Who knew? ES and I stopped for gas near Madisonville, TX on our way back to Houston this afternoon and I went into BUC-EE'S for a bottle of water. And I fell in love with the place. Right. Who knew? That this could happen? To me?
On my way in, I remembered my first and only other visit to a BUC-EE'S. A year or two ago, my friend Irina and I wandered into one on the way back from San Antonio. I remember two things about our stop. I bought a box of mixed fudge for us - or, really for me - to savor for the rest of our car trip. I also walked straight into the men's restroom, instead of turning left into the women's rest room. Saw the urinals and opps, backed up and out.
That's my memory of BUC-EE'S. But today, BUC-EE'S is on my hot-list. What? Yup, it's the truth. And the reason that I love BUC-EE'S is that they are such good merchandiser's. They absolutely know what they are doing. Absolutely every item in that store is planned and placed to sell quickly and easily. Everything is packaged just so, much of it sports their logo.
After looking at the multitudes of what looked like really freshly made sandwiches, I nearly walked out with two. Just because. What's going on here? There was a counter-like surface covered with monitors in front of several spacious prepared food counters. Just like checking in for a flight. Point to an object on the monitor and it's prepared especially for you. You just have to remember your number. They'll announce it throughout the store over a loudspeaker.
I saw lots of employees, all busy, all engaged, all in red tee shirts with logos. Lots of young high-school age employees in those red tee-shirts - all looking happy to have a job, but maybe making minimum wage and working without benefits? That may be unfair. I do not know what their wages or hours are.
I went into the women's restroom, veering away from the men's room this time. Big, very clean, no wet floors, spacious stalls. Who could not be impressed and happy to be there? Goodbye to Exxon and Shell and Valero's often messy, untended restrooms. And the artwork displayed just outside the restrooms is so Texas. Cowboys and an oil field. Don't you know they sell lots of those framed pictures for dens all over this state?
I wandered down the aisles, just taking it all in. Coca-Cola served up - just like an old-fashioned ice-house would. My favorite cherry sours. Back in the day, I'd have bought a couple of packages right on the spot and eaten the first package in one sitting.This afternoon, my thought was, "They're totally high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavoring and very bad red dye." I did NOT buy even one package. But, I did buy a piece of orange vanilla fudge just because I couldn't help myself. Sugar or corn syrup? Who knows?I could have purchased a pair of boxer shorts or a baseball cap just covered with BUC-EE'S logo. ES says many of his students at Lone Star College wear BUC-EE'S tee shirts. How did I not know about this Texas phenomenon? The Houston Chronicle's Alison Cook asked herself the same question in 2009 - follow this link and read all the answers and advice she received from true believers. I just may be a true believer at this moment because they merchandise their store SO WELL. It's so obvious. They know their market.
Finally, I gathered my thoughts. Remembered that I'd come in for a plain bottle of water. Yet even when I concentrated on water, I was again impressed with BUC-EE'S merchandising. Want a beverage? Look in the center of the store right behind the check-out counters. See 20-30 linear feet filled with choices of sparkling drinks. Another 10-20 feet lined with assorted coffee machines.
And that plain bottle of water? Well, that was way, way in the right hand back corner of BUC-EE'S. Available, of course, but how many shoppers are going to get past that bank of super size beverage dispensers for a plain bottle of water?
I could have done Christmas shopping. I realized after I left the store that I'd seen perfect gifts for Caroline and Queta. There is no BUC-EE'S mail order catalogue. I've already checked on-line. Now, I'll have to drive to Pearland - the nearest BUC-EE'S from Houston, to get those two gifts.
In a daze, I left the store and began to walk toward the spot where I'd left ES refilling the gas tank. A lady tapped me on the arm and said gently, "I think someone is trying to get your attention. Are you with him?"
And there was ES, reparked near the main door, patiently waiting. "What were you doing in there?"
"Oh, I wish you'd seen. Every bit of it," I said to ES. "BUC-EE'S is an absolutely terrific merchandiser. It's just perfect."