Customers are standing behind their favorite convenience store employee, Cody, a chocolate Labrador recently banned from his post at a BP convenience store in Clearwater, Fla., by the state’s Department of Agriculture.
Cody had long accompanied store-owner Karim Mansour to the store a couple times a week, except during a short period of time when Mansour experimented with foodservice.
“I tried foodservice because I had a busy business complex near my store, and there was a lot of foot traffic. At that time I stopped bringing Cody. But the business complex went out of business and all my foot traffic was gone, so I stopped making food,” Mansour said.
When the foodservice program ended, Cody returned, this time with a BP uniform right down to his very own nametag. Customer response was tremendous. “It’s one thing to see a dog, but to see a dog with a name tag in a work shirt makes it even cuter and more appealing,” Mansour said.
Cody became an overnight sensation. The six-pump BP station saw an uptick in traffic at its drive-through despite competition from a large Hess station down the street. Due to customer requests, Mansour started bringing Cody everyday. Moms came with their kids specifically to see the dog and some customers brought unsuspecting friends through the drive through to be surprised when Cody popped up at the window. Others brought their pets inside the store to meet Cody. “We’re totally animal friendly, I encourage it,” Mansour noted.
Until recently, that is.
In the Dog House
After hearing about Cody’s popularity, The St. Petersburg Times ran an article on the pup, and several other newspapers and TV stations picked up the story. The publicity brought a welcome stream of new customers to the store, and also some less positive attention.
“The Department of Agriculture came to my store, and it wasn’t because somebody complained, but because someone from the state saw the article and decided it wasn’t right to have Cody at the store,” Mansour said.
More aggravating, a state inspector had previously seen Cody on two occasions and told Mansour it was OK for the dog to stay, as long as he remained close to the counter and Mansour was not selling fresh food.
“I had permission and then he came back with his boss and they took it away. It had been at least 4-5 months since we’d stopped offering foodservice,” noted Mansour, who has stopped bringing Cody to the store.
The St. Petersburg Times had consulted the Health Department—which had no problem with Cody—before running the story, not realizing the Department of Agriculture was responsible for such regulations.
Cody’s followers are barking from all directions. One supporter created a Facebook fan page called “Let Cody Stay,” which ballooned from 200 members on Dec. 4 to more than 14,000 by Dec. 21. Customers dropped off presents for Cody and offered recommendations on finding a loophole in the law.
Mansour, who said he is treated for anxiety, currently is trying to gain a permit for Cody to become a service dog that helps alleviate anxiety, which would allow Mansour to keep Cody at his side.
Throw Cody A Bone
Mansour adopted Cody, who will turn five years old in February, three years ago. Since then, the dog’s presence has had a positive effect on him and customers. “He calms people down,” Mansour said, telling the story of a woman who came in crying, and after petting Cody for five minutes, left with a smile on her face.
Mansour hopes his customer service will inspire his new customers to return, even if Cody isn’t allowed back in the store. “Once the hype is all said and done I’m just hoping the new customers I have made will continue to come because they like our customer service—helping them out if they’re a couple cents short, pumping gas for elderly customers—compared to the store up the street.”