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Innovative birding solutions soar with database and Internet updrafts from Thayer Birding Software

By Carolyn Allen

Birding identification is difficult for pros, not to mention the average backyard birder. "If it were easy we'd all be Kenn Kaufman," Thayer says with a chuckle. His 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 after a pause. But I could deal with that.

Peter Thayer's lifelist is up to 3,150 species on seven continents. Thayer is a director and webmaster of the Naples Bird Club and the webmaster and author of WildBirds.com, Birding.com and WithoutBricks.com. Thayer is also the founder of the leading software company for birders. His "Birds of North America” was the first CD guidebook to hit the market. Since that breakthrough, Thayer Birding Software has added the popular CD series: Birds of My Region; Our birds (by state); and Birder's Diary for the serious birdwatcher.

Thayer uses his extensive birding experience to identify features his customers hunger for. "My favorite comment from a customer is, 'I love your product BUT-- I don't hear that much anymore because we've put in every feature they wanted," he says.

These state-of-the art electronic guidebooks have grown as a collaborative effort featuring Cornell Lab's birdsongs and photos from the Philadephia Museum of Natural History and top bird photographers such as Kevin Karlson, Brian Small, and Tom Vezo. The 2004 update adds features that retailers, in particular, are going to love.

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 love to 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. It adds a very diplomatic touch."

Thayer suggests that retailers set the attention-riveting 'flash card quiz' to loop indefinitely on a display computer. It sells.

How do you sell birding CDs? Thayer suggests that retailers let the flash card quiz loop indefinitely. It adds color and sound all day long. What's a bird store with pretty feeders but no birds? The sound really draws people into the experience. I run one of the 700 quizzes all the time. You can walk a customer over at any time. I finally bit the bullet in late January and put up the dedicated computer. Within a month I'd sold a dozen CDs. That's great for my store. Before the computer, we probably sold 2 or 3 CDs a year. Thayer's right, it's the sound and interaction that sells. Ranney placed the computer right at the counter, convenient for customer use.

Computers have been expensive, but now a complete system can sell for under $400. Most people pay for their computer in 3 months just selling our CDs and it turns every one of your employees into a bird expert, says Thayer. A typical retailer's order will include 2 Birds of North America, 2 Birds of My Region, and 8 Birds of (state).

Thayer is preparing for the Fall release of 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 and 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.

Without Bricks, Internet e-commerce

This Internet-based annex to a birding Web site is run from the Withoutbricks.com database and extends inventory access that can add revenue from sales that would not happen otherwise.

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. 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 & mortar" retail store you should be using the computer in your store to link to your on-line store. If I were a store, I'd have a gorgeous picture of my store, my address and phone number, and come in for a free cup of bird seed or coffee to get them in for the first time, Thayer says. If you only serve one customer a day -- that's 200 sales a year. But that's 200 sales you would have missed. With a $52 average sale, that's $10 x 200 a year -- $2,000 extra no-hassle profit.

And fostering 200 happy customers is even more important! They'll come back and they'll tell their friends you can get them anything and that you know what you're talking about.

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 current 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. 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 want to help small retailers survive, says Thayer.

Published in Birding Business magazine, the leading trade magazine for the backyard naure products niche. Carolyn Allen was the founding editor for this niche market trade magazine.