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Sugar House Journal

A bird in the hand

Dec 02, 2016 13h30 ● By Orlando Rodriguez

Rob Blackhurst and JB Leonard pose with their award. (Orlando Rodriguez)

By Orlando Rodriguez  | [email protected]

Sugar House’s independent birding retailer Backyard Birds was recently honored with the Retailer of The Year Award at the 2016 edition of the Wild Bird Expo for “Best Store Under 1800 Square Feet with a Birding Emphasis.”

The ceremony took place on September 28 in Mexico, MO, sponsored by Gold Crest Distributing. The store, located on 2698 South Highland Dr., had been nominated the year before and this year they finally took the honor.  Owner Rob Blackhurst was not able to attend the ceremony, but co-owner Trace Sweeten and fellow employee JB Leonard were. Blackhurst could barely hold his excitement.

“I kept texting JB: Did we win? Did we win?” Blackhurst recalled. “We were absolutely thrilled. It was such an honor to accept the award.”

The winners were chosen by birding industry leaders. The committee determined the victors by criteria that encompassed the stores’ efforts in advancing the birding hobby and industry, and the impact they’ve had in their local community. Backyard Birds’ exponential growth in sales since its inception contributed to its selection, as well as the expert guidance they offer for birding enthusiasts.

The 2015 nomination was the first time Backyard Birds had heard of the award, but they’ve been around since 1998. 

“My business partner, Trace and I decided to do something different,” Blackhurst explained. “And birding had always been a hobby of mine. It’s something I’ve enjoyed doing for a long time.”

The store carries 140 different kinds of birdseed and more than 60 styles of birdbaths along with hundreds of garden decor items. They also offer resources and general information for birding enthusiasts.  

“Birding is the second most popular hobby,” Leonard said. And since they’ve set up shop in Utah, they understand that in a dry state like Utah it’s a lot more difficult to care for birds. “Birdbaths are very important,” Leonard explained. “In Utah, water evaporates quickly, and that’s where birds get their energy.”

Apart from essential birding needs, the store also collaborates with hundreds of vendors around the U.S. and in Utah, selling an extensive inventory of gifts, decorations, and trinkets. Works of local artists are always on display. They partner with South Salt Lake’s Sugar Post metal artist Fred Conlon and have his “Metal Monsters” sculptures available. 

“When we first started, we didn’t have this kind of inventory,” Blackhurst explained. And when asked about working with local artists, he said, “There’s always a lot of unique stuff in Salt Lake alone.”

Since opening, Backyard Birds’ sales have increased on average 10 percent each year and have almost tripled over their first year in business. And, even during the 2008 recession, their sales increased by 3 percent. 

“We are totally independent and locally grown, all with very little guidance,” Blackhurst said.