What you're selling vs. what makes you money

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One of the things we talk about endlessly at H.S. Dracones is the fact that people make choices based on their emotions. We’ve written before about how you can turn that reality into a business strategy by building a product that is experience driven. These aren’t new concepts, and yet they are challenging to put into practice, especially for the practical entrepreneur/engineer who thinks their product’s value should speak for itself. Not to mention - building a great experience can cost money, and it can be hard to know if that investment is really seeing a return. The secret is in understanding what the real value of your product is to your customer, and then building a product around that. The tricky part is that sometimes the thing that your customer values is not the thing that actually makes you the big bucks.

When we wrote about Dick’s Last Resort we touched on this. We talked about how the value of the experience was what people were paying for, rather than the food. But the concept doesn’t has to be as complicated as creating a kooky gimmick for an entire restaurant staff to buy into. It can be much, much simpler.

A great example of this is a gas station/convenience store chain with a cult following in Texas: Buc-ee’s. Buc-ee’s locations dot the Texas freeways across the state, along with innumerable billboards advising travelers of how many miles they will have to wait until the next location appears on the horizon. We got the inside scoop on Buc-ee’s from a fellow who knows a thing or two about providing value and experience at just the right time and place - a bartender at an airport bar. He said that when he and his wife are on a long drive they will pass up any number of signs for gas and food to hold out for the next Buc-ee’s. We asked why and the answer was simple: “She refuses to go to the bathroom anywhere else.”

Texans talk about Buc-ee’s bathrooms with reverence and mysticism, like some sort of urban legend that nobody can quite explain. “Some people swear that workers clean the stalls after every single person” a fellow traveler chimed in from a few seats down the bar. Our bartender nodded his head in solemn agreement. “It’s really incredible.”

Lest you forget - these two guys were talking about a bathroom. Not just any bathroom. A public bathroom as a roadside gas station. At a gas station!

Buc-ee’s has a lot of other things going for it besides clean bathrooms, from fair wages to employees to handmade fudge and made-to-order brisket sandwiches, there are a lot of other reasons to stop and support this quirky establishment. But at the end of the day, Buc-ee’s knows the thing that drives most people to pull over on the side of the highway is a restroom.

The big thing here is that they definitely spend a lot more on their restrooms than they need to. They don’t stay that clean without a heavy investment in supplies and labor. But they know that once you walk through the store to get to the bathroom, you will walk out with something else in your hands - probably something you had no intention of purchasing previously.

In other words, Buc-ee’s has figured out the magic formula of balancing what they are selling and what actually helps them to turn a profit. They are selling a clean and comfortable place to stop and use a restroom in the midst of a road trip - a brief respite from the cramped discomfort of sitting for hours in a car. But what makes them money is the armful of merchandise and food that you walk out with afterwards.

This win-win model is built off a simple premise of an empathetic business strategy. It’s based off envisioning what they customer actually needs vs. what they might want, and then finding a way to deliver both. By offering up the need for free, Buc-ee’s makes money off the things their customers want without a hard sell, and earns major loyalty points along the way.

Of course, technology is a different beast than a beaver-themed roadside convenience store. But the basic principal still applies. Your product has a variety of benefits and differentiators. Which of these is the thing that will make your customers pass up the “gas station on the right” and drive the extra mile for you? The point is to pay special attention to the needs of your customers as opposed to fixating on the thing you want to sell. Get creative and think about the entirety of their experience, and the answer may surprise you.