Spokane Journal of Business

Birds of a feather shop together

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-—Photo by Jessica Valencia
Mark Settle, owner of Sparky's Wild Bird Store, typically has 15 to 20 birds for sale at the store, which he started in 2001.

Mark Settle is content with the fact that his store has gone to the birds. Situated across the street from NorthTown Mall, the small specialty shop has gained a flock of its own by catering to pet bird owners.

Settle, more commonly known as Sparky to the store's customers and staff, set up shop in 2001, originally calling the store Bird Lover's Outlet. A large sign in front of the building at 206 E. Wellesley still displays the original name years after Settle officially changed it to Sparky's Wild Bird Store.

The shop has rows of colorful bird toys, which run floor to ceiling along two walls, and take over half a display in the center of the floor. Bins of foam dice and wood pieces are situated along the floor next to a row of large bird cages. Bisected by a checkout counter, the back half of the store is lined with shelves of feed and roamed by a number of birds let out of their cages during business hours.

Sparky's employs three people part time in addition to the owner.

"All employees have birds, and all employees have been former customers," Settle says.

Customers are greeted by Rocky the cockatoo, whose enclosure is situated near the entrance. Rocky is one of three birds that lives at the store; the others are Piper the cockatiel and an Amazon parrot named Sugar. He says the rest of the birds at the store are for sale or are on consignment.

The shop has between 15 and 20 birds for sale at the store on average, he says. Birds can cost anywhere between $125 for a cockatiel and $1,800 for a macaw.

About three-fourths of those birds are on consignment, a shift from six or seven years earlier when he says the store mostly had baby birds and "once in a while a consignment."

Settle gets all of the store's baby birds from breeders.

He says around 20 percent of the store's revenues are from bird sales, with the rest of its revenues coming from selling feed, supplies and services.

"We continue to increase (sales) in bird boarding and trimming," Settle says.

"It's fun for me to see people who don't have a clue about birds," he says, adding once people get used to them, many find they're more intelligent and emotive than originally thought.

The store offers bird sitting, and bird trimming, which includes trimming nails, beaks and wings. Settle says those services stem from a lack of veterinarians willing to see and treat birds in Spokane.

"Most vets, including the emergency clinics, don't do birds," Settle says, adding many consider them exotic animals. He says there are a few who will treat birds, and he refers people to those professionals and other sources depending on the need.

Sparky's operates out of a 1,400-square-foot shop that Settle owns. He says the previous owner of the former house operated a hair salon in the front half while living in the back half.

"It tends to be a destination place for people," Settle says, adding that it's common for people to come into the shop and stay for hours, playing with the birds.

Settle sold the business in 2006, he says, and after a year bought it back.

"I had made this business, it had done well for me, and I was tired," Settle says about selling the store. He says the people who purchased the business didn't realize the energy and time commitment the store required. When Settle took over the business again it was rebranded as Sparky's Wild Bird Store, he says.

Settle says when he initially opened the shop he envisioned a store similar to a Wild Birds Unlimited, a franchise that stocks feeders, bird food, and other products for wild birds. As business continued, more customers began asking for pet bird products, such as toys and cages, and Settle says over time, the focus of the shop shifted to primarily pet birds.

"When I started, there were four bird stores in town, not including pet stores," Settle says. Today, he says, Sparky's is the only bird-specific store. In Coeur d'Alene, however, a Wild Birds Unlimited is located at 296 W. Sunset.

He adds when the business first started, he didn't intend for it to be a main source of income. Settle says weekends and holidays are the busiest times for the shop. He says the store has been his main source of income since 2004.

In 2005, Settle bought the house at 203 E. Hoffman, located behind the store, for about $90,000. Separated by a parking lot used by Sparky's, Settle says he uses the detached garage for storage. An aviary on the property was built by the renter of the house for her own birds, he says, but birds at the store occasionally use the space also.

The shop used to sell baby birds when they were more popular, Settle says, but now it sells mostly adult birds.

Settle says he feels bird owners understand proper care more so than they did years ago.

Talking about African Grey Parrots specifically, Settle says when importing birds from the wild, for every 100 birds boarded on a ship to North America, about one was able to be sold here. The rest either died en route or didn't make it through customs, he says.

"We've come a long way with taking an animal that lived 99 years in the wild," Settle says.

Small birds such as cockatiels will live into their teens, but larger birds, such as macaws live for about 70 years on average, Settle says.

A bird is considered an adult when it's able to eat on its own, which can range between several weeks to several months depending on the species, he says. Most full-size birds weigh three pounds or less, he says and eat about a cup of food a day.

By today's standards, he says few birds are imported, with many more born into captivity and raised by people.

Yet because birds have to adapt to being in captivity, even when they aren't wild caught, some will develop destructive habits when under stress, Settle says.

That destruction can take the form of plucking, or the bird can destroy property, he says. Plucking can become so bad that a bird will pluck at its skin, leading to infection or possibly death.

He says some people may be turned off by bird ownership because of their tendency to bite but all animals have instincts that are suppressed when kept as a pet, adding "it's the same with dogs and cats."

The store is open every day between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. except Wednesdays.

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