Mark and Lorraine Moore are passionate about bird droppings – or at least containing them.
The Stafford, Virginia. husband and wife entrepreneurs founded Avian Fashions in 1997 when Lorraine discovered a need among bird owners to have bird diapers for their feathered pet friends.
“Though some people call them diapers, we think that our name ‘FlightSuits’ is a more accurate description,” says 43-year-old Lorraine Moore, a retired Naval Reserves commander. Her husband Mark, 45, is a retired Navy lieutenant commander. “When you think of a diaper, you think of something that is restrictive. Our flight suit provides freedom for birds, like a military flight suit does for a fighter pilot. Owners can take their birds out of the cage without worrying about having a mess to clean up.”
Laugh if you will, but bird droppings are serious business. Just take a look at Avian Fashions’ books and see. Sales have increased 60 percent each year until 2003, when they climbed 20 percent. Last year, Avian Fashions (www.avianfashions.com) surpassed $1 million in overall gross sales.
Part-time business becomes full-time passion
When the Moores first created Avian Fashions, it was a side business they worked on while they continued their careers as Naval officers. The success they experienced led them to retire from the Navy two years ago and concentrate on Avian Fashions full time. Not long after the sales of bird diapers – or FlightSuits – took off, the Moores introduced a leash that attaches to FlightSuits with a Velcro strap.
For owners who like to dress their birds for the holidays and showcase them at parties, Avian Fashions created a full line of bird costumes, including Santa Claws, Birdie Bunny and Tux with Tails. Recently they introduced specialty diapers for ducks, geese and chickens since figures show that an increasing number of Americans are keeping these animals as pets. They even offer FlightSuits for pigeons and doves.
“The pigeon and dove FlightSuits are popular with magicians because bird droppings are an occupational hazard,” Mark Moore said with a grin.
The Moores initially operated Avian Fashions from their 1,100-square-foot apartment on the Quantico Marine Corps Base. In 1998, they relocated to a spacious 4,000-square-foot home in nearby Stafford, Virginia. Now the Moores spend their days selling bird clothes around the world from their roomy basement, which is enlivened with the chatter of their pet birds.
Each day, Avian Fashions receives approximately 50 orders. FlightSuits are manufactured in the Philippines and mailed back to Stafford in bulk for repackaging.
Lorraine Moore admits that the concept of a bird diaper “may sound funny” to people who don’t have pet birds. However, the idea isn’t so outlandish to bird owners who, she says, “would rather spend more time with their birds than their birds’ droppings.”
Since birds eat and drink throughout the day, they excrete frequently. “Smaller birds relieve themselves every 10 to 15 minutes,” says Dr. Sherry Levinstein, a based veterinarian in Woodbridge, Virginia. “Larger birds go every one to two hours, and they can be potty-trained, but many people don’t know how to do that, or they choose not to take the time.”
Made of Lycra, FlightSuits are lightweight slips of colored fabric that resemble tiny string-bikini bottoms. On the bird, they look like vests. A V-shaped extension at the end of the suit, the patented poop pouch catches the droppings. The upper portion shields the bird from contact with them.
FlightSuits can be machine or hand-washed, and are reusable. The diapers are made of a stretchy material and are available in sizes that fit every avian figure – from petite for parakeets to colossal for plus-sized parrots.
“We’ve found that many customers like the leash function as much as they like the diaper,” Mark Moore explains. “It allows them to take their birds anywhere without having to worry about them flying off into harm’s way.”
Avian Fashions sells more than 1,000 Flight Suits a month through distributors and its website. The apparel, which comes in 14 sizes and a myriad of colors, starts at $19.99. Without any known competitors, the market for bird diapers is mostly untapped, says Mark Moore.
“It seems that people who own pet birds have more than one,” says Mark Moore – whose own family includes his wife, two children, six birds and a dog. “And they are just as passionate about their birds as dog and cat owners are about their pets.”
Where the Parakeets Roam
The idea behind FlightSuits evolved when Mark Moore was transferred from San Diego to Watkins Glen, N.Y., in 1996. Lorraine Moore decided they needed something that would allow their birds – which at the time included two Cockatiels and a Conure – to roam their minivan, motel rooms and friends’ houses during the 2,600-mile journey, so she consulted with a talented seamstress and friend, Cely Giron. Five months and 10 prototypes later, they decided on Lycra suits with colors that blend into a bird’s plumage.
“We wanted to take our time and see the country on our drive to New York, and we didn’t want to restrict the birds to their cages,” Lorraine Moore says. “When we took breaks at rest stops and restaurants, we took the birds out of the car, and people gathered around. They wanted to know what the birds were wearing.”
Soaring to new heights
The interest sparked the Moores to invest $5,000 in a patent on the product. They launched Avian Fashions through an Internet storefront in January 1997.
FlightSuits and Avian Attire, a line of costumes for larger birds that include BikerBird, Santa Claws, Birdie Bunny, Uncle Sammy, Hippie Birdie and Tux with Tails, which retail for $35.99 each; and Feather Witch, which sells for $42.99. Costumes for smaller birds retail for $28.99.
Fleece Suits, a warmer version of FlightSuits, are available for $25.99. So are FeatherSweaters, which come in five different colors and can be adorned with a personal monogram.
Lorraine Moore admits that FlightSuits are not ideal for every bird, especially older ones. “It’s best to introduce them to your bird at a young age so it will become a part of their daily life,” she says. “It takes time and patience to get an older bird accustomed to wearing something.”
“Of course, to me, the time required to condition an older bird to wearing the FlightSuits is worthwhile,” she adds with a grin. “It’s common for larger birds to live 60 and 70 years. That’s a lot of poop to clean up.”
IF YOU GOT IT, FLAUNT IT
Typically, the greatest challenge inventors face is selling their product — and with a product like bird underpants, that challenge is even more daunting. How does a company with a ludicrous-sounding product get people to take it seriously?
For Avian Fashions, a sense of humor and a product that people really liked was the key. The Internet simplified matters too, reducing marketing costs and increasing profit margins. The Moores advertise their products in magazines like Bird Talk and Bird Times, but their websites (www.avianfashions.com and www.flightquarters.com) is the company’s main marketing tool, averaging about 2,500 hits a month from bird enthusiasts around the world.
“I don’t think we could have done this 15 years ago, because marketing costs would have been too high, especially for a home-based business with a niche product,” Mark Moore explained. “But with the Internet, we can reach a wide range of potential customers that otherwise would not know we exist.”
The Moores even chose 888-412-POOP as the company’s phone number. Red stars that serve as icons for the site’s subject areas transform into green splats when the pointer is placed on them.
The media has found the concept of a bird diaper amusing. FlightSuits have appeared in newspapers, magazines and television programs around the country, including a National Geographic special on parrots and a segment on the Comedy Channel’s Daily Show. A film crew from New Zealand even filmed their Avian product in action for a “Twisted Tales” episode on parrots that aired on Animal Planet.
A Flighty Clientele
Chellie Sheff, whose family includes an Amazon named Delilah and an African Gray known as Samson, visited the Avian Fashions website after reading a FlightSuits advertisement in Bird Talk. Her birds have been FlightSuit wearers since.
“Essentially, the FlightSuits liberated my birds from their cages,” said Sheff, who lives in McKinney, Texas, which is located about 30 miles north of Dallas. “I take them with me wherever I can, and I don’t have to worry about them making a mess.”
“They ride on my shoulders when I’m in the car, and they stand on the steering wheel of our boat and act like they’re driving across Cypress Spring Lake,” said Sheff, a breast cancer survivor. “They even completed a walk for breast cancer awareness – perched on my shoulders, of course.”
Samson and Delilah even accompanied Sheff to the local Wal-Mart, where the manager saw the feathered friends and asked her to leave.
“I told him that nothing would happen because they were wearing FlightSuits,” Sheff said with a laugh. “But he insisted that I leave anyway.”
While her 8-year-old daughter Courtnie dresses dolls, Sheff adorns her birds with costumes when they aren’t wearing skivvies. Their last family holiday portrait included Samson and Delilah graced with tuxedos. Customer feedback like this brings smiles to the faces of Mark and Lorraine Moore.