Customers are Key, Aplin Tells Bauer Students
When it comes to good business, it’s all about the customers, according to Buc-ee’s founder Arch “Beaver” Aplin, III, who gave students from the C. T. Bauer College of Business insight on his approach to building a successful organization during a special Distinguished Leaders Series talk on April 10.
Aplin first met with a group of Bauer student leaders before participating in a question-and-answer session led by longtime friend and financial advisor Champ D. Warren, III, in Cemo Hall’s Stubblefield Auditorium.
The discussion covered a range of topics, including the beginnings of the popular Texas convenience store chain and what it took to make the cartoon beaver a regional favorite. Aplin revealed to students his secret for business success.
“If you are able to develop a business plan where you focus your energy on just a few simple, basic points and put that together with a sprinkle of passion for what you do, that is the true holy grail of entrepreneurship,” he said.
Aplin started Buc-ee’s with humble beginnings, opening the first store in Lake Jackson before expanding to over 20 locations across the state, most notably the expansive 67,000-square-foot travel stop in Luling nestled on Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio.
“I always knew I was going to do something in business. I didn’t have a plan, but my father was an entrepreneur and business was always interesting to me,” Aplin said. “I had a dream in the back of my mind.”
The mission of Buc-ee’s is very basic, he said, with three simple principles upheld in every store — keep it clean, keep it friendly and keep it in stock.
Warren and members of the audience also asked Aplin about more specific business decisions that are now signature parts of the Buc-ee’s brand, from the cartoon beaver mascot (created for free by an artist at a sign company, Aplin shared) to why the Luling location doesn’t have squeegees near its 120-plus gas pumps (a conscious choice, he said, not to provide an amenity that couldn’t realistically remain clean).
Another topic of discussion were the eye-catching Buc-ee’s billboards that dot roadways as far flung as Florida.
“Some people have said that our billboards are too expensive and sometimes not easy to obtain, but it’s something that helps my customers feel like a big family,” Aplin said. “Letting the customer down is unacceptable.”
With six new stores on the horizon, including a Texas City location slated to open in May and one in Baytown opening at the end of the year, business is also a numbers game, he told students.
The only way to continue building stores, Aplin said, is to check the balance sheet monthly and analyze volatile oil and gas prices weekly. He encouraged Bauer students interested in starting businesses to employ a good accountant and to learn as much as possible before starting by getting experience through internships.
“I’m not building for now, I’m building for my future,” Aplin said. “The way to make sure you can build for your future is to make certain that no matter what walk you walk, you are able to back it up and give your customers what you promise them.”
Bringing in speakers like Aplin gives Bauer students the opportunity to couple classroom lessons with real-world examples, Dean Latha Ramchand said.
“This is what is unique about Bauer College, compared to other business schools,” she said. “We have access to successful yet approachable industry experts who can share their knowledge with us. What a treat it is to have Beaver talk to our students about how he provides the ultimate customer experience.”
By Danielle Ponder