VOL. 126 | NO. 137 | Friday, July 15, 2011
Shawn McGhee is a family man. He has a 4-year-old Labrador retriever, a 3-year-old Chihuahua, a 7-month-old American bully and three rescue cats, in addition to his five children.
Customer Katherine Morris gets a kiss from an employee’s dog, Hydro, while buying supplies for her own dog from Hollywood Feed employee Steve Kim at 2015 Union Ave.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
He understands the importance of what he feeds his four-legged family members.
“(People) know we should stay away from overly refined foods, high-fructose corn syrup and trans fat, and that eating more omega threes leads to better cardio health, skin, mental awareness, and hip and joint health,” McGhee said. “Dogs age seven times faster than us, so it’s even more important to feed them healthy food.”
In 2006 he, with several other local business people, purchased local pet food chain Hollywood Feed to provide healthier options for his fellow pet owners in the Memphis community.
“Not a lot of people are aware what’s in their pet food, particularly from an ingredients standpoint,” McGhee said. “I thought we could bring a lot to that.”
Over the course of five years, McGhee and his partners have expanded to 16 stores in four states and reinvented the 60-plus-year-old business to become one of the premier holistic pet food resources in the Mid-South.
“Pets being a part of the family have changed over the past 20 years. They’ve gone from being someone in our back yard, to someone on our back porch, to our laundry room to our sofa and now in our beds,” McGhee said.
To meet the anticipated demand of a more aware pet owner, he consciously pared the business down, keeping his stores to an average size of 3,200 square feet, and focusing on just two species – cats and dogs.
“I felt I could really train my staff well on just those two species,” he said.
Each of his employees receives more than 40 hours of classroom training per year, meeting with doctorate-level nutritionists, researchers, veterinarians and with the brands he carries themselves.
“That’s more experience than your average vet,” he said.
Samantha Irwin has been a Hollywood employee for six years, and takes at least eight courses a year.
“You learn more about the hands-on approach of each company. You learn more about each individual food, why they did what they did, why certain ingredients were included or left out,” said Irwin, who manages the store on Broad Avenue.
She said it’s beneficial for the customer, and therefore for the pet.
“If I’m able to answer their questions, it’s better for them and they have a healthier dog in the long run,” Irwin said. “If they’re having an issue, such as skin or coat or an allergy, and I can help, they are happier and their dog is better.”
As a dog owner herself, she’s seen the difference in feeding her pet holistic food.
“I switched, and the first thing I noticed was a huge difference in their skin and teeth. They were brighter. (He) became very active and was playing like a puppy again,” she said. “There was no other thing I changed, so I attribute it to the food.”
She says the main difference between holistic pet food and an “off-the-shelf” bag is the quality of ingredients.
“It has a good meat-based protein, lots of veggies, real eggs, not powder, whole grains like rice and barley, and good quality omega threes,” she said. “You’re thinking about the entire diet, everything in the bag, right down to the byproducts and vitamins and minerals.”
Most of the stores, which include 10 in the Memphis area, two in Alabama, one in Arkansas, and three in Mississippi, carry six to eight different holistic brands of varying degrees and price.
The results of feeding holistic food are a more attractive and perky animal, according to Irwin.
“The first thing you’ll notice is a difference in their skin and coat. It’s sleeker, shinier, softer. Their skin is more pink, and they don’t shed as much, and they’re more mobile,” she said.
McGhee said he’s seen pets make a 180-degree turnaround just by eating differently.
“A customer will come in and tell me their dog can’t get up and down or off the sofa, won’t play with the kids, and I start to talk about what they feed them. I look at the breed, age, weight and activity level, and try to help their symptoms nutritionally,” he said.
“Nothing is more rewarding than hearing the customer say, ‘Oh my gosh, I thought I was going to have to put my dog down. Now he’s up and playing, running up and down the stairs. I can’t believe the difference it’s made,’” McGhee said.
He hears these stories so often, it’s hard for him to leave his work at home.
“I can’t go out on a weekend without someone stopping me to tell me, ‘I never believed what I feed my dog made such a difference.’ It’s those times when as a business owner, and a human being, you know you’re doing something right,” he said.