“Today, I want to tell you what’s involved in building a great company,” Arch “Beaver” Aplin ’80 told a group of Business Honors students in a recent visit to Mays Business School. No stranger to Texas A&M University, the Buc-ee’s founder offers nuggets of wisdom each time he visits—this time, divulging principles that he has used to build the Buc-ee’s empire.
- Develop brand recognition— A strong brand establishes trust, says Aplin. The friendly bucktoothed beaver of Buc-ee’s has come to represent an “emotional connection” for customers, and loyal patrons of the convenience store chain associate the character with Aplin’s long-standing goal of maintaining a “clean, friendly and in-stock” store.“If customers trust the Buc-ee’s brand, I can introduce them to things like Beaver Nuggets, camo popcorn and other Buc-ee’s branded products,” Aplin says.
Don’t focus on the size of the company — “No one starts at the top. You must start at the bottom to build a great company, then a great brand,” Aplin tells students, using the example of Sam Walton’s story of Walmart to describe the effectiveness of starting small and differentiating oneself before expanding. Recalling his own experience, Aplin tells students he had no idea his small convenience store in Lake Jackson, Texas would evolve into what Buc-ee’s is today.
- Focus and consistency — According to Aplin, most great companies never had a “wow” moment or specific event that propelled them to recognition. Using the example of the “Flywheel Effect” from Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, Aplin describes that great companies are built from a collective series of small, yet strong, efforts. Each miniscule “push” contributes to the momentum of the spinning flywheel.“It’s more fun to talk about all the possibilities of the company and go off on tangents,” Aplin says, “but I always have to go back and ask myself, ‘Does this keep my flywheel spinning?’”
- Exceed customers’ expectations — This is the mantra Aplin has devoted his business to. “We have marketing people in this room and we have finance people … But it doesn’t matter what field you go into, exceed customers’ expectations.” Aplin advises entrepreneurial students to “find a reason to be better than mediocre,” and once they’ve done this, they’ll expand their business’ radius of influence.
- “Take care of your goose” — The goose, Aplin says, is one’s assets and capital. “Maintain your balance sheet so you can react when something good happens and survive when something bad happens,” he advises students.
A proud Aggie, Aplin pulled out a recent article for the students to read. Written by a Florida Gators fan in his visit to College Station for a football game, Aplin says the article identifies a key point of Texas A&M’s values —“Genuine friendliness and hospitality. It was pervasive and natural. It was culture.” The Buc-ee’s head honcho says he goes back to this whenever he is sitting in stressful, sometimes frustrating meetings. “I have to remember — I’ve gotta stay Beaver, I’ve gotta stay Buc-ee’s, I’ve gotta stay Aggie and I’ve gotta stay who I am.”
Story by Kristin MacKenzie ’13
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