Cullman’s sprawling Mary Carter Store prepares customers for almost any eventuality

Cullman’s sprawling Mary Carter Store prepares customers for almost any eventuality
Raymond Young, left, opened Mary Carter Store in 1964 and still comes in six days a week. Son Jeff Young, right, makes sure the store stays up with modern sales and service technology. (Melissa Johnson Warnke/Alabama Retail Association)

“People ask me when I am going to retire, and I say, ‘I retired 14 years ago,’” said Raymond Young, owner of Mary Carter Store in Cullman.

“I do this for pleasure, because I enjoy it. If you enjoy something, it’s not work.”

Young loves his work so much, you can find him at his store six days a week, alongside his family. His wife, Brenda; sons, Jeff and Jeremy; daughter, Jennifer; and brother-in-law Fred Osborne all work in the store, too.

“People can tell that there is a different type of cohesion when they come in; we aren’t just coworkers, we’re family,” said Jeff Young, Raymond’s oldest son.

Deciding to go ‘all-in’

It was 1964 when Young opened his store in downtown Cullman. At the time, he was also a full-time teacher, so the store was small and sold only paint. He kept adding merchandise until he eventually had a decision to make.

“It grew to the point where I either had to quit teaching, give up the store or vice versa. I decided to go full time with the store,” Young said.

The name Mary Carter was a paint store franchise. While the brand went out of business in the 1980s, Young decided to keep the name, and today Mary Carter is a one-of-a-kind hardware and general merchandise store with four separate but connected departments. It still offers a large selection of paint and painting supplies, but now carries everything from fishing tackle to Radio Flyer wagons to ice cream freezers and everything in between. Mary Carter Store is also known for its framing shop, which Osborne oversees.

Jeff Young, who graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology, brought his technical education and expertise back to the store, upgrading software, phone and point-of-sale systems. He also built up the store’s high-tech automotive key and remote capabilities, making it one of the fastest-growing components of the business.

“Where else can you get an extra OEM 2017 Nissan Altima proximity remote and buy a cast-iron skillet and a box of live fishing worms all under one roof?” asked Jeff.

While the store’s physical growth has almost eclipsed an entire city block in downtown Cullman, that’s not the only eclipse phenomenon that’s affected the family business.

Back in August 2017, when everyone seemed to be scrambling to get their hands on a pair of solar eclipse glasses, Mary Carter Store had several thousand pairs on hand, thanks to Jeff Young’s foresight.

“We sold almost 13,000 pairs of solar eclipse safety glasses in four days. We paid a little over $4 a pair for the glasses and sold them for $4.99 a pair. Our main measure of success was that we protected 13,000 pairs of eyeballs,” Jeff said.

In its 54 years, Mary Carter Store has grown until it occupies almost an entire city block in Cullman. (Melissa Johnson Warnke/Alabama Retail Association)

Staying relevant

For the Young family and Mary Carter Store, metrics in the traditional sense are not used. Raymond Young explained he measures productivity through candid conversations over dinner and targeted questions and answers exchanged throughout the day.

There are, however, continued plans to adapt to modern consumer preferences.

“Our next technological investment will be a new point-of-sale system, working with an online sales store. We want to create a bridge into the 21st century,” Jeff said.

While the family works to ensure the business remains relevant, what has made the business successful for more than half a century will never change.

“Patience, gratitude and humility have gotten us this far and will continue to ensure our success in putting our promises, plans and dreams into actions,” Jeff said.

Mary Carter Store at 104 Fourth St. SE in Cullman is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Visit online at marycarter.com.

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