POV you’re on a roadtrip to see Grandma, you’re in the back seat of the car, Dad’s driving, you’re watching your fav road trip movie (Mean Girls), and suddenly you have to go to the bathroom.

“Dad, can we stop? I need to go to the bathroom.”

The fumes start to come out of your Dad’s ears 😡. He had just asked 45 minutes ago if anyone had to go to the bathroom and you said no. 

(Plz tell me I’m not the only one whose road trips looked exactly like this LOL.)

He doesn’t want to stop at another grimey gas station for you to use the bathroom that looks like it belongs in a fraternity basement.

But just as he starts to get angry a massive billboard comes up ahead that reads:

Buc-ees? What’s that? 

Doesn’t matter, their bathrooms are Mom-approved, Dad is taking you to Buc-ees.

Marketing Student, today’s lesson is a deep dive into the enigma of a brand that is turning the convenience-store industry ON IT’S HEAD.

Let’s fill up…

In 1982, Arch “Beaver” Aplin opened the first Buc-ees in Clute, Texas. It was a small 3,000 square foot local convenience store and nothing more. But 24 years later Arch decided to take a MASSIVE risk and open a second Buc-ees store in a 17,000 square foot location.

5x the size of the original location, this new store gave Arch an idea. What if he could emulate what truck stops, like Loves, have done so well over the years, large selection of snacks and drinks, nice bathrooms, and tons of pumps, but build the model for passenger cars?

There was an opportunity there. And 6 years later Arch took it to the next level by opening a 68,000 square foot store outside of San Antonio.

Imagine if Costco had a baby with a conveniently placed gas station and the most popular BBQ joint in your neighborhood that always has a line out the door. That’s what Arch built Buc-ees to be. 

Flash forward to 2024, Buc-ees has turned gas stations into destinations, they’ve built an army of fans, and it’s a Marketing case study that shows you can turn boring into your superpower.

Buc-ees estimated revenue in 2022 was $2.5B and it’s from their ability to pull Marketing levers that their competitors didn’t even know existed.

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Example 1️⃣. Buc-ees started niche, only opening their stores in Texas. The general theme of outlandish size, options, and over the top experience fit right in with Texas’ ethos that “Everything is Bigger in Texas.”

If Buc-ees tried to get their start opening up a 70,000 square foot store in Connecticut, how do you think that would have fared? Not so well. The stores align with the people and culture in Texas, which was win number one.

On top of that, Buc-ees doesn’t allow any truckers at their stores. No semi-trucks parked in the parking lot and no pumps for them to fill up. You’re telling me Buc-ees is saying no to capitalizing on the half a trillion dollar trucker industry? YUP.

They’re only targeting passenger cars. I never thought I’d say you could create a sense of exclusivity at a gas station, but here we are, Buc-ees is doing just that.

Example 2️⃣. Buc-ees has turned their bathrooms into a selling point. According to Cintas, Buc-ees location in New Braunfels, Texas won “Best Bathroom in America.”

While their competitors are focused on being the first store off the exit with the cheapest gas prices, Buc-ees is focused on designing solid dividers between their urinals and a handwashing station from heaven.

Buc-ees identified a key pain point of the market, dirty bathrooms, and went and solved it. They realized that competing on gas prices was a race to the bottom, it wasn’t a true way to build brand affinity. Everyone can offer cheaper gas prices, but not everyone can say that there is an employee working around the clock keeping the bathrooms spotless.

This is Buc-ee’s using 7/11, Shell, and Exxon’s size against them to perfect the little things and turn them into Marketing levers.

Example 3️⃣. In front of every Buc-ees location there is a sign showcasing all of the positions they hire for with their ranges of pay. With pay transparency becoming a growing topic, Buc-ees being incredibly transparent with their pay structures is a win for attracting top talent. 

Also, what they pay their employees is outrageously higher than all the competition, they know that and that’s why they’re showcasing it. Buc-ees General Managers can make upwards of $225k a year, meanwhile the average 7/11 General Manager salary is $54k. 

It puts Buc-ees in this position that clearly shows they take care of their employees. Humans are wired for reciprocity, if we see Buc-ees doing right by their employees, we’re more inclined to do right by them and buy a pit beef sandwich, corn nuts, a sweatshirt, 15 gallons of gas, a sweet tea, a fruit cup– alright you get the point LOL.

Example 4️⃣. Their OOH ad strategy dwarfs the competition. Exxon, Shell, and Sunoco all use exit signs and mile markers to let drivers know when to stop for gas, but they’re all extremely transactional. “Exxon, exit 57.” “Shell, turn right at exit 98 in 3.7 miles.” “Sunoco, 24hr diesel, exit 4.”

This obviously works since all 3 have been in business for a while and crush it. But for a regional brand like Buc-ees looking to establish national dominance, transactional signs like the one below won’t cut it.

People’s consumption habits have been created already, you see the red and blue Exxon logo, you pull over and fill up on gas.

So Buc-ess has to snap drivers’ attention and peak their interest enough for them to choose a novel experience over what they’re comfortable and familiar with.

This sign in Tennessee is a perfect example. Locally relevant, funny, and informs drivers where to exit.

Is Buc-ees inside the car with us? How do they know we’re asking ourselves if we can hold it or not? This one is relatable, informative, and funny. 

Compare that to this Exxon billboard below. 👇

Buc-ees is taking a more relational approach to their OOH ad strategy that is clearly positioning them not as “just another gas station.” When you’re trying to break into new markets, being seen as “just another option” is the kiss of death.

You need to bring a fresh perspective, ruffle some feathers, and if you’re playing with industry giants, get excellent at the boring things and turn them into assets to pull for your go-to market.

Daniel Murray
Daniel Murray
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