January 24, 2013

The Building Blocks Of A Great Company, According To Buc-ee’s Founder

“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.

  1. 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.
  2. aplin

    “No one starts at the top,” Buc-ee’s founder Arch Aplin ’80 told students. “You must start at the bottom to build a great company, then a great brand.”

    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.

  3. 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?’”
  4. 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.
  5. “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

About 12 Impacts of the 12th Man: 12 Impacts of the 12th Man is an ongoing series throughout the year highlighting the significant contributions of Texas A&M University students, faculty, staff and former students on their community, state, nation and world. To learn more about the series and see additional impacts, visit http://12thman.tamu.edu/.

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9 Comments to The Building Blocks Of A Great Company, According To Buc-ee’s Founder

  1. As a 1978 Aggie graduate, I congratulate Arch Aplin on his business acumen as the founder of Buc-ee’s.

    However, Arch, I do have a perennial bone to pick with Buc-ee’s…..and it has to do with the visual pollution created by your countless billboards erected every 10 miles on most of our interstates and highways across Texas.

    I know you need to advertise, but billboards are an eyesore, period. I have personally avoided setting foot in a Buc-ee’s for that reason, and that goes for other businesses that utilize billboards.

    Once again, Arch, billboards are basically visual pollution, period. Put your business savvy to work and find another way to market your business, and I will go out of my way to congratulate you publicly.


    Brooks Davis, DDS
    Class of 1978

  2. Brooks Davis on January 25th, 2013
  3. I personally have no problem with billboards. It is a great marketing plan. Apparently, the people who come every day and spend money have no problem with them. They just want a great product in a convenient location.

  4. Vivian on January 25th, 2013
  5. your billboards are fine we all know they are not every 10 Miles! I love everything about
    buc ee s! I just would love to see benches for us older ones to sit a bit! picnic tables for families
    Would be great! The way you have it now does keep the flow of traffic consistent.
    I am proud of your success!

  6. Margaret DeLaRosa Retired TTVN 4/30/12 on January 25th, 2013
  7. Buc-ee’s has become my family’s must-pit-stop on road trips. We vacationed in Florida last Summer and saw a billboard that said 900-something miles to Buc-ee’s. Made us laugh and reminisce about our favorite Buc-ee’s experiences.

    Anyone who would respond to this story by complaining about billboards and visual pollution, rather than congratulating a fellow Ag for a job well done, is a poor excuse for an Aggie and a boorish grump.

    My family and friends will continue to go out of our way to visit Buc-ee’s when we can and hope you keep re-investing our $ in your brand, Arch!

    JB ’92

  8. JB on January 26th, 2013
  9. I must say I have no problem with the billboards. While driving down to A & M football games with my daughter and her friend they see the signs and yell Buc-eeeeeee’s and start laughing. I think its great marketing and name recognition. Keep it up and Gig ‘Em, Congratulations.

  10. S. Bellamy '79 on January 26th, 2013
  11. I am not a business major, but the one tenant I would add to the list is to be competitive. All the marketing and brand recognition in the world won’t make up for you gas prices being a nickel higher than the guy across the street. I stopped at bucees last week for the 2nd time ever and was glad to see that the price for gas was competitive with the station down the street. Personally, the reason I shop at Wal-Mart is simply the prices and the convenience of not having to make multiple stops…..but being competitive is essential.

  12. Fred Rodriguez '75 on January 28th, 2013
  13. My only beef with Buc-ee’s is that there is not a location in Bryan/College Station!! Sure would love to have one in town but do frequent their stores elsewhere. So glad for your success and wish you the best. Time for you to bring your great Aggie company and product to Aggieland!!

  14. D. Pankratz '83 on January 28th, 2013
  15. Great Article, Kristen! It’s always good to hear about Aggie success stories. I personally love Buc-ees including the billboards.

    I think Aplin’s success is due to many small decisions that he and his company have made over the years. I would agree that the branding is key, but not to be overlooked is the fact that Buc-ees has set itself apart by being “CLEAN”. Too many companies are so focused on the bottom line that they overlook this area completely. Especially in retail, clean and sanitary brings people back and that is loyalty that a marketing program cannot generate.

    Mark Curtis ’86

  16. Mark Curtis on January 28th, 2013
  17. Buc-ees is a Texas thing…if you dont care for the billboard signs then dont visit Buc-ees ever…the billboards is part of their advertising plan…repetition causes the brain to remember and when you see the buc-ees, MOST COMMON PEOPLE STOP, unless your an enviromentalist..

    I commend Mr. Aplin success and am proud to be an aggie. From a small Lake Jackson convienence store to “my buc-ees location” in Luling when I was in undergraduate, to the one their building off of 290…I will make every effort to stop and visit buc-ees

    Gig ‘Em

  18. Mike A. on January 28th, 2013
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