In one week, we crossed the country from Carlsbad, California to Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. We’ve seen national parks, a major league baseball game, and a rodeo. But one experience stands out, above all else.
A trip to Buc-ee’s.
When you’re driving cross-country in a vehicle that gets 9.8 mpg, you undoubtedly are going to stop at a few gas stations, some questionable, some passable. But no one will prepare you for the Texas delight that includes the ‘cleanest bathrooms in the country.’
At the New Braunfels location, you’ll have your choice of 83 toilets and 120 gas pumps. This location boasts the title of the largest convenience store in the world at 66,335 square feet, although Buc-ee’s plans to beat their own record this year with locations in both Texas and Tennessee.
The store began when Arch Alpin III, who had spent summers pumping gas at his grandparents’ general mercantile and gas station, saw an empty lot in Lake Jackson, TX in 1982. He purchased the lot for $52,800 and opened a 3,000-square-foot store, naming it after his childhood nickname, Beaver, and his pet Lab, Buck. The store was named Buc-ee’s, with a cheery cartoon beaver as its mascot. It featured cheap ice and clean restrooms, two key customer pain points that needed to be solved.
And now, with 58 locations across the southern United States, this convenience store has become a cult favorite. Aside from the ice and multitudinous restrooms and gas pumps, a trip to Buc-ee’s isn’t complete without Beaver Nuggets (caramel flavored corn puffs), a chopped brisket sandwich, and a Dr. Pepper Icee. The store sells mountains of fudge, warm roasted nuts (making the store smell wonderful) 13 varieties of fresh jerky, and the Tex-Czech pastries known as kolaches. And I’m just getting started… the store boasts aisles of merchandise, Texas-inspired souvenirs, home goods, and even fishing gear.
Buc-ee’s is financially strong with each store raking in between $12 - $20M in revenue each year. It’s not surprising to see the linkage of great financial performance with excellent customer ratings. On the GasBuddy app, Buc-ee’s leads performance in every category. Texans are known for driving past other gas stations just so they can have a Buc-ee’s experience.
When I posted a picture of the Buc-ee’s sign and some Beaver Nuggets to my Instagram, I was flabbergasted by the response. Forget the saguaro cacti of Tucson and the stalactites of Carlsbad Cavern; people wanted to comment on their love for Buc-ee’s.
Why does this brand have such a cult following? Why does any brand become so beloved that people drive 21 miles out of the way, spend twice as much, and even get tattoos permanently on their skin for the brand?
Unique and memorable experiences: My family truly enjoyed walking around the store, wide-eyed and aimlessly, taking in the sweet smells of roasted nuts and barbeque. The bathrooms were indeed perfectly clean. We appreciated the friendliness of the employees, singing in unison about the brisket being fresh and ready and available with a smile when we were finally ready to check out.
Nostalgia and tradition: Buc-ee’s is iconic for representing Texas and Texan heritage. The retro-themed beaver branding only heightens the association with family road trips.
Brand values: We know Buc-ee’s can be trusted for cleanliness, friendliness, and quality. They prove it every day with a consistent experience for each customer. When you’re excited to buy barbeque from a gas station, you know they are doing something right.
Limited availability and exclusivity: Unlike 7-11, Buc-ee’s has a limited number of stores. Hence Buc-ee’s becomes a destination that people seek out, contributing to its allure. This limited availability enhances the sense of exclusivity and makes visiting a Buc-ee's store feel like a special event.
Brand inclusion: When companies make you part of their brand, you feel connected and loyal. We picked up a Buc-ee’s sticker to display proudly. When people feel invested in what you have to offer, they become excited to keep coming back and to tell all their friends. Added touches, like custom merchandise, bring an element of memorability to the brand.
Every business has something to learn from Buc-ee’s. Here are my top three takeaways:
Strive to create unforgettable experiences for your customers. By going the extra mile to exceed expectations and leave a lasting impression, you can differentiate yourself from competitors. It's the little details that often make the biggest impact.
Celebrate the heritage of your brand and find ways to create a genuine connection with your customers. These shared experiences appeal to emotions and create a sense of familiarity and belonging.
Embody your brand values – it’s the way to build trust and long-term relationships with customers.
In conclusion, Buc-ee's story reminds us that success stems from exceptional experiences, heritage connection, and strong brand values. By creating unforgettable moments, fostering genuine connections, and staying true to our core, we can build a loyal following and a thriving business. Let Buc-ee's be our inspiration, taking a cue from the beaver and building a business that stands out, capturing the attention and loyalty of our own devoted fans.