Gentry’s Poultry Company Inc.
Gentry’s Poultry Company Inc. (GPC) dates back to the early 1940s when Wesley Gentry Sr. founded a small chicken farm in South Carolina. The business incorporated in 1959 under USDA supervision. In the early days, the small business supplied live chickens to grocers, sold in cages.
“Customers would buy them live,” explains Wesley “W.M.” Gentry Jr., Wesley Sr.’s son and current owner and president of GPC. “People took them home in a paper bag with a hole in it where the chicken’s head would stick out. Once they got home, customers would slaughter the chickens themselves.”
Much has changed since GPC first opened its doors. As the economy improved in the 1950s and customers began to demand more value-added products, the business started dressing chickens in-house. Today, the business specializes in processing, preparing whole chickens and custom cuts for grocery stores and restaurants throughout the region.
GPC operates from a single facility in Ward, S.C., employing 150 people and serving retailers within a 200-mile radius. The company has also since entered a third generation of family operation, with W.M.’s son, Wesley Gentry III, managing day-to-day business at the plant.
The process of processing
GPC is involved with the life cycle of the dinner table chicken from start to finish. “We furnish baby chicks and supply the feed to growers, who raise them to the size we prefer,” says W.M. “Then we haul them back in through our processing plant and go from there. Our growers work as individual owners and contractors. They furnish the houses and raise the chickens, we supervise them being raised. Once the chickens reach a certain age and size, we truck them back to our plant. We have an in-house slaughtering operation, then we process.”
W.M. goes on to note that the company’s final product is either a whole chicken from 2.5 to 3.5 pounds dressed, or individual parts. “We supply any part of the chicken our customers want, from drumsticks to boneless and skinless breasts,” he continues. “We are wholesalers and we package fresh product for our retail customers in 40-pound and 70-pound boxes.”
The company’s chicken stands out from competitors not for size, but quality. W.M. notes that his team delivers smaller chickens than other local processors, ranging around 5 pounds as opposed to 10 pounds. “We pay more attention to quality and cater our size to the stores and their customers,” he explains. “Our customers know they can count on us for a high level of service and dependability.”
Staying on track
As part of the food industry, W.M. notes that while the recession had its effect on the business, a volatile commodities market has been of greater concern. “Corn and commodities are the biggest factors that have kept the profits squeezed,” he elaborates. “We have corn futures and soybean futures that we have to buy on the market. The pricing all depends on supply and demand. We don’t have too many farmers selling corn anymore because they can hold out and get more for it by not freely offering it at a discount.”
In order to stay ahead, the business has tightened up expenses, specifically overhead. W.M. and his team made the tough decision to cut some excess labor in order to better manage the company’s assets. “There is only so much you can cut,” he notes. “We have done everything we can to manage overhead and the commodities market is something that is beyond our control.”
Despite the challenges, GPC maintains a competitive position in the local market. The business’ products are of consistent high quality, generating consistent revenue for W.M. and his team. While the goal at the end of the day is to turn a profit, the Gentry family is honored to be able to give back to the community with a portion of profits. The business contributes to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, as well as the regional annual Poultry Festival. Beyond that, the family has a more personal cause.
W.M.’s son, Larry Gentry, was a local attorney and served in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Sadly, he passed away at 46 of a major heart attack. To continue his legacy, the family holds an annual charity golf tournament in Larry’s memory. Each October, GPC hosts the golf tournament to raise money for a memorial scholarship. One student from Saluda High School, who will be attending college in South Carolina, is selected to receive a scholarship every year. After the golfing, the family feeds volunteers and participants with a hearty chicken barbecue.
The Gentry family has built a name in the region for more than just chicken. GPC promotes a sense of community unmatched by many larger processing companies. W.M. states that his team is holding steady as the economy gradually improves and he has no major plans for expansion. As long as the business continues to turn a profit, Gentry’s Poultry Company Inc. will continue to provide quality poultry products and give back to the community.