Small business story – Birdbrains Parrot Toys

Danielle Cawthorne
BirdBrains Parrot Toys


What we’re about:

BirdBrains is an online store specializing in parrot toys that encourage foraging behaviour and active play. In the wild, parrots spend most of their waking hours foraging for food. In captivity, many parrots are fed from open dishes, which make their primary occupation unnecessary. As a result, captive parrots frequently suffer from boredom and can develop health and behaviour problems.

Birdbrains’ toys, and the toys we choose from other manufacturers, enrich the lives of pet birds by providing occupational, environmental, and sensory enrichment.

Our other focus is health and safety. BirdBrains toys are made of bird-safe materials, and we make careful choices to ensure that the toys we carry meet the same standards. We sell top quality toys from StarBird, Zoo-Max, Planet Pleasures, Nature’s Instinct, and others.

Our Target Market:

Most of our customers keep parrots as companion pets. We also sell to breeders and zoos, and, in fact, zoos use some of our toys with other species such as monkeys. In addition to online sales, we sell in person at trade shows, bird shows, conferences and workshops.

Why I chose this business:

BirdBrains came about when I adopted a 10 year old parrot who had been neglected most of his life. He had become very aggressive towards people, and had begun to mutilate himself by pulling out his feathers and biting his skin. Rehabilitating this parrot was an education for me. I learned about the physical, intellectual and emotional needs of captive birds, and was determined to do something to educate parrot owners and to provide them with the tools they needed to improve the lives of their pets.

I discovered that there was a large market for the products that I wanted to sell. Veterinarians, zookeepers, animal trainers, and parrot clubs share my commitment, and the trend in books and magazine articles is to promote enrichment activities and products.

Over the next decade, online sales are expected to increase, and the pet products industry is expected to experience phenomenal growth.

Best & Worst

The best part of being an entrepreneur is autonomy.
The worst part of being an entrepreneur is worrying about money. I work very hard for very long hours, and I have a fortune invested in inventory. Some days I feel that I would be better off financially if I just took a job working for minimum wage at someone else’s pet supply business. Most days are better; I really love what I do!

Lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur:
Always give more than they expect.
Get to know your customers. They appreciate it, and it’s to your benefit to understand their needs.
Small businesses are easy to deal with. Banks, insurance companies and phone companies are not.
The federal government supports small businesses. They are accessible and easy to work with.
Excellent customer service, fast shipping and a liberal return policy are absolutely essential for an online store. I have to work very hard to overcome the Ebay stigma.

Advice I would give an aspiring entrepreneur:
Examine your life very carefully and make sure it can withstand the challenges to come. Aside from the financial risks, this can put a strain on every aspect of your life. You will need a lot of support from family and friends.
Listen to all advice that’s offered. Sort it out and use what works for you.

Goals and plans for the future:
My short term goals are to increase online sales and to hire someone to set up and take down our booth at bird shows and conferences.
Long term? More manufacturing of BirdBrains toys, and distributorships for products that are difficult to get in Canada.


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