Stan Beard wasted no time getting something off his chest.
“The first thing I want to get out of the way is this 120-pump-thing. I’ve done a poor job of defining what that is. I want to make sure people know what that means.”
What the Director of Real Estate for Buc-ee’s is hoping to clarify is the oft-repeated, eye-popping number that came out of the company’s proposal to build a brand new facility on a 104-acre site called Efland Station.
“When you think of a pump, I’m sure most people are thinking of the metal box that sits on the ground,” he said. “When I see that, I see it as a multi-product dispenser that has two nozzles on either side. In terms of what you would call a pump, we have 60 of those, and we have 120 nozzles. That seems to be a big distinction that people like to hear.”
The News of Orange County spoke by phone with Beard about the proposal that would be the Texas-based company’s first location in North Carolina.
NEWS OF Orange County: How big will this Buc-ee’s be?
STAN BEARD: This store’s going to be 63,000 square feet.
NOC: How many Buc-ee’s travel centers are there?
SB: We’ve got 20 of these in operation. Most are in Texas, one in Alabama that’s been open for a couple of years. We’ve got one about to open south of Atlanta in Robbins, Ga., in November. We have one in northeast Alabama that is supposed to open in January, 2021. We have two under construction in Florida. We have another under construction north of Atlanta in Calhoun, Ga. Our purpose is to be the, and what we’ve become is the must-stop pitstop on a road trip. We bring a pretty substantial following from Texas. Kind of everywhere we go. In Texas we’re a bit of an iconic thing. Obviously here, we’re not. Part of my job is to educate and get people comfortable with what we really are.
NOC: What is offered inside a Buc-ee’s?
SB: We’re about a third convenient store. We have typical stuff you would see in any convenience store. We’re about a third fresh food items. Barbecue sliced up right in the middle of the store. Pulled pork sandwiches made to order. Fresh salads, fresh fruit. Homemade potato chips. Everything is made onsite at that store. Beef jerky — miles of it — and a station with homemade fudge. The other part of the odd retail offerings are things like homemade candles, hopefully from local artisans, dishes and serving ware you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Kind of an eclectic mix of really cool stuff that you would never find in a travel center. Quite frankly, some of the items you’d never find anywhere else. If we’re in a place where there’s a lot of hunting, we have hunting-type stuff. No guns or ammo, but camping things. When we’re in a place that has a lot of fishing, we sell a lot of fishing equipment. When we’re in a beachy place, we have beach gear and sporting goods type stuff for all those operations.
NOC: Is it safe to assume there will be college basketball merchandise?
SB: We’re now here in the Mecca of basketball and you will see any number of Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State merchandise in the store. We create the store around the community.
NOC: What’s the deal with the bathrooms?
SB: We have the cleanest restrooms that you’ll ever see on the highway, and I’d argue anywhere.
NOC: How many jobs will Buc-ee’s bring?
SB: We will have 200 employees from Day 1. That’s not a ramping up. That’s not an ‘at capacity,’ or ‘over the next couple years.’ That is Day 1, 120 folks who are earning a minimum of in the $15/hour range. All with benefits, dental, health, vision, 401(k), three weeks paid time off. We’re tough to work for, but for the most part, we’re a place you can work the rest of your life, if you want, and create a career. Our management structure is the only person we will bring in from outside of the area will be the store’s general manager. He or she will come from an existing store where he or she was the general manager. They might bring one assistant. Other than those one or two folks, the rest of the 198 employees are coming from Efland or Hillsborough, Cedar Grove, Mebane, you name it.
NOC: What kinds of jobs are you talking about?
SB: We have about five or six managers in any given store. There’s 200 employees. Five to 10 of those are what you would call upper-level store managers, but they work at the store. They do this for a living. The rest of the staff is basically divided up into three areas: cashiers, floor merchandising help, and kitchen/food services help. There might be 60 or 70 cashiers. There might be a similar number of merchandising people, working the floor and cleaning the restrooms; and then probably 30 or 40 or so people working with food. The wage scale first day is $15. It goes up from there. The lowest, walk-in job is a cashier. That person would earn $15/hour, which is well more than other similar jobs. Everyone else, as they gain experience, will make more.
NOC: Will Buc-ee’s use any local vendors?
SB: Most of our food comes from in-house. A good bit of our food for sale, even our packaged foods, is Buc-ee’s branded. But we definitely have a space for, let’s say local honey, or we might be able to say we have local tomatoes on our BLTs. Most of our local goods come from the handmade items that are distinct to the area. It could be wind chimes, or birdhouses.
NOC: You mentioned cookware is sold at Buc-ee’s. That’s an odd choice. Are the dishes and serving dishes big sellers?
SB: Yes. An example is the Lodge Cast-Iron Skillet. We are a vendor for them. Our 20 travel centers make up their third-largest nationwide group of sales. This is not a giant 7/11. It’s not a really big Sheetz. It’s its own animal, and that’s why we’re so popular.
NOC: Why this area?
SB: We typically locate along major freeways. Just by virtue of what we’re looking for, what we want to be is the middle point of a trip. This area, with I-40 and I-85 merging at the site of our proposed development, with 125,000 cars traveling by there every day, it’s a really good site for us. The middle between Charlotte to Raleigh or Durham. Or Asheville to Wilmington.
NOC: Why now?
SB: For the last three or four years, I’ve been in charge of the move out of Texas, we’ve been looking at going to the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky. All of these states are interesting locations for us. We try to find the best location we can find in any given area, and this is one. This is part of our business plan.
NOC: This area, particularly Mebane has been growing its manufacturing and distribution centers. Did this play a role in wanting to locate here?
SB: We’re not a truck stop. Trucks are not allowed in our facility. The fact that distribution points are near doesn’t mean anything to us. We want the traveling family. Those are our customers. It’s interesting you bring up the distribution center because that’s what this site’s going to be if it’s not a Buc-ee’s. It is zoned right now that it could be a flat distribution warehouse site.
NOC: The Board of Orange County Commissioners recently approved the Research Triangle Logistics Park proposal, albeit with concessions. Many residents and landowners were vocal and coordinated in their opposition to the plan. How do you think Buc-ee’s approach will be different from the RTLP proposal?
SB: This 104-acre site for us will make an immensely successful Buc-ee’s location. The proposed development around it — that we will own and control — of a hotel, a medical office, of sit-down restaurants, of some fast-casual restaurants with no drive-thrus, with some retail-type neighborhood offerings, you take all of that, you take 104 acres, we walked in, we sublimated our development to 500,000 square feet of floor area. We’re doing that because we need the zoning in order to get what we need to go there. Our give back is that we’re creating 40 acres of green space. Twenty-five acres that we’re not even touching. Our impervious cover is 20 percent less than what would be allowed anywhere else. Our floor area ratio is 11 percent of the total acreage. If a distribution center came in, they could build 45 percent floor area ratio. That would be 2 million square feet of floor on that land. What I’m trying to drive home to folks is this development is less intense than anything else we’ve ever done, and so much less intense and so much less destructive, and so much less harmful than anything that would go there. I think part of the reason there hasn’t been a huge outcry is that I hope people are seeing exactly what we’re asking for and what we’re giving back.
NOC: What about the closure of Exit 160?
SB: The N.C. Department of Transportation calls that (Exit 160) a "braided" ramp situation. It has lived its valuable life and it is now becoming — because of the speed and the total number of cars traveling along there — a safety issue and an operational issue. At some point, they are getting rid of every graded ramp in the state, and they’re down to two, including this one. The reason NCDOT is supportive of this project is it does three things: 1. It gets rid of a real problem for them; 2. It gets rid of it sooner; 3. It gets rid of it with us paying the bill. We’re going to be paying for all of the infrastructure that goes into that change. This is engineering data, that this will be a safer intersection for everybody to get through.