SPRING HILL — Only a Realtor might have more houses. But at BirdHouseSupply.com, they're for the birds, with more feeding stations than your favorite buffet.
Entrepreneur Ben Atanat, 34, established the business first as an online market.
"A few people started asking if they could come see some of the stuff," Atanat said.
So, in March, he opened the storefront and added birdseed — "a lot of birdseed" -- to his line, which has become the biggest seller.
"All the birdseed is $1 to $2 more expensive than other stores," he admits, "but customers tell us they have birds (coming in to eat it) they've never had before."
Part of the feed's attraction, Atanat believes, is less filler and lots of favored safflower seed, plus black-oil sunflower seed, white millet seed and shelled peanuts. A 5-pound bag of the premium mix sells for $9.95, a 10-pound bag for $12.99.
Bags of straight safflower seed, plus straight dried mealworms, a bluebird's delight, also are offered.
As for the fillers, the most popular is corn.
"It's cheap," Atanat said. "It'll attract squirrels and crows. Most people want to stop squirrels. If people have a squirrel problem, they're probably enticing them with corn."
Beyond feed, the shop offers such squirrel deterrents as a hoodlike baffle to be situated on the pole beneath a feeder, a weight-triggered topper that twirls off a squirrel and a tight netting that fits around a feed holder.
"Some people use hot sauce," he noted, "but I don't think that's humane."
On the other hand, Atanat says some people want to attract squirrels. The shop and online catalog answers with several feeders designed to anchor a cob of corn.
"I've never sold one from the shop," he said with a chuckle.
And he doesn't stock dried corn on the cob.
Bird feeders, which he obtains from suppliers, are available in various shapes and sizes, with one to multiple containers for various types of feed, including jelly dishes for Baltimore orioles and syrup receptacles for hummingbirds.
Hummingbird feeders — from basic $7 plastic to $40 art glass — are the No. 1 seller online.
"If you just like hummingbirds and don't care how it looks, this $8.46 feeder does the job," Atanat said.
He sells hummingbird nectar, but also advises customers that they can make their own.
"It's just sugar and water," he shrugged.
The 900-square-foot shop features a "real estate" section that overwhelms with maybe a hundred houses, from sturdy, serviceable cedar to whimsically painted pottery.
Not appearance, but construction and siting are important to bird families. As little as one-quarter inch in hole size can make the difference between safe housing and danger of predators, according to Atanat's website.
The shop's staff of four is knowledgeable about housing needs, as well as feeding preferences, all of which keeps customers coming back.
"The passion people have for feeding and attracting birds," said Atanat, "I sometimes think is like a child at Christmastime. A (sales) transaction may take 30 seconds, but the stories they have, they take a lot longer.
"I think (birding) is good for the soul, to slow down and watch what they do and how they behave," he said.
Although Atanat launched the business to answer what he saw as a consumer need, he has gained a respect and appreciation of birders. "I'm learning to be one," he conceded.
Contact Beth Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.