Backyard Birds offers one of the most enchanting retail experiences in Sugar House. Wind chimes, and the sound of water fountains draw one into the store decorated with dozens of artisan-made items and other pieces to turn a backyard into a bird sanctuary.
Owners Rob Blackhurst and Trace Sweeten opened The Bay dance club together almost 40 years ago when they were in their twenties. Using the experience of building a business from the ground up, they opened Backyard Birds. Trace recalls, “It was just going to be this little, small shop making bird feeders and houses, with a sofa and TV out front so Rob could watch Oprah. One thing led to another and it took on a life of its own.” In 2016 they were voted the Best Birding Retailer of the Year at the North American Wild Bird Expo.
Even during the Great Recession, they continued to grow, mainly due to their business savvy and filling a niche market that was overlooked in Salt Lake. When asked about their secret to success, both summed it up as hard work, great value, and loving your customers. The love is easy to see when Trace’s 14-minute interview was interrupted twice by customers coming over to say “Hi.” A few customers stopped to give him a hug.
The staff, which has grown from 3 to 6 over the years, is led by the ever helpful JB Leonard, who has been there 13 years. All are attentive and knowledgeable. When asked about hummingbirds, I learned from JB that there are more than 300 species worldwide, with 12 in North America and 4 in Utah. The Utah hummingbirds start arriving in April and leave in October.
For those interested in feeding hummingbirds, he gave a nectar recipe of 4 parts water and 1 part plain white table sugar, no substitutes, and cautioned not to add red dye. Heat to dissolve the sugar and change the nectar every 2 to 3 days. He said red feeders placed in the shade are most attractive to the birds.
Customers are also secure in knowing that the seed/food is always fresh because it’s delivered one to three times a week. Both Rob and Trace explain their pricing model simply as “Give them the best price we can,” explained further as, “if we get our seed at a better price, we pass that on.” Two big box stores located nearby were more expensive per pound. Last year they offloaded, stacked, then sold over 348,000 pounds of birdseed. As Rob explained, because of their turnover, Backyard Birds’ seed is always fresh with no filler or milo in it that birds don’t eat.
And the birds can tell the difference. Rob said, “Have you seen a Jay picking up a number of peanuts? They’re weighing them and flying off with the heaviest. Why? It has the most meat in it! And all birds do that to one degree or another. ‘Where’s the beef!’ If you have old and/or stale seed they just push it out and then move on to someplace that has better seed. Here in Utah, we enjoy some 30 different species of birds that frequent our backyards. Treat them well and you’ll enjoy them for years.”
When asked to sum up their store, he pointed to the sign out in front that says, “Salt Lake’s Most Enchanting Store.” Whether you’re preparing for the only three days at the end of April when a particular rare species of bird flies through Salt Lake (such as the Bunting), or buying a birdhouse for the chickadees that are starting to nest now, Backyard Birds is the place to go.
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