The Need for Feed

A Houston feed store has grown in size and scope from 64-square-foot beginnings.

 STORY BY PAMELA MITCHELL

Trace Menchaca opened Flying M Feed Co. six years ago in a shed. It measured 64 square feet, just enough space for the products she sold and delivered to Future Farmers of America members.

Flying M Feed Co.
HOUSTON, TX

URL: flyingmfeedco.com
OWNERS: Trace (above), Lea, Mike and Max Menchaca
YEAR FOUNDED: 2012a
OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2016
AREA: 4,000 square feet
EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 8 part-time
FACEBOOK: facebook.com//FlyingMFeedCo
INSTAGRAM:
instagram.com//FlyingMFeed

The mother of an FFA student herself, Menchaca knew their need for feed would end when the animals went to auction at Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

“We would be losing all of our customers,” she says. “I had to come up with something to sustain us during the off-season.”

Menchaca turned to dog food. Victor, with headquarters about four hours north, was the only company willing to give her delivery-only business a chance.

“I saw that it was well rated and well respected, so I placed the minimum $1,200 order. It took six weeks to sell that.”

She did so by making another investment — back into the local FFA community.

“I took out a $25,000 loan so I could buy the animals my customers had raised. It showed I was a partner. I didn’t just sell feed. I also bought their animals.”

Thanks to that support of area young people, Menchaca now orders $3,000 in Victor food alone each week. She sells it, along with an eclectic selection of pet and other supplies, out of a 4,000-square-foot store.

An Eclectic Vision 

Located on Farm-to-Market 529, Flying M greets customers with colorful scenes painted on its glass storefront. Summertime’s “Fun in the Sun” shows a cat and dog enjoying the beach.

Inside, concrete and tile floors span what was previously two retail spaces, now connected by a wide opening. The right side features a high exposed ceiling and pet products. The left has a lower ceiling that suits its cozy boutique area and coffee bar. Wooden display fixtures in the adjacent bird, small animal and gardening sections also add warmth.

An eclectic vision applies to product selection and merchandising. Menchaca stocks what she would give her own beloved pets and what she likes herself, while also staying competative.

“We pick things that aren’t typically going to be seen in a big-box store,” she says. “Our flea and tick is Wondercide. Leashes and collars are Up Country.”

Retail shelving holds merchandise, but mixed in are repurposed antiques and other items. Pet accessories hang from ladders, beds stack in a crib, and an open locker houses gay pride gear. In the boutique, a wooden cart and table hold a favorite line of Menchaca’s: Jon Hart bags (for people).

Hand-painted murals — including a trio of Audrey Hepburn-esque smoking cats — surprise customers throughout the store, as do vintage signs, local artwork and other special finds to discover on repeat visits. Rockabilly plays on the sound system, and burning candles scent the air.

“We appeal to every sense to make shopping an experience.”

Years Of Collecting Images and Ideas Made This Store a 'Dream Come True'

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Atypical Expansion

Menchaca moved Flying M to its current location — after 500 and 1,000 square feet elsewhere — in 2016. Because the lease doesn’t allow for grooming or daycare, she applies her eclectic vision to expand in atypical ways.

At the back of the store, a door labeled “Craft Collective” leads to the loading dock area. Customers gather there on designated Saturdays to make dream catchers and sip mimosas, among other projects and adult beverages.

Menchaca also has planted a hydroponic, aeroponic container farm in the space. She grows organic fruits and veggies for both pets and their people.

“We want to provide fresh produce to our raw feeders,” she says. “We harvest every six to eight weeks with a big champagne harvest party — we look for any excuse to pop a cork — and box up ‘shares,’ just like a traditional produce co-op.”

Fearless on Facebook

All of the above has helped Flying M build a loyal customer base, but Menchaca herself serves as one of its biggest draws. She regularly uses Facebook Live to connect with a potential 4,000-plus friends and fans.

“We can reach people with three things: info about our store, info about topics of interest, and a positive, fun and uplifting message,” Menchaca says of the video tool. “It also creates excitement within the store.”

That buzz comes from her animated delivery, complete with plenty of sass and occasional singing. She broadcasts from behind the register, interrupting herself to welcome those tuning in and to lovingly tease staff off screen; a recent video included #prayfornathan as commentary on her managing buyer’s cranky mood.

Menchaca also uses Facebook Live to unpack BarkBags and MeowBags, shopping bags filled with products at a set price but with a value that far exceeds it. Those who share and use provided hashtags can win cool prizes. The bags also bring customers into the store for pickup, where they often make additional purchases.


PHOTO GALLERY (27 IMAGES) 

 

Five Cool Things About Flying M Feed Co.

1. MULTI-GENERATIONAL STAFF: On certain days, Menchaca works alongside her 20-year-old daughter, Lea, and her 78-year-old mother, Mimi. “Full-time adult” Kevin Barnett serves as operations manager, with help from a part-time staff she refers to as “the boys,” aka high school students.

2. TREAT BARS: Not only does Flying M have a Wet Noses treat bar for dogs, it has one for small animals. Stocked with Tiny Friends Farm treats, each bin features a different card from Gerbil Meets Mouse Publishing, known for its photos of small animals in human settings, such as eating sushi or playing in a sandbox.

3. M UNIVERSITY: Staff take part in a formal training program that meets weekly and mirrors the school semesters. Menchaca and senior staff teach from a syllabus that covers everything from founding principles to store operations to product information. The result: “That 16-year-old boy can answer any question about any pet food in the store.”

4. STORE PETS: STORE PETS: Rescue dog Kemah and rescue cats Crog and George live at the store. The kitties can be found lounging in the register area.

5. GIVING BACK: Flying M has donated more than $100,000 to various charities over the past three years. This includes the buying of customer animals and art at auction, as well as support of animal rescues, including Rock-a-Bully and Friends.


Online Extra: Q&A with Trace Menchaca

One book

Living Juicy by SARK

One website

etsy.com

One gadget

iPhone

One plane ticket

NYC, first class

Most significant mentor and why

Recently has become Candace D’Agnolo of Pet Boss Nation (and a PETS+ columnist!). She is a pet business genius.

Favorite business book

Greatest Salesman in the World, Og Mandino

Favorite book

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Best advice ever given

Take the day off!

Advice for a new store owner

Acquire and save as much capital as possible and do extensive market research.

I drive a Gucci Fiat. If I could choose any car...

It would be a Tesla.

What superpower would you like to have?

Mind reading

What question do you wish customers would not ask you?

“Do you want this cat/dog I found?”

What’s the best customer service you’ve ever experienced?

The Container Store

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever had to do professionally?

Fire a teenage employee after he was caught on video stealing from the register.

If your store were on fire, what’s the one thing you’d save?

Just the animals. Then my father-in-law’s Texas Farm Bureau sign.

If money were no object...

I’d break the lease and build my own freestanding building ... or move downtown to the east end.

When I meet people, the first thing I notice about them is...

Their demeanor.

Favorite film:

Blame It on Rio

Best vacation ever

Zihuatanejo, Mexico

Favorite job at work that doesn’t involve customers

Merchandising

If I weren’t a pet business owner...

I’d be teaching piano lessons.
Current career goal

To franchise

Current life goal

To convince my husband to retire

My hero is ...

Jamie Leo, artist, activist, author

I am most frustrated when ...

there is chaos

I am happiest when ...

I can relax with a cooler of beer and an NYT crossword puzzle book

Weekend activity

Astros games

The thing I worry about that I know I shouldn’t

Competitors, money


This article originally appeared in the September 2018 edition of PETS+.