By KATHRYN ACREE
Browsing the aisles at Cowboys convenience store is a mini field trip around Alabama. Shoppers will find Morgan Creek wines from nearby Harpersville, Jimmy Carmack’s Pure Alabama Honey, Wickles Pickles from Dadeville, Big Sky Bread from Mountain Brook, peanuts from Birmingham’s Peanut Depot and more.
“You’d be surprised at how far people will travel to buy our Alabama products,” said Mark Mosteller, manager of Cowboys. “A lady drove here from Gadsden a couple of weeks back to get a Dean’s Cake.”
It’s the local items stocked at the front of the store that draw people in to buy more than gas and a Coke. “I’ve recently been told by a visiting VP with Coca-Cola that he’s never seen a store like ours,” Mosteller said. “We offer a lot more than what a basic convenience store does.”
It all began with Dreamland Ribs, according to Cowboys owner Alan Kidd. “That was the first thing we offered, and it was a big hit, especially during football weekends,” Kidd said. “Dreamland then starting selling big jars of the sauce, and that was just as popular.” Dreamland Ribs, in a cold case near the store’s entrance, are sold by the slab with 32-ounce jars of their sauce nearby.
Kidd knew customers traveling to the beach would recall other favorites from south Alabama, so the next items to be stocked were Priester’s Pecans from Fort Deposit and Dean Jacob’s seven-layer cakes from Andalusia.
“On the first trip I made to Priester’s, I loaded down my truck and brought all of it back to Cowboys,” Kidd said. “ It was amazing how fast people grabbed those up.”
Dean’s Cakes have become so popular at Cowboys that they’ve made room to hold extra cakes in one of the beer coolers. “It says a lot when cakes take over a beer cooler at a convenience store,” Mosteller said with a smile.
The varieties of Dean’s Cakes seem endless: seven layer chocolate, coconut, Italian cream, lady Baltimore, german chocolate, lane, red velvet and caramel. Mosteller said shoppers come in and ask for the popular “Sock It To Me” bundt cake from Dean Jacobs as well. “During the holidays, these go fast,” Mosteller said.
Another product Kidd says you’ve got to try is Black Creek Quail Farm’s pickled quail eggs from Collinsville. They come in regular and hot varieties. “That’s one I’ve sold people on,” Kidd said. “People may look and think, no way, but I’ve popped open a jar and had them sample the quail eggs and they’re hooked.”
Cowboys also carries Amish products from Miller Dairy in the Vincent area. Hoop cheese and roll butter in two pound blocks are big sellers. “At Christmas when ladies are doing a lot of baking, that butter is hard to keep in stock,” Mosteller said.
With the success of the Alabama favorite food products, Kidd decided to take a gamble and bring in another unique item, full-size Brazilian cowhides from J. Colter Home Furnishings.
“I saw these at a show in Colorado and thought they’d be popular here,” Kidd said. “I was right. Decorators will come in and lay the cowhides out on the floor and start calling their clients on the phone. They are a popular look in rec rooms and dens.”
Of course, Cowboys sells gas, if that’s all you’re shopping for by chance. They pride themselves on very competitive gas prices. “Our margins on gas are very low on purpose,” Mosteller said. “There are probably 25 places up and down 280 from 459 to Chelsea to buy gas. We work to offer something unique and we want your business.”
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