Buc-ee’s and its leaders are a model of productive paranoia or customer obsession.
Arch “Beaver” Aplin III and Don Wasek started the Buc-ee’s convenience store in 1982. The two men had no initial advantage in a highly competitive field. Their first store was located in Lake Jackson, Texas, a small town with a population of approximately 20,000.
By obsessing more over the customer experience than others, like the other intelligent fanatic-led organizations, the two men were able to outdistance themselves from the competition. They have built a reputation of quality and cleanliness throughout southeastern Texas that has made Buc-ee’s a Texas institution with a cult following.
Part of that reputation revolves around the formerly forgotten, but highly important, aspect of travel: the bathroom. Aplin and Wasek joined QuikTrip, Sheetz and Wawa, all profiled in Intelligent Fanatics Project, in making restroom quality and cleanliness a top priority. According to GasBuddy’s survey [HERE] QuikTrip, Sheetz and Wawa have the highest rated restrooms in all states they operate 20 or more stores.
But Buc-ee’s 32 stores might soon win GasBuddy’s title for best restroom in Texas which is currently held by QuikTrip (130 stores located mostly in the Dallas - Fort Worth area). Buc-ee’s has taken the obsession over bathrooms to a new level. Significant attention to detail is given to the design of each store’s bathroom. The rooms are spacious, well-built, have plenty of toilets, not the stall variety but actual small closet rooms and walled urinals.
Although, as Aplin says, “You can build it out of gold, but if you don’t clean it, at the end of the day, you end up with dirty gold.” So, each Buc-ee’s store bathrooms are cleaned to perfection by a team of full-time employees who sole job is to patrol the bathrooms 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. QuikTrip, on the other hand, spreads the responsibility to anyone working at the store, including managers. While every QuikTrip employee is equally incented to maintain bathroom cleanliness, a dedicated staff who is a master of cleaning a bathroom is hard to compete against.
Buc-ee’s bathroom quality haven’t gone unnoticed. In May, 2012, Buc-ee’s New Braunfels location which is a Wal-mart sized “travel center” with 60 gas pumps was awarded “World’s Cleanest Restroom” by Cintas, a leading restroom supplier. The award usually goes to high end hotels and restaurants.
Buc-ee’s customers rave about their restrooms. In GasBuddy’s report comments from Texans declare Buc-ee’s has a better bathroom than QuikTrip. And, search around Google and Youtube and you are inundated by positive reviews of Buc-ee’s bathrooms.
Aplin also stated, “I’ve actually had people call me [and tell me] that they wanted our [bathroom] design so they could mimic it in their homes.”
The bathroom isn’t the only area where Aplin and Wasek stood on the shoulders of giants to see further. Food and branding is extremely well executed at Buc-ee’s. Sheetz is known for their quality made-to-order food and were one of the first to have touch screen ordering systems. Other quality convenience stores, like QuikTrip, followed suit in improving their food offerings, but again, Buc-ee’s has taken it to another level.
Buc-ee’s offers barbeque and a variety of other foods that make Buc-ee’s the “gold standard of road-trip junk food” such as: 23 varieties of homemade fudge, 20 varieties of fresh beef jerky, homemade chips, outrageously sweet pastries like kolaches, private label foods like caramel-covered corn snacks called “beaver nuggets”, and many more.
The branding and attraction atmosphere is really where Buc-ee’s stands out on its own. In addition to being found on private label foods, the beaver mascot is found everywhere from t-shirts to bumper stickers and stuffed animals. Kids can’t help the Chucky Cheese meets Walt Disney theme.
Aplin credits all of Buc-ee’s success not on the food or restrooms, but to Buc-ee’s employees. He said, “They [our employees] are the magic. The employees are happy.” The company pays a minimum 40-45% higher than other convenience stores and the pay goes up from there. Below is a sign with the company’s minimum wage.
While there isn’t much information on the incentives, like we pointed out with QuikTrip in Intelligent Fanatics Project, the pay is said to go up quickly. Aplin says that the higher pay gets them a large pool of applicants to select the best employees. QuikTrip’s CEO Chester Cadieux says that they receive thousands of applications for their lowest jobs, with a cashier starting salary of $45,000 a year [roughly $23/hr for a 40 hr. work week], and allowing them to be pickier than the elite universities.
Yet Aplin and Wasek have yet to equal QuikTrip, Sheetz and Wawa is their focus on their employees. One of Buc-ee’s faults are the limited benefits for employees, especially part-time workers, unlike QuikTrip, Sheetz and Wawa with very good benefits for all workers. This and other policies have led to a lower Glassdoor rating of 3.0 vs. QuikTrip’s 3.9, Sheet’s 3.5, and Wawa’s 3.6.
Forbes estimated that Buc-ee’s 32 stores generated $275 million of revenue in 2016. The company continues to expand with their big store formats, however, the company’s growth has been fueled by low-interest debt. How much? Aplin leaves it at “a lot of debt.” Large amounts of debt could easily tip the ship over if a black swan event were to occur.
QuikTrip, Sheetz and Wawa are privately-held companies as well, however, they’ve had a history of keeping conservative amounts of debt and have been highly cautious of overstretching. For example, QuikTrip had approximately $25 million in debt in 1990 with $489 million in sales.
Regardless, Buc-ee’s is a well-run operation that continues to build a consumer franchise. Buc-ee’s is a model for customer obsession. That obsession even stretches to the communities they operate. To demonstrate Buc-ee’s new store located outside Houston, Texas delayed its grand opening due to Hurricane Harvey. The company opened its doors to first responders who spent the night and ate free.
Thanks to @Fourfilters for sharing an article on Buc-ee’s.
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