.  That is why I prefer to shop at the specialty store.

Bird and nature stores should adopt the same philosophy.  Don’t just sell a product.  Customers can buy a bird feeder in many places and bird seed is seemingly available on every street corner.  Why should they buy from you?   The answer is to sell a complete solution to the customer’s need, not just a bird feeder.  A feeder can become a commodity, a thing.  You want to create a pleasant buying experience based on your knowledge of birds and selection of products.

When a customer goes to a big box store to buy a feeder the only practical advice they might get is to “look in Aisle Nine”.   If that customer enters your store you don’t want to say “here, this is a good feeder.”  Then you are no more helpful than the big box.   That customer probably has an image in her mind.  Find out what she is thinking.  Maybe she is remembering helping her grandfather fill the big wooden hopper feeder in his backyard.  If you immediately recommended a plastic tube feeder you may not have provided her best solution.  It probably is an excellent tube feeder, it is just not what she had in mind. So ask questions first before making suggestions.  If a customer does have a preference, say for a hopper feeder, reinforce the positive features of that style of feeder.  A hopper feeder holds a lot of seed so she won’t have to fill it too often, especially on cold, rainy days.  The style is classic.  The open design allows larger birds, such as jays, to eat more comfortably than at a tube feeder.  And she will be able to see all the birds at the feeder at one time.  

If she doesn’t have a preference and is open to any style of feeder, you can point out the pros and cons of each style.  The customer is now getting a positive impression that you are not just pushing a product but you are offering her alternatives allowing her to make the final decision.

Remember, you are not just selling a feeder, you are selling a solution to her bird feeding problem.

With additional questions you may discover that she wants the feeder primarily for her young children, or grandchildren or for an elderly parent.  Knowing this gives you the opportunity to reinforce how wonderful bird feeding will be for the ones she loves.

Continue selling the complete solution.  Does she plan to hang the feeder from a tree branch?  How high is the branch?  Does she need a hook or a chain to position the feeder at the best height for filling and seeing? Or does she want to mount or hang it from a pole?  What about squirrels?  Does she need a squirrel baffle or a squirrel-proof feeder?

What kind of birds is she hoping to attract?  Hummingbirds require a different type of feeder.  There are special feeders designed for finches and orioles.  Can she identify the birds that will dine at her feeder?  How about a simple bird ID guide?

Does she need seed for the feeder?  Black oil sunflower seed is a favorite.  How about a small quantity to get her started?  Is she aware that birds crack open the sunflower seed to get to the sunflower kernel inside?  They just drop the shell and it falls to the ground beneath the feeder.  Point out that, if this becomes unsightly, you stock sunflower seed with the shells already removed.  No mess.

I always ask, how long does she think it will take the birds to find her feeder?, which always leads to discussion.  I’ll say that I don’t know.  They may find it in less than an hour, or it could take them a week or more.  I compare it to the new restaurant in town.  No one wants to be the first one to try it.  But once they learn that she is a good cook providing great food, it will be hard to get a reservation.  That always gets a smile.

You have gone from just selling a feeder to talking about her whole backyard feeding experience.  And you have done all that without being pushy or aggressive but simply by trying to help her make the right decision.  Maybe she may just buy a feeder.  But when she leaves the store with it, she has had a better experience than simply picking a package off the shelf in a big box store.   

That is the value of a specialty store.  You don’t just sell products.