Birding Business -- Summer 2004
Pete Thayer's Wide World
by Carolyn Allen, Contributing writer
Running a birding database and web-based retailing
Birding identification is difficult for pros, not to mention the average backyard birder. "If it were easy we'd all be Kenn Kaufman," says Peter Thayer, head of the software company that bears his name, referring to the well-known birding author.
Thayer's dream gadget is "a Swarovski binocular that draws a big circle around the bird and displays the name below it. But that might take all the fun out of birding," he says. "But I could deal with that."
With a lifelist over 3,150, Thayer is a director and web master of the Naples Bird Club and the webmaster and author of WildBirds.com, Birding.com and WithoutBricks.com. He also is founder of a software company for birders.
His Birds of North America was one of the first CD guidebooks to hit the market. Since that breakthrough, Thayer Birding Software has added the popular CD series Birds of My Region and Birder's Diary for the serious birdwatcher.
Thayer uses his birding experience to identify features his customers hunger for.
"My favorite comment from a customer is, "I love your product but. . ." he says. "But I don't hear that anymore because we've put in every feature they wanted."
These electronic guidebooks have grown as a collaborative effort featuring Cornell Lab's birdsongs and photos from the Philadelphia Museum of Natural History, as well as top bird photographers such as Kevin Karlson, Brian Small and Tom Vezo.
The 2004 update adds features that retailers should appreciate.
Birds of My Region
The new version of the Birds of North America CD-ROM compares two birds side by side and uses identification marks to search for the bird's name. Retailers use this feature to help walk-ins who have seen a mystery bird.
"They can walk over to the computer, type in the description and let the customer see the bird, hear the song and even compare frequently confused species," Thayer says. "It adds a very diplomatic touch."
How do you sell birding CDs? Thayer suggests that retailers let the attention-riveting "flash card quiz" loop indefinitely on a display computer. "It adds color and sound all day long. What's a bird store with pretty feeders but no birds?" he asks. The sound draws people into the experience, Thayer says. He runs one of 700 quizzes continuously while at trade shows.
One retailer says of the Thayer CDs "I finally bit the bullet in late January and put up the dedicated computer. Within a month I'd sold a dozen CDs. Before the computer, we probably sold two or three CDs a year," he says.
In the past, computers were expensive. But now a complete system can sell for under $400. "Most people pay for their computer in three months just selling our CDs. And it turns every one of your employees into a bird expert," Thayer says.
A typical retailer's order will include two Birds of North America, two Birds of My Region and eight Birds of their state or province.
Thayer is preparing for the fall release of an update to the Our Birds series. It will include a new tab called "Songs" in which the user can search for identification using some 20 descriptors such as squawk, trill or buzz, as well as patterns such as rising, falling or singsong. There will also be more seasonal migration and residence information.
The Thayer line of products is mature and actively succeeding itself with offspring. One fledgling is Without Bricks, an affiliate e-commerce service for retailers and birding organizations.
The other part of his business — Without Bricks — is an Internet-based annex to a birding Web site. It extends inventory access to retailers so they can add revenue from sales.
Without Bricks has been doubling every year for four years. It's a free service and it takes just 10 minutes to sign up.
Drawing on inventory from two key industry distributors — Gold Crest and Common Ground — as well as individual companies, retailers can offer about 3,000 nature and birding related products over the Internet.
"I spoke at Birdwatch America in 2000 about the Internet and it was way too early. Now, ordering over the Internet is just another alternative," he says.
entrepreneur Peter Thayer has added web-based
retailing support to his software business.
Thayer's comfort with the Internet is backed up with continual research into its impact. "At some point you have to stop ignoring the Internet as an outlet for sales. The Internet sales line is going steadily up." The Without Bricks system is designed for both not-for-profit groups and retailers. If you run a real "bricks-and-mortar retail store you should be using the computer in your store to link to your on-line store. "If I owned a bricks-and-mortar store, I'd have a web site with a gorgeous picture of my store, my address and phone number, and a note that said "Come in for a free cup of bird seed or coffee" to get them in for the first time," Thayer says. If you draw in a customer a day, that's 200 sales you would have missed if you did not have a web site.
You can explore this no-nonsense, "little brown job" of the online birding world at www.withoutbricks.com. The extensive FAQ answers common questions and links to helpful tools. The concept is well received by users, but is in its infancy.
"The online shopping trend continues to grow. By creating your own Internet presence, you offer an alternative for those who choose to shop using their computer," he says.
"Your store can attract new shoppers who want a knowledgeable source for gifts, feeders and resources to match their interests. That is the power of the Internet."
He has put his extensive knowledge of birding together with the technology he has helped pioneer to offer this free service to all who need access to online inventory for today's internet consumer. "I've want to help small retailers survive," says Thayer.
Behind the Numbers
The Typical WithoutBricks payout is about 16 percent, depending on merchandise ordered. Binoculars have a lower margin. CDs from Cornell are higher. Books are discounted 20 percent to the buyer. The store gets approximately 14-17 percent.
Last year Thayer paid out over $36,000 to WithoutBricks affiliates.
[WithoutBricks.com is now OnlineNatureMall.com]
Thayer Birding Software
809 Walkerbilt Road, Suite 4 (now 12650 Colliers Reserve Drive)
Naples, FL 34110-1511
or (239) 596-1637, ext. 102