Interview with Het Spoor: A visit to PIPA, market leader in selling exclusive pigeons online

PIPA auctioned a pigeon for the very first time in 2003, to help cover the costs of their news service. Today, fifteen years later, they are more than ever the market leader in selling exclusive pigeons online. This is the result of putting high demands on both fancier and pigeon, while focusing on long term objectives.

Nikolaas, Thomas, you have sold pigeons for over 15 years. How did PIPA maintain its status as market leader in selling top class pigeons after all those years?

Thomas: "Well, on the one hand we put very high demands on our pigeons. The breeding and racing references determine if a pigeon will be considered for an online auction. Next up is a manual inspection for each individual pigeon. Every pigeon that is sold on PIPA not only has several references or an exceptional pedigree to its name, it also has excellent physical characteristics as well. Secondly, the fancier who wants to sell pigeons on our website is crucially important to us as well, perhaps even more than the pigeons themselves. We aim for long term collaborations, in which confidence and the right mindset are paramount. We have to look for the right people if we want to reach the level of quality that we aim for."

But in the end the pigeons have to do the work, right? The pigeons are sold online, not the fanciers?

Nikolaas: "I agree, but the strategy of the fancier has a considerable impact on the potential success of an auction, especially in the long run. That is why we always look at the fancier behind the pigeon breed. You cannot aim for commercial success with a fancier who lacks the right mindset. And there needs to be a match at personal level as well. You talk to each other almost on a daily basis, and working with someone you appreciate is just so much more enjoyable. We have a connection with every single fancier that sells exclusively on PIPA, and we all share an eagerness to deliver excellent quality. This is why we commit to long term collaborations. You cannot aim for the sky without long term commitments."

It is a fact that many fanciers have been selling on PIPA for many years now, despite the emergence of several new auction websites recently. Where does their loyalty come from?

Nikolaas: "The majority of fanciers that have a contract with PIPA have been working with us for 8 to 10 years. They appreciate our work ethic and our devotion. We are much more than just a broker. We see every collaboration as a long term project. We assist every fancier along the process, from selecting pigeons to handling payments; we advise them throughout the event. We want every fancier to become a renowned brand in the long term. We do not settle for less."

Aren't you afraid that your exclusivity is under pressure? It is often believed that PIPA is selling an ever-increasing number of pigeons, even though you claim to be selling exclusive pigeons only.

Thomas: "This is a question I get asked a lot. And I would have to disagree: we have sold 30% fewer pigeons compared to three years ago, with a total of about 5,500 birds across the 2017-2018 season. The main difference is that our selection criteria have become even more stringent. We continue to raise the bar, and we continue to focus on top of the rank pigeons. We are passionate about top class pigeons, not average quality birds. This is why more and more pigeons are left out. But many people are not aware of this, simply because we got rid of most of our large scale auctions. One such auction would have up to 250 pigeons, whereas today these pigeons are spread across several smaller scale auctions from individual fanciers. It explains why many fanciers mistakenly believe that we are selling more pigeons than we used to."

We can imagine that using stricter selection criteria for your pigeons has had a negative impact on turnover? And yet, you are a flourishing company with paid staff.

​Nikolaas: "Even though we did not sell quite as many pigeons, the 2016-2017 season was our best season yet in terms of overall turnover. And it looks like we are about to set a new record this season. To us this means that increasing the demands has really paid off: potential buyers acknowedge that the pigeons that we offer for sale are truly unique. Besides, we have been selling an increasing number of pigeons offline as well. Our main focus is obviously our online auctions but we are investing more and more in offline sales. People can count on us for this as well."

Do you reckon offline sales might become as big a success as your online auctions?

Nikolaas: "I wouldn't say so, we think e-commerce will continue to expand, not just in pigeon racing but in other markets as well. That is why we regularly invest in our IT department. In August we launched our third auction platform, which took us a year to develop. It is first of all more user friendly than the previous version: quicker, with an improved lay-out and better suited to the device of the user. But there is always room for improvement. We have quite a few things in the pipeline, and we will continue to invest in our auction system in the future."

One final question: PIPA is an exclusive auction house but it has a solid reputation as a news channel as well. With PIPA being such a strong brand, shouldn't you be looking for other opportunities than online auctions alone?

Nikolaas: "We have been asked several times to get involved in various projects in the past, often related to pigeon products, one loft races, et cetera. We have turned down every single proposal, simply because we only want to focus on our core business: selling top class pigeons. Our main ambition with PIPA is not to simply increase turnover or to get more staff; we first of all want to get even better at selling exclusive pigeons. We are trying our best but there is always something that can be improved upon. Being a better broker for pigeon fanciers across the globe has been and always will be our sole objective."

Nikolaas and Thomas, we are eager to see if PIPA can deliver another record turnover this season. Your determination to further develop PIPA as a brand definitely works in your favour, and so do the many fanciers that have been working together with you. They have been loyal to PIPA for so many years for a reason.

Click here to open or download the original interview that appeared in "Het Spoor der Kampioenen.