Shop Talk Scarletts Parrot Essentials

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Shop Talk: Scarletts Parrot Essentials
23rd February 2016

By Sandra Pearce



Not many people can say a parrot was the inspiration for a highly successful retail business, but for Scarlett DelaCroix, that is exactly the case. Sandra Pearce visits to learn more about Lincolnshire’s Scarletts Parrot Essentials

Oliver was Scarlett’s first-ever parrot. She and husband Tristan found the Greenwing in a garden centre; its staff explained away his nervousness as the result of a boy having knocked over his cage, and assured them that Oliver was tame. She said: “We were naïve and thought it would be all alright once we got him home. We soon realised things were not ok.”

Tracing his ring details revealed Oliver was, in fact, wild-caught. He also had the respiratory disease Aspergillosis and severe scarring in his air sacs. Vet visits galore followed, with Oliver enjoying a full life. Meanwhile, the DelaCroixs slowly grew their parrot family and Oliver formed firm attachments with River, Diesel wanted to be his love, Matilda was not interested, and Molly joined in the flirting.
“Parrots are very different to other pets,” said Scarlett, who has in the past kept oddball fish, dogs and chipmunks, all of them rescues. Not to forget a neighbour’s cat who decided it preferred living with them.



In those early days, she was buying products described for macaws, but in reality were more suitable for African greys. Many retailers, especially online sites, did not have the specialist knowledge, she said.

When she found herself without work, she decided to ‘sell a few perches on eBay as a hobby’. “I got hacked on the very first day, and that made me mad,” she recalled. “So I decided I would build myself a website and persuaded Tristan to build me a few shelves in the garage.”

In nine months, the business grew and grew, and Scarlett found herself listing more and more products. “It got to the point that we had to decide, do we shut it down or pursue it as a full-on business?”



That decision six years ago led to their moving to the village of Fulletby, close to Horncastle, where they found an eight-bedroom, seven-bathroom house with indoor swimming pool. With so much space for stock, they were convinced the house would serve them forever.

Which proved to be the epitome of wishful thinking, because last year, they had to fill in the swimming pool to create more space, and about two years ago, realised they needed an extension. This took the shape of a 2,500sq ft warehouse, built to resemble the buildings in the village so would not look out of place. This was completed in August, and was full almost immediately. For now, however, it’s sufficient – but they already have ideas of where they can expand when the time comes!

One room is being converted into a parrot room for their seven rescue parrots. The eighth, 15-year-old Harley, is a Severe macaw and had over bonded to his previous owner, who then gave him up. When Scarlett took him on, Harley transferred his affection to her. “I can’t let him mix with the other parrots because he will attack them; he thinks he’s human,” she said. All the villagers know Harley as Scarlett will go for walks with him in his travel cage.
“Everyone knows him, and Harley stays with me the whole day as I work.”

SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY

There is a simple philosophy behind Scarletts Parrots Essentials. They will only sell a product if they would use it themselves. Scarlett said: “We will never sell a product just for profit or because it is the latest product. It has to work and be fit for purpose.”



They have a lot of stock – £200,000 worth at cost, across 7,500sq ft of space. Scarletts’ is now the largest parrot stockist in the UK, and offers 1,800 lines, of which 1,600 are stored in Fulletby. The remaining 200 comprise cages that are drop-shipped because of their bulk.
“When we started, we did three orders a week and had a target of 10 orders a day, and when that was hit, we thought it was such a milestone,” she remembers. Now they send out an average of 250 orders each week by courier. It’s not just sales from their website as they have covered their bases with an eBay and Amazon account.

They also carry a number of products that are exclusive to them. For example, when Melton Pets Direct closed, they bought its stock of Pollys products and approached its US manufacturer to see if they could take over its distribution. Scarletts now shares this with Sky Pet Products.



Scarlett and Tristan work closely with Hagen and have just been named recommended UK retailer for its bird toys, they said. “We work well with our suppliers,” said Tristan. “They will often come to us and ask, what will customers want. Quite often we see there is a gap and say, ‘Can you do something here?’ We know birds and we know what they like.”

This can range from large rope ring toys to shelves for disabled birds. Tristan explained that many rescue birds have disabilities, such as arthritis or missing toes. He devised a wooden shelf that they can rest on as many find it difficult to perch all the time.



The couple is particularly chuffed about the AS30 No Peanut No Sunflower seed mix. They had approached Bartholomews Agri Food with the idea and were offered exclusivity. “That reinforces the partnership we have,” said Scarlett. “You would not give your kids crisps every day, it’s a treat. And it’s the same with sunflower seeds and parrots. This way, owners can use sunflowers as a training treat instead.”

Speaking of food, all food is housed in a dedicated room that has a solid, concrete floor and double-skinned block wall, with heating control. Which means it never gets too cold or too hot, there is no risk of damp, and there is absolutely no vermin, which can contaminate food. The room can hold about three tonnes, which is turned over every six weeks. They also have three chest freezers for palm nuts. “There’s no point having a good food that is stored badly,” said Scarlett.



Tristan is the packaging guru: “There is an amount of physics that goes into packaging, and we have perfected the art. Everything is bubble-wrapped and we get very few damaged packages.”

Scarlett handles all the web work (she is self-taught) and takes photographs of new products. “If there are no photographs, we cannot sell the products,” she points out. “We have never advertised or paid for SEO work, I have done it all myself. Our business has been very much organic growth, through word of mouth.”

CREATING A COMMUNITY

Competition online can be nasty, they say, and they’ve had to be on the ball with domain names and Google Adwords. Yet there are enough products for everyone to sell, they said. “All suppliers who work with us, their business has grown along with ours,” said Scarlett.



Social media has been instrumental. “We were already linked into it and connected with people because we had the birds, and we slowly built on this,” she added.
“We have an honest approach, do not overprice, and spend a lot of time with people who have rescue birds. We can tell actual stories from either our own experience or other people. And we always make ourselves approachable. Either myself or Tristan will answer phones.
“Having our own birds means we share the same experiences as our customers, who can hear the birds in the background when they call.”

They work seven days a week, don’t take holidays, and last Christmas answered three calls. They will recruit a member of staff next year to deal with the ever-increasing orders.



They get all manner of calls, like the woman in distress when a larger parrot bit off the beak of her smaller bird. (Tristan’s advice saved that bird’s life, and its beak has since re-grown.)
They’ve also had calls from owners who have had to put their parrots down. “We have been there, and we get what they are going through. Sometimes it’s about reassuring them that it’s ok, they did the right thing,” she said. “We cannot imagine not being there for the people, and finding the right product for them. It does not matter if it makes a difference to one person or a hundred. What’s important is that we’ve helped.”

With a thriving social network, customers started asking if they could visit to see the birds and premises, which resulted in an Open Day – Leicester Parrot Club has visited three times already. Many customers have become friends, and their birds are like an extended family, she said. Like when a regular called to say he would get paid only after Christmas, could he please get an order in and pay later, they agreed – after all, it was not fair that his parrot should miss out on its Christmas present.



Which sums up what makes Scarletts’ tick – at its very heart is a love for parrots. Remember Oliver? He died in Summer 2013, with both Tristan and Scarlett by his side. She said: “Oliver will live on in Scarletts, he was the reason we started the business, the reason we have the rest of the flock, and this is his legacy.”