“You bet your nuggets we’re open”â€”This phrase, accompanied by a cartoon beaver sporting a red baseball cap, decorates interstates across Texas on the characteristic billboards Buc-ee’s is well known for. Arch “Beaver” Aplin ’80, founder and CEO of Buc-ee’s, has blazed the trail in the modern convenience store experience, and Mays students were fortunate to hear from him in a recent lecture and small group discussion.
“I was 22 years old and dreaming big,” Aplin says about founding his first Buc-ee’s. He graduated in 1980 with a construction science degree from Texas A&M. After a few months of working in his family’s construction business, he meshed his love for building and his entrepreneurial talents and “on a whim,” opened Buc-ee’s in Lake Jackson, Texas. He was fresh out of college with big ideasâ€”but no plan at all.
Buc-ee’s founder and CEO Arch Aplin ’80 advised students, “Step back and look at your business from the customer’s standpoint.” (view more photos)
Aplin recounts the now-humorous story of buying the property to build Buc-ee’s by writing a $52,800 hot check (which he doesn’t recommend to students) and quickly sorting things out. Before he knew it, he was in the business of Buc-ee’s, which has now expanded to 30 Texas locations.
Aplin offered advice to the budding entrepreneurs: “Building a successful business is a lot of small ball,” he says. “There’s no grand slam, it’s all consistency.”
He emphasizes that focus is one of the more crucial professional traits to possess. “Entrepreneurs want to do everything. They can’t say “no,'” Aplin says. “But it’s dangerous if you try to be everything to everybody”â€”which he admits he’s done.
“Nobody is worse at getting distracted than me,” he jokes of his entrepreneurial tangents. A few years ago, Aplin read a book about the founding of Starbucks and asked himself, “Why can’t I get into this $4 coffee business?” He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment, training of baristas, and making space in stores, but the sales were dismal because Starbucks and Buc-ee’s have differing atmospheres. The moral of the story? “Don’t run down every rabbit trail that’s out there. Find your niche and stick with your momentum.”
Aplin also spoke on branding. “Create a product or experience that expands your radius of influence by exceeding expectations,” he says.
When Aplin started Buc-ee’s, he wanted his company to go above and beyond by being clean, friendly and in stock. He says that Buc-ee’s targets the female customer with the “fabulous restrooms,” well-lit parking lots, spacious aisles and clutter-free front windows. Paying attention to these details is key, Aplin says. “Step back and look at your business from the customer’s standpoint.”
These details have set Buc-ee’s far apart from competitors. From “beaver nuggets” and wasabi peas to candied jalapenos and beef jerky, the Buc-ee’s brand has exploded with a cult-like following around Texas.
Aplin is constantly looking for new ways to retain these customers and expand his business. “Having an exceptional product and exceptional people is what matters,” Aplin says. “And, of course, a few funny billboards don’t hurt.”