Shawn McGhee grew up on a farm in Southern California with sheep and cattle and “a dozen dogs, a dozen cats, running loose.”
Decades later, the dog and the cat are not just minor characters, but the stars of McGhee’s thriving business: Hollywood Feed.
Since buying in with private investors in 2006, McGhee’s business has grown to 25 stores, including 13 in the Memphis area and two new locations in Dallas, plus stores in Arkansas, Mississippi and Birmingham, Ala.
Hollywood Feed owner Shawn McGhee with rescue pup Lucy. Since buying in with private investors in 2006, McGhee has grown the business to 25 stores.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“Probably 15 years ago, the dog was sitting in the backyard,” McGhee said on a recent afternoon at his store on Union Avenue. “Somewhere along the way he moved to the back porch, then the kitchen, then the living room, and now people don’t think anything about sleeping in a bed” with their pets.
Fido, in other words, is a member of the family. And if he is a purebred, he is also a brand.
Sports fans want the logos of their favorite college and pro teams on everything from wallets to garter belts, and at Hollywood Feed you can find dog collars that honor your favorite Southeastern Conference football team. But you also can buy Yorkie key chains, and mugs and umbrellas and T-shirts with silhouettes of a German shepherd, a poodle and many other breeds.
McGhee’s parents worked in retail – his father’s only advice was to not go into retail – and McGhee held executive positions with AutoZone and Office Depot. He also worked for Dobbs Management Service LLC, a Memphis-based, family-run, private equity firm before jumping into the pet business.
He wanted his stores to have the feel of the old-time rural feed store, but he also saw a need to borrow from the expertise on display at AutoZone stores.
“Feed stores always had nice, talkative folks who could help you with your problems,” McGhee said. “Going back to AutoZone, we always looked for guys that knew parts and that knew cars really well. Not every dog is the same. We try to impart enough knowledge to our employees so they can help you make a great decision.”
To that end, he brings in veterinarians, Ph.D. researchers and nutritionists to train employees. He likens the familiar brand dog and cat foods on sale in grocery stores to “the 99-cent value menu.”
Hollywood Feed doesn’t just carry generic lamb and rice, for example, but different lamb combinations with varying fat contents and organic chicken and duck.
“If you’re hunting your beagle, you want a lot of fat in her diet,” McGhee said. “If she’s a couch potato dog, we turn the fat down.”
The doggie treats span the spectrum from cod skins (99 cents each) to “Bullies” for $19.99 – long, dark, roasted sticks that are considered a delicacy for humans in some parts of the world.
“It’s what makes a bull a bull,” McGhee said. “Dogs love ’em.”
Another big part of the business: doggie beds. McGhee bought a plant in Mississippi to ensure the beds were locally made and current TV spots are focused on the beds, which range in price from $49 to $114. McGhee says he pays attention to the trends in the furniture industry to make sure the fabrics and colors will mesh. Right now, chevron yellow is “hot” and tweeds are popular.
“I could take all this to China (for manufacturing) and do it cheaper,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.”
Hollywood Feed also is involved with local animal rescue efforts and many other animal-related fundraisers in town. The company partnered with the Overton Park Conservancy to fund the Overton Bark dog park. McGhee says he is in discussions with the city of Memphis about partnering on other dog parks as well.
The Hollywood Feed stores offer a variety of services, including washing, grooming and, in some cases, obedience training. For details, go to www.hollywoodfeed.com.
If it seems McGhee is trying to wrap his arms around all things dog and cat, well, he comes by that inclination honestly.
“My mom,” he said, “was one of those people if she walked out of a grocery store and somebody was standing there with a box full of kittens, she’d grab the whole box.”