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ROTY: Feed to Full-Service

Centinela Feed and Pet Supplies started as a feed store in 1930s Los Angeles, but under the Nakagawa family it's grown into a thriving multi-location pet retailer with strong community ties.


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Garth Kemp, former KTLA Los Angeles weather anchor, and Chris Nakagawa

When he was a youngster, Chris Nakagawa arrived to work with his father to discover a box of newly hatched chicks at the front door of the family business, Centinela Feed and Pet Supplies.

“This was in the ’70s, long before ‘adoption days,’” Nakagawa said. “We’d take the chicks in, put a heat lamp on, feed them and then put a little sign up: ‘free chicks.’”

Word spread, and soon puppies and kittens were finding sanctuary on the doorstep of Centinela Feed.

The Nakagawa family purchased the venerable feed store, which opened in 1930s Los Angeles, in 1974. Today, Pet Product News International’s 2015-2016 Retailer of the Year for Outstanding Community Service places community first, with modern adoption days being an integral component.

“It sounds crazy, but we were the only feed store around,” he said. “In a way, we’ve been doing adoptions for decades; it’s just part of being in the community.”

In those early days, Centinela Feed carried an inventory largely consisting of rural necessities such as chicken scratch, rabbit pellets, duck feed and equine feed, including hay. Urbanization triggered change and, over time, pet supplies and foods replaced livestock provisions.

“As the horses were pushed out, my Dad just started carrying more of the higher-end dog food brands,” Nakagawa said. “It was a natural transition.”

Contemporary Changes
In 1989, the original building at 4307 Centinela Avenue closed to make way for development, and the business relocated. However, Centinela Feed traveled full circle when the largest location of the now 15-store company opened at 3860 Centinela Avenue in 1994.

Today, retail shoppers choose from a pet food mix including premium raw, canned, dehydrated and freeze-dried foods.

“We are pretty selective about what brands we carry,” Nakagawa said.

Included in these choices is Lotus Natural Foods for Pets, Centinela Feed’s own brand, created in 2003. 

“We sat down, put a formula together, and I traveled around the country visiting different co-packers,” he said. “We knew what our customers wanted, and Lotus took off for us.”

The success of the brand prompted the 2011 opening of the Lotus micro-cannery to make grain-free stews for dogs and pâtés for cats. The holistic, natural dog and cat food comes in raw, canned and oven-baked selections.

Beyond foods, shoppers browse an inventory that includes treats, toys, housing, bedding, supplements and health aids, litter, grooming supplies and training accessories, along with supplies for small animals and birds.

Doggie Day Camp is offered at two locations, one with both indoor and outdoor play areas.

“It’s super busy and fun,” Nakagawa said. “It keeps Centinela competitive with the big-box stores, too.”

That same location features a self-serve dog wash, used primarily by charities for fundraising purposes.

Full grooming services are offered at three locations.

Vaccination clinics are held at all stores, facilitated through Centinela’s own service provider, First Care Animal Health Clinics. More than 30 vaccination clinics take place per month, and the First Care website features a clinic calendar with dates and locations, along with a veterinarian blog, newsletter and other educational resources.

“When we first started, we saw a need,” Nakagawa said. “It’s even bigger now, and that’s why we started First Care.”

Centinela helped raise funds for local rescues and the Downey Animal Care Center in Downey, CA, during the Sleepover at the Shelter benefit.

Community First
At Centinela Feed, concern for the needs of the community is at the forefront, embracing animals and humans alike.

“Early in my career, someone I looked up to got me involved in the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles, one of the first organizations downtown dedicated to helping the homeless and operating completely off donations,” Nakagawa said.

Over the years, Nakagawa’s involvement has included helping personally at the shelter, as well as a position on the board of directors. Further, Centinela’s monetary donations have grown to include assistance in the construction of a new facility for the agency.

“It has nothing to do with pets, but it’s the community; that’s the key,” Nakagawa said. “We’ve also done fundraisers at our stores for this organization.”

Mindful that many homebound seniors often own pets and might be sharing their own meals with their furry companions, Centinela lends a hand by providing bulk pet food to Meals On Wheels West. Airtight containers, filled with fresh dog or cat food, are distributed weekly, allowing both seniors and their pets to enjoy their own nourishing meal.

In addition, a larger, citywide Meals On Wheels group is planning to collaborate with Centinela to provide pet meal delivery to a broader senior populace.

Centinela’s mission extends to helping children, too. Summer is a time of freedom and adventure for most kids; however, disadvantaged children might not have the opportunity to experience a summer camp holiday. For this reason, Centinela Feed sponsors 10 campers to attend YMCA summer camp on an annual basis. Nakagawa also serves on the board of directors for the South Bay YMCA.

“We are really behind this cause; we’ve got to stop the cycle.”

Creature Comforts
No longer relegated to a cardboard box on a doorstep, pets longing for a forever home take center stage at the many adoption days held on a regular basis in all 15 stores. Folks in search of a pet can peruse the website calendar listing of locations, dates and agencies in attendance. In addition to adoption days, support for rescues and shelters is given in the form of food and supplies.

For example, followers of @centinelafeed need only post an Instagram photo of their own pet to provide a meal to a local shelter pet. For each photo posted, Centinela will donate a meal.

Shelter pets basked in the limelight when Centinela Feed participated in Sleepover at the Shelter, a benefit for local rescues and the Downey Animal Care Center, where the event took place. The goal of the sleepover was to increase awareness of adoption at animal shelters and provide health care, including free spay and neutering services, to pets in underserved communities.

The event, which included reduced adoption fees, goody bags for adopters and other activities, kicked off with a group of volunteers spending 24 hours at the shelter to celebrate pets awaiting a forever home. To this end, a storewide fundraiser took place at Centinela Feed.

“It was a huge event,” Nakagawa said. “In our stores alone we collected almost $7,000.”

Looking after the less fortunate, both two-legged and four-legged, Centinela Feed partnered with local radio station K-Earth 101 for the Pets and People Food Drive.

“We helped sponsor the event and used our stores as collection points,” Nakagawa said.

On the day of the drive, a truck delivered more than 25,000 pounds of food, as well as clothing and blankets, at Centinela Feed.

Ensuring that newly adopted puppies went home with a starter kit of essentials, Centinela Feed teamed with the local ABC affiliate for the PuppyPalooza adoption event by providing swag bags of necessities including food, pee pads, toys and treats. In this way, each family left prepared for the new arrival.

“They had 120 some-odd puppies that weekend, and they founds homes for all of them,” Nakagawa said.

Endeavoring to curb pet overpopulation, low-cost, high-quality mobile spay and neuter clinics take place regularly at varying locations, in partnership with The Lucy Pet Foundation.

“Having dealt with a lot of adoption agencies and shelters, you really see how many unwanted animals are out there—thousands,” he said. “We are really behind this cause; we’ve got to stop the cycle.”

Communication and Education
Employee training is ongoing at Centinela Feed, and, much like taking in chicks, kittens and puppies all those years ago, the company rode the cutting edge of the education movement.

“We put our training program together a long time ago; nobody was doing anything like that,” Nakagawa said.

The comprehensive tutelage includes vendor product presentations and training.

Beyond schooling, Nakagawa looks for the right attitude in a new hire.

“As long as someone has the mindset, we can teach the knowledge of nutrition,” he said. “What can’t be taught is to be friendly, hospitable and respectful, and to have integrity. You have to come with that.”

In addition to the extensive information available on the store’s website, getting the word out includes an e-newsletter and the use of social media. Additionally, a rewards program is in the works.

For the future, Nakagawa envisions more growth for Centinela Feed, yet he remains committed to preserving that local feed-store flavor.

“We have all these huge companies in our space now really diluting the message,” said he said. “We want to stay true to our roots by being local, selective and specialized.”  


This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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