When an idea for a nature art store morphed into a bird accessory shop, John Gerhard could not have imagined the success his business would grow into. It’s been 23 years since Gerhard first opened the doors to The Bird House, located at 3035 Monroe Ave. in Pittsford.
Offering a conglomeration of birdhouses and feeders, birdbaths, and other bird accessories, The Bird House has no shortage of intriguing items. According to Gerhard, there are four product categories in the store: food, bird, gifts, and garden décor. New and seasoned bird enthusiasts find products that suit their needs, as well as a knowledgeable staff to offer guidance.
“We have a high degree of longevity with low turnover, so the staff gets to know the customers,” says Gerhard. “We really put a heavy focus on service, and we end up selling a lot by educating people that come in.”
Gerhard noted that the clientele primarily consists of older women, and he and his staff take pride in the steady repeat business. Through incentive programs and skillful employees interacting with customers, The Bird House serves many returning customers looking to enhance their birdwatching or bird-feeding experience.
“There is nothing in this store that anybody needs, so people that live paycheck to paycheck don’t tend to come in here,” says Gerhard.
About seven years ago, The Bird House began offering more than just a wide variety of bird products. Feeder cleaning day, for instance, encourages birdhouse owners to bring in their houses for the staff to clean. Gerhard estimated a total of over 550 feeders were cleaned at the event this past spring.
“The first time we did feeder cleaning day we got maybe a dozen feeders, and then it just kept growing and growing,” says Liz Magnanti, manager of The Bird House. “Now it’s a big endeavor. We used to do it in the back parking lot with a hose and a brush, but now we set up different stations and the staff and family and friends are all hands on deck to help out.”
Gerhard adds: “We also have a repair facility, so if you bring a product in we’ll fix it for no cost, no matter where you purchased it.”
While business at The Bird House may be flourishing, starting a small business is no simple task. Deciding on a product can be a hefty mission on its own. Gerhard considers his decision to open a business focused on bird-watching and feeding “serendipity” after he ended up convincing a couple at a nature art show to help him and his late wife open a business.
“I didn’t want to be a franchise, but I liked the idea of having my own business,” says Gerhard. “There are a lot of different kinds of things involved in owning a business like this; it’s not simple to come up with this type of product offering.”
Although Gerhard thought it was a good idea to begin a business, he says he never intended to manage a store, and The Bird House was more of a “sideline project.” After hiring a series of managers for the store, Magnanti became the official manager of the business 10 years ago. Gerhard stresses the importance of having a trustworthy and hardworking staff when it comes to owning a small business.
“You’ve got to find good people that can deal with customers,” say Gerhard. “Our staff contributes to the business on a regular basis. They’re not just here to wait on customers behind the counter—they’re here to help educate.”
Gerhard and Magnanti agreed that The Bird House has room to grow and new products still to offer.
“We’re going to continue to grow in the areas where we don’t already have the lion’s share of the business,” says Gerhard. “The garden and the gift sections are the areas of opportunity for us.”
Gerhard’s decades of experience have led him to form three steps for running a successful business: “Hire good people, give them a little bit of advice, and then get out of the way.”
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