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Gilding the Corners

Buc-ee’s stores reminds us that first impressions can make all the difference in the world.

Buc-ee's Store

Once again, the Cliffords loaded up the family minivan and began our journey down the East Coast towards sunshine and seasides as so many have done in Spring Breaks gone by. This annual tradition is steeped in many rituals, some old, some new; fights in the car, requests for more screen time, and stops along the way for food, fireworks, and tourist traps. Some of the names are legend and some are just now making their mark. I was struck by the stark contrast between sleepy old South of the Border and a scrappy new rest stop called Buc-ee’s. One’s on the way out, one on the way in. We didn’t stop at South of the Border this time because it’s such a hollow husk of its former glory in my 1980s youth. On the other hand, I’d never heard of Buc-ee’s before. My son begged us to stop. I overshot the exit and drove 15 miles out of my way, but dammit we stopped. I was glad we did.

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Buc-ee’s can best be described as a highway disruptor. Dirty bathrooms? How about bathrooms so clean and bright you’ll be blinded by their dazzle? Lousy snacks? How about an acre of chips, hot food, beef jerky, and cold drinks all private-branded Trader Joe’s style? Crowded gas pumps? How about 200 pumps with no wait? Welcome to Buc-ee’s. I’ve been walking this earth for a bit and have never seen anything like it. They’ve taken all the things we love to hate about the family road trip and turned them upside down. In a world where we’ve all been stopping at the same mungy rest stops on the New Jersey turnpike for decades thinking nobody cares (they don’t), enter a company reimagining something completely mundane and turning it into a cash machine.

Buc-ee’s doesn’t have too many locations on the East Coast or that much signage, but when you get there, it’s slammed with people. Word’s gotten around that, instead of cutting corners like 99 percent of the rest stop world, Buc-ee’s is gilding them. The end result is an experience in an environment where you’re instantly put in the “take my damn money” mindset.

I bet you’re thinking that Buc-ee’s is charging more for their products. Nope. The bathrooms are free, the gas is a commodity, and the food is all priced very reasonably. They’re just selling more of it and growing their average transaction size because they’ve established a brand people get excited about. Each of my kids wanted (and got) their own Buc-ee’s t-shirt. We met folks in the parking lot who make Buc-ee’s a destination. In short, everyone who stops for gas enters the store, happily spends $50–$100 on competitively priced products, and leaves a raving fan.

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What can we all learn from Buc-ee’s? Think of first impressions that your customers experience every day. Your vans, uniforms, showroom, or website. You don’t notice as much because you’ve become noseblind. My old boss at Scout camp used to tell me: “It’s not your first time, but it is theirs.” There’s plenty we could be doing in our businesses to deliver a better Buc-ee’s experience, and I plan on sharing that during my next all-hands company meeting. It all boils down to our people and their belief in our mission and culture. I guarantee Buc-ee’s is obsessed with their customer experience and training their employees around their mission. Custom installation is no different. If we all decided to work backwards from the customer experience and invested heavily in employee training — especially during their first 90 days — we could change our entire industry overnight.

What will you do to stop cutting and start gilding the corners?

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.