Eat Here. Get Gas.'

Billboards, merchandise mix, more create cult following for Buc-ee's

Published in CSP Daily News

HOUSTON -- Perhaps more than any other Texas store, Buc-ee's implores people to use its bathrooms, said The Houston Chronicle. Near the Louisiana border, a billboard says: "Only 262 Miles to Buc-ee's. You can Hold It." Another one reads: "Restrooms So Clean We Leave Mints in the Urinals." The idea behind the billboards: When motorists pull in to use the restroom, they are likely to buy.

Of the 25 Buc-ee'spronounced "Bucky's"the biggest and most famous is the flagship in Luling where, along with gasoline, beer and soda, they sell things consumers will not find at most [image-nocss] other gas station/convenience stores, such as peppered elk jerky, 18 kinds of homemade fudge, private-label peach salsa, hunting supplies, smoke pits and souvenir T-shirts and bumper stickers for their almost cult-like fans.

It is a roadside tourist attraction that will soon have a greater presence among Texas motorists.

Early next year, the company will open two more stores similar to the Luling operation: one connecting Houston and Dallas on Interstate 45 in Madisonville and the other between Houston and Victoria on U.S. 59 in Whartonwhich means more irreverent Buc-ee's billboards on Texas highways, the report said.

The Madisonville store will be almost twice as big as the one in Luling. Asked by the newspaper what he will put in the Madisonville store with all the extra space, Buc-ee's owner Beaver Aplin said, "More stuff."

When the Lake Jackson native opened his first Buc-ee's in 1982, it was a conventional station/c-store. Since then, Buc-ee's has become a retail category all its own. Even the smaller stores hold surprises, said the report. At the Shadow Creek Parkway Buc-ee's in Pearland, for example, seven touchscreen kiosks at the gasoline pumps allow customers to save time by custom ordering sandwiches while filling up. Inside, there are 100 varieties of wine, potato chips made on site, an upscale coffee operation, elegantly packaged French and Italian olive oils, 48 flavors of Jelly Bellies and scores of private-label products. ( Click here to view more photos.)

"We're just starting to get in our Christmas gift items," Ronnie Miller, the store's general manager, told the Chronicle.

And two additional Buc-ee's are being built in the Houston area: one on Grand Parkway in the Richmond area and another on U.S. 290 south of Fairfield. The company already has two Houston-area stores, both in Pearland. ( Click here to view the sites.)

"If you can give consumers a little whimsy and humor and a little distraction from the long drive, why shouldn't they go there?", Betsy Gelb, professor of marketing at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, told the paper.

Fuel sales make up two thirds of Buc-ee's sales, Aplin said. At most locations, Buc-ee's sells its own gasoline brand. Aplin was not willing to share numbers, but said his business is solid.

Other billboards include:

"Eat Here. Get Gas." "Jerky. One of the Five Major Food Groups."

The flagship Buc-ee's draws a vivid mix of big city and small town customers, and on weekends they come in droves, said the report. Busloads of soldiers and students poured in on a recent Sunday.

Aplin, 50, opened his first Buc-ee's about two years after graduating with a construction engineering degree from Texas A&M University. He worked briefly in his family construction and development business before going out on his own. He had been influenced in his youth by his grandfather, who owned a general store and gas station in Harrisonburg, La.

Aplin is in charge of design, construction and finance for Buc-ee's, while his partner Don Wasek manages operations.

Two years ago, the San & Lou ad agency was hired to bring more focus and personality to the billboard campaign and overall Buc-ee's brand. The name "Buc-ee's" is a takeoff on his own name "Beaver." His real name is Arch Aplin III. He got the nickname "Beaver" from his mother, he said.

Aplin gets hundreds of e-mails of appreciation a month, he said. A soldier in Iraq wrote that he slapped a Buc-ee's beaver logo sticker on his tank. "In our industry you don't expect someone to send fan mail about a gas station. It makes you feel good," Aplin told the paper.

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