Quirky Texas Chain Looks To Grow

25-store Buc-ee’s chain uses unique marketing, in-store offerings to lure Lone Star travelers.

By: Staff Writer with major help from a Houston Chronicle Article
In: Convenience Store Decisions (http://www.csdecisions.com/)
On: October 30, 2008


Perhaps more than any other Texas store, Buc-ee's implores people to use its bathrooms. Near the Louisiana border, a billboard says: "Only 262 Miles to Buc-ee's. You can Hold It." Another 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. And at Buc-ee's, they can buy things they won't find at most other convenience stores.

Of the 25 Buc-ee's — pronounced "Bucky's" — the biggest and most famous is the flagship in Luling where, along with gas, beer and soda, they sell 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's a roadside tourist attraction that will soon have a greater presence among Texas motorists. Early next year, the company will open two more flagship 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 Wharton — which means more irreverent Buc-ee's billboards on Texas highways.


Aplin's quirky business model may be shrewd.

"They're taking a product category with zero excitement and giving it some," said Betsy Gelb, professor of marketing at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. "If you can give consumers a little whimsy and humor and a little distraction from the long drive, why shouldn't they go there?" she said referring to the billboards for the Luling store.

In five years, the Luling flagship has become an institution, partly because of the billboards. The closer you get to Luling, the more of them you see: "Eat Here. Get Gas," and, "Jerky. One Of The Five Major Food Groups."