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Buc-ee’s

Buc-ee’s comes to Alabama

Tomorrow, the world.

Texas road stop institution Buc-ee’s has opened a store in Alabama, its first location outside the Lone Star State.

Despite chilly weather, more than 100 people were lined up outside the Baldwin County store when it opened at 6 a.m. Monday. They were eager to experience a Buc-ee’s supersized gas station and convenience store, renowned for its cartoon beaver logo, clean bathrooms and clever billboards. Some die-hard Buc-ee’s fans drove hours to get to the store opening, said Jeff Nadalo, Buc-ee’s general counsel.

“It was packed and very busy all day,” Nadalo said. “I think a lot of people had heard what Buc-ee’s was about from friends and family who had been and were familiar with the experience.”

The 52,000-square-foot store, in Robertsdale, features 124 fueling stations and the “biggest, most pristine bathrooms the state of Alabama has ever seen,” a Buc-ee’s press release crowed. The store, has a similar layout to the new Buc-ee’s in Katy, except the Alabama location doesn’t have a car wash, Nadalo said.

[…]

Since it was founded in 1982, Buc-ee’s has mostly stuck to its Texas roots, operating 34 stores across the Lone Star State. A couple of years ago, the Lake Jackson company began looking to expand across the southeastern U.S., which shares a similar customer profile to Texas, Nadalo said.

“We’re taking the great experience that is Buc-ee’s to other states,” Nadalo said. “We felt it was something that would work well, certainly in Alabama, and we think it’ll be well-received in Florida.”

We first heard about this almost three years ago, though at the time they were aiming for Louisiana. It’s on I-10, so if you’re driving to Florida (where Buc-ee’s plans future expansions), you’ll see the familiar signs. Less familiar was this:

A lawsuit claims that Buc-ee’s illegally priced gasoline when it opened its first Alabama travel center last month along Interstate 10 in Baldwin County.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court by Oasis Travel Center LLC, alleges that the Lake Jackson, Texas-based company violated the 35-year-old Alabama Motor Fuel Marketing Act, and demands that the company halt its pricing strategies while the case is pending.

The law, passed in 1984, prohibits big oil companies from selling gasoline to the public for less than it costs to buy and transport it to a retail outlet.

Similar lawsuits, over the years, have been filed in Alabama against big-box retailers like Costco and Murphy Oil Corp., which operates Walmart gas stations.

“We contend Buc-ee’s, when it opened up two weeks ago, it opened at prices for regular unleaded and other grades at below costs as defined under the Alabama law,” said H. Dean Mooty, a Montgomery-based attorney who has represented smaller-sized convenience stores in similar cases.

The lawsuit specifically cites several dates when Buc-ee’s posted a price of regular gasoline under what state law allows. Among the dates cited is Buc-ee’s Jan. 21 opener, when regular gasoline was sold at a rounded price of $1.80 per gallon.

Oops. You really are not in Texas any more, y’all. As for the rest of us, enjoy the beaver nuggets and the clean bathrooms while you can.

Buc-ee’s and Choke Canyon settle

Our long animal mascot-based intellectual property litigation nightmare is finally over.

Popular Texas convenience store chain Buc-ee’s and Choke Canyon, a competing store that was found by a federal jury to infringe Buc-ee’s beaver logo, agreed Thursday to dismiss the lawsuit, meaning the damages portion of the trial won’t take place.

The damages portion of the trial was slated to begin in May 2019, but according to court records the parties attended mediation on Oct. 9 and entered a settlement agreement resolving all outstanding claims. On May 22, jurors found in favor of Buc-ee’s on all claims after hearing four days of testimony, agreeing Choke Canyon’s logo of a cartoon alligator wearing a cowboy hat was too similar to Buc-ee’s logo of a cartoon beaver wearing a baseball cap.

Charles Hanor, who represents Choke Canyon, told Law360 on Thursday the terms of the settlement are confidential and declined to comment further. Buc-ee’s general counsel, Jeff Nadalo, issued a statement to Law360 that the settlement meant Choke Canyon “surrendered its federal trademark registration of the offending logo, removed all offending logos and products and has paid substantial damages to Buc-ee’s.”

In the joint stipulated dismissal filed by the parties in federal court in Houston on Thursday, the stores told the court they had agreed to dismiss with prejudice all remaining claims.

“The permanent injunction the court entered on Aug. 3, 2018 will remain in full effect,” the brief filing reads. “Buc-ee’s and Choke Canyon each shall bear their own costs, expenses and attorneys’ fees.”

That injunction, issued by U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison, bars Choke Canyon from using its cartoon alligator logo on store-branded products, in advertising, or in any other capacity — including color and black-and-white versions of the logo, and versions of the logo with and without Choke Canyon text surrounding the mascot.

Hanor had told Law360 at the time it would cost Choke Canyon more than $100,000 to comply with the judge’s order. Choke Canyon has already put to use a new logo, this one featuring a cartoon cowboy who is winking and wearing a cowboy hat.

See here, here, and here for some background. For you law nerds, the case is Buc-ee’s Ltd. v. Panjwani et al., case number 4:15-cv-03704, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Choke Canyon had been planning to appeal, based on some evidence the judge didn’t allow and other factors, but in the end decided this was the better way to go. I wish them the best of luck in their non-animal-logo future.

Buc-ee’s wins in court

That was quick.

After about six hours of deliberation, a jury in Houston found Tuesday that Choke Canyon company’s alligator logo violated state and federal trademark law, infringing on the pre-established Buc-ee’s beaver mark established by the popular Texas road stop chain.

“It’s absolutely not about a beaver versus an alligator,” said Jeff Nadalo, general counsel for Buc-ee’s Ltd. “There are more than 10 similarities between the two marks that we presented to the jury in this case.”

[…]

The judge asked the lawyers to meet and try to hammer out an injunction on how to deal of trademarked materials that violate the jury’s finding.

The damages phase of the trial remains pending.

See here for the background, and here for a later version of the story. Six hours of deliberation for a week-long trial is pretty darned quick. I may have been skeptical based on my view of the two logos, but I wasn’t there in court and neither were you. We’ll see what the damages look like.

Beaver v alligator

It’s a roadside rest stop animal logo legal smackdown, and it’s off to the jury.

Buc-ee’s, a popular chain of Texas pit stops, fought hard to build its reputation and wants a San Antonio-based competitor to stop “riding its coattails” by using a logo that confuses highway travelers into pulling off at a rival business, the company’s lawyer told jurors in his closing statement Monday in Houston.

“We don’t want to put Choke Canyon out of business,” said Buc-ee’s lawyer, Tracy Richardson, poised between poster boards displaying similarly colored T-shirts, beer koozies and plastic grocery bags with the animal logos from the two rival chains. Buc-ee’s just wants Choke Canyon’s owner to curtail what it views as an unfair ad campaign: “We just want him to stop using the logo.”

Richardson and the lead attorney for Choke Canyon offered closing pitches to jurors before they began deliberations Monday afternoon, following a week of testimony about the dueling roadside travel centers in a federal trademark case before U.S. District Judge Keith P. Ellison. The jury of three women and nine men will resume deliberations Tuesday.

The lawsuit brought by mega-chain Buc-ee’s claims that Choke Canyon’s alligator logo, posed against a circular yellow backdrop, is too similar to the buck-toothed beaver that is synonymous with its 33 gas stops. The Buc-ee’s chain, headquartered in Lake Jackson, also contends that Choke Canyon illegally mimicked its in store offerings, including friendly service, ample stock and plentiful, clean bathrooms.

[…]

[Defense attorney Charles] Hanor said the two trademarks are quite different, as are the offerings. The alligator is advertising a chain that specializes in barbecue, he told jurors, noting that Buc-ee’s only complained in court about its road stop competitor when Choke Canyon sought to open a chain in New Braunfels, where Buc-ee’s also had operations.

Trademark law doesn’t give either company a hold on any one attribute of their logo. Instead, the jury will consider the strength of Buc-ee’s logo, the similarity between the two logos and the stores’ product lines and whether Choke Canyon set out to or actually did confuse customers with the overlap.

It’s a balancing act, the judge explained in his directions to the jury. The goals of trademark law are to protect the public from being misled, to protect the rights of businesses to identify themselves in public and to protect the public interest in fair competition, Ellison said.

See here for some background. Earlier stories from the trial are here, here, and here. As I said when news of the lawsuit first appeared, I think Buc-ee’s is stretching it here. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen a Choke Canyon, but I don’t see how a reasonable person could confuse the two. That’s up to twelve jurors here in Houston to decide. I wish them luck.

Back to court for Buc-ee’s

They seem to do this a lot.

Buc-ee’s, the local convenience store chain known for clean restrooms, cheap gasoline and its cartoon beaver mascot, is trying to stop a Nebraska company from muscling in on the Texas market with plans to build stores called “Bucky’s,” the latest development in a decade-long dispute between the dueling convenience store chains with names that sound the same.

Eleven years ago, both companies filed for trademarks months apart to protect their growing companies. After a legal battle, the two reached a truce: Bucky’s in Nebraska agreed that the Texas firm could continue to use “Buc-ee’s” because the names, logos and market area of the two operators were different enough that consumers were not likely to be confused, according to the 2009 consent agreement.

The agreement allowed the two chains to co-exist because of their geographic distance, said Steve Levine, a trademark lawyer in Dallas. The peace lasted eight years until Bucky’s owner, Buck’s Inc. of Omaha, broke the truce with its Texas expansions plans.

“Bucky’s in Nebraska has really, really upped the ante by moving into Texas,” said Levine.

Buck’s has teamed up with developers to begin building at least six “Bucky’s” convenience stores within the next year, including locations in Houston and Nassau Bay, according to the lawsuit Buc-ee’s filed Tuesday in U.S. district court in Houston. Buc-ee’s alleges that Buck’s – which does business as Bucky’s in the Midwest -is trying to confuse the public by using a similar sounding name and is seeking a court order to stop the plans from moving ahead. Bucky’s has already bought property, applied for zoning permits and obtained liquor licenses for an unspecified number of stores, according to the lawsuit.

[…]

Buc-ee’s accuses its rival of trademark infringement and unfair competition. Shawn Bates, a commercial trial lawyer who handles trademark cases in Houston, said the case will likely revolve around the issue of consumer confusion. The question is where people who see a sign for “Bucky’s” will get off the highway believing they’re heading for a “Buc-ees” with its wide selection Texans’ favorite foods and Lone Star tchotchkes.

“In my mind when people say Buc-ee’s, they’re talking about the beaver” not how its spelled, said Bates a Buc-ee’s fan who stops at every opportunity for the honey pepper flavored jerky.

This is the third trademark lawsuit that Buc-ee’s has filed in recent years, in addition to their previous wrangling with Bucky’s. Who knew the interstate rest stop business was so contentious? This one I understand more than the earlier ones, as the potential for confusion between “Bucky’s” and “Buc-ee’s” seems clear to me. But as always, we’ll see what a jury makes of it.

Buc-ee’s files another logo lawsuit

That’s one litigious beaver.

Buc-ee’s has sued the San Antonio-based operator of Choke Canyon Travel Center for promoting its barbecue and other travel essentials with its grinning, lip-licking, hat-wearing, finger-pointing alligator. The alligator sits in a circle -much like Buc-ee’s beaver — and adorns a wide range of products, from sweet and salty snacks to bags of ice to tee shirts.

The alligator, however, doesn’t have a name.

[…]

The case, which was filed late last year, alleged that the Choke Canyon convenience store, along with Choke Canyon Bar-B-Q and Choke Canyon Exxon, infringed on Buc-ee’s trademark by copying the look and feel of the roadside retailer, which has grown to 27 locations across Texas. Choke Canyon has three locations in and around San Antonio. Neither the owner of Choke Canyon or his lawyer returned calls seeking comment.

Besides the logos, Buc-ee’s alleges that Choke Canyon copied several other features, including oversized bathrooms, numerous fuel pumps, ample parking and a similar looking soda station. Buc-ee’s first learned of its competitor in December when it began receiving inquiries from vendors and customers about the Choke Canyon Travel Center, according to the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison set the trial for early next year.

Buc-ee’s won its previous logo lawsuit, against a company that also used a beaver in its branding. I get the zeal to protect these images, but I gotta say, this one seems like a stretch to me. We’ll see what happens in court. Whatever does happen in that case, I’d prefer Buc-ee’s stick to suing competitors and suppliers, and not former employees who will be impoverished by the experience. Don’t make me feel dirty about using your clean bathrooms, Buc-ee’s.

Bu-ee’s to expand to Louisiana

The road to world domination leads east.

The first Buc-ee’s outside Texas promises lagniappe, a little bonus, worthy of its Louisiana locale.

“It’s going to look like what we build, and it’s going to feel like what we build,” co-owner Beaver Aplin said this week. But in addition to the Beaver Nuggets and other proprietary snack foods such as fudge or jerky, Aplin said, customers should expect “Louisiana flair” with items like alligator, boudin and cracklins.

A 15-acre tract along Interstate 12 in Baton Rouge will soon get one of the Buc-ee’s mega-convenience stores. The chain known for its buck-toothed mascot, a cartoon beaver, has grown to 31 locations since the first one opened in 1982.

The store could also be the first of others in Louisiana and elsewhere as the Lake Jackson-based chain explores markets beyond Texas’ borders.

Exact plans are not yet available, but Aplin said Buc-ee’s has the Baton Rouge property under contract, and the company is working with the owner and the city. The store will likely be a 50,000- to 60,000-square-foot travel center, similar to ones in Baytown, Texas City or Madisonville. It will feature sprawling bays of fuel islands and expanded food and other items for sale.

“We think Louisiana will be a great market, and I look forward to being there,” Aplin said.

[…]

Many Louisianians, through traveling or living in Texas, have been exposed to the Buc-ee’s brand, said Kelli Hollinger, director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University.

“Buc-ee’s has a cult following,” Hollinger said. “You’re not just excited to go to Buc-ee’s, they’re part of the travel experience itself.”

Hollinger said tapping into Louisiana’s food culture should further help the brand there.

Added marketing professor Betsy Gelb of the C.T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston: “You always want to be putting a toe in a state where there are people who know you.”

General counsel Jeff Nadalo said Buc-ee’s continues “looking at all opportunities in Texas and outside of Texas.”

Louisiana is the current focus, Aplin said, with other sites, including along the I-10 corridor, under consideration. None of those projects is far enough along to announce, he added.

Makes sense. Just on billboards alone, you have to figure Buc-ee’s is well known to anyone who’s ever driven on I-10. Now you can stock up on Beaver Balls on your way to New Orleans. What more could you want?

Buc-ee’s wins logo legal challenge

Don’t mess with the beaver.

A lawsuit between two beaver-loving Texas-based businesses was dismissed before it even reached the courtroom, with the bigger company coming out victorious and the other left logo-less.

Back in early July the lawyers for popular Texas roadside chain Buc-ee’s filed a lawsuit against Frio River Grocery. Lawyers for Buc-ee’s argued in the initial suit that the signage and imagery used by the small store near the Frio River in Concan was a bit too close to what Buc-ee’s had been using for years, namely the cheerful beaver character and the color scheme.

Buc-ee’s is the brainchild of owners Beaver Aplin III and Don Wasek, based in Lake Jackson. They opened up a mega-store earlier this year between Houston and Galveston and have designs on opening many more in the coming few years.

The Frio River store complied with the Buc-ee’s camp and soon took down all of their suspect signage and promotional materials, according to Lake Jackson-based attorneys for Buc-ee’s, H. Tracy Richardson III and Jeff Nadalo.

“We got everything we asked for and they complied. The Frio Beaver is no more,” Richardson said Wednesday.

“We notified the court that we resolved it between ourselves and the other side never filed an answer to our suit,” Richardson says. Planned meetings in October and November never occurred and the judge in the case soon dismissed the case.

See here for the background. As the story notes, this is not Buc-ee’s first trip to the courtroom. They’re two for two so far. Beware the beaver, that’s all I’m saying.

Beaver versus beaver

It’s a trademark infringement lawsuit. What did you think I was referring to?

In the animal world it may be that no two beavers are the same but semi-aquatic rodent diversity does not extend to the world of the convenience store, at least according to Buc-ee’s.

The Texas-based legends of convenience store bathrooms and beef jerky have issued a trademark infringement lawsuit against beaver rivals Frio Beaver, a new store opened in Concan, Texas.

The suit, filed in federal court earlier this month, contends that the new store is attempting to trade off Buc-ee’s success by copying its logo and store concept.

[…]

In the animal world it may be that no two beavers are the same but semi-aquatic rodent diversity does not extend to the world of the convenience store, at least according to Buc-ee’s.

The Texas-based legends of convenience store bathrooms and beef jerky have issued a trademark infringement lawsuit against beaver rivals Frio Beaver, a new store opened in Concan, Texas.

The suit, filed in federal court earlier this month, contends that the new store is attempting to trade off Buc-ee’s success by copying its logo and store concept.

The Southeast Texas Record appears to have had the first report on this. You can judge for yourself how similar the two logos are and how likely a person might be confused by it. It’s not the first time Buc-ee’s has gotten litigious over a potential competitor it thought was too close to its own concept or design. TM Daily Post has more.

Oh, Buc-ee’s

Ugh.

Make your own beaver joke

Convenience-store chain Buc-ee’s Ltd. has garnered lots of attention for its clean restrooms. But this week, it’s the owners’ endorsement of tea party favorite Dan Patrick, who faces incumbent David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for lieutenant governor, that’s drawn the spotlight.

Congressman Joaquin Castro has bashed Buc-ee’s owners over the endorsement and Monday called for a boycott of the stores.

In a tweet, the San Antonio Democrat said he wouldn’t gas up at Buc-ee’s “since they support a fear-mongering immigrant basher.”

Castro’s brother, Mayor Julián Castro, is expected to debate immigration reform with Patrick in April after the two traded barbs though social media.

But any antipathy toward Buc-ee’s puts its critics at odds with legions of Buc-ee’s fans.

They say they love the stores’ reasonable gas prices, squeaky-clean restrooms, foods from jerky to Beaver Nuggets and shelves of Texas kitsch.

[…]

Lake Jackson-based Buc-ee’s was founded in 1982 by Arch “Beaver” Aplin III and Don Wasek.

The company operates 28 stores, mostly in Southeast and Central Texas, its website says. More are planned.

Buc-ee’s Aplin and Wasek didn’t return phone calls seeking comment about the company’s long-range expansion plans or their political stance.

Campaign finance reports show the two have donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates over the past two decades, including a combined $11,100 to Gov. Rick Perry and $50,000 to Attorney General Greg Abbott on Jan. 21.

However, reports did not reflect a donation to Patrick, likely because candidates have not filed updated reports since the March 4 primary election.

Buc-ee’s general counsel Jeff Nadalo said in an email that Aplin and Wasek have contributed to Patrick’s campaign, but “as a company, Buc-ee’s doesn’t support political candidates” and the company’s doors “are open 24/7 to everyone.”

Attorney Nadalo reiterated that distinction between the owners (Buc-ee’s is not a publicly traded company) and the company to Bud Kennedy. As Stace notes, that would make them an exception to the “corporations are people, my friend” mantra. Well, they’re free to support the candidates of their choice, and other people are free to decide what that means to them. I think you’re on solid ground if you decide you’ll just use their famous bathrooms but not spend any money there. I must note there is some nuance in all this:

In his talk in Terrell, Aplin said Buc-ee’s normally pays 40 percent to 45 percent above the area’s industry average for similar jobs.

A cashier in Terrell will start at $11 to $11.50 an hour, he said. For the Texas City store, the company is hiring cashiers, food-service workers and maintenance workers at pay that ranges from $11 to $14 an hour, its website states. When Buc-ee’s opened a 67,000-square-foot store in New Braunfels in 2012, it was a plus for that community’s economy, a local official said.

“There is no doubt that it makes a difference, but being able to quantify that is difficult,” said Rusty Brockman, director of economic development for the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce. “But I can quantify it in this way: They brought a great name and a destination to New Braunfels — a business that is clean, progressive and run by a true entrepreneur. And they brought 225 jobs paying more than $12 an hour.”

It would be easier to demonize them if they treated their employees like dirt. And if you’re not feeling conflicted now, consider this:

Buc-ee’s co-owner Arch “Beaver” Aplin gave $12,000 to Democrat Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.

[…]

Jeff Nadalo, general counsel for Buc-ee’s, told Lone Star Q on Wednesday he isn’t sure why Aplin, who lives in Lake Jackson, where Buc-ee’s is headquartered, would contribute money to Obama — who has become public enemy No. 1 for Patrick and other Texas Republicans.

“Your guess would be as good as mine,” Nadalo said. “I know the media is portraying them [the Buc-ee’s owners] as staunch Republicans, but I couldn’t even tell you their political affiliation. I think they’re just smart business guys.”

[…]

Likewise, people have a right not to spend money at Buc-ee’s, but Nadalo said when it comes to LGBT issues, the company is supportive. For example, he said some customers recently complained about a transgender employee at the company’s Cypress location.

“I think the LGBT community would be pleased to hear that despite protests from customers, Buc-ee’s has treated her just like we would any other employee,” Nadalo said. “We’ve embraced her into our family. We did not fall prey to that rhetoric. The corporate social philosophy of the company has clearly been driven in a direction which is conducive to the LGBT objective.”

However, Nadalo confirmed the company doesn’t have an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policy. He said the company’s current policy mirrors federal law, but added he’d be willing to take up the matter with the human resources department.

“I would certainly be happy to bring it to their attention that we’re perhaps not on paper espousing the objectives that some of our customers would like to see,” Nadalo said.

Asked about domestic partner benefits, Nadalo said the company doesn’t currently offer health insurance to employees, but plans to begin doing so soon.

“If we extend coverage to straight partners, we would extend it to gay partners,” he said.

They’ll have to offer health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week under the Affordable Care Act, right? They don’t have to offer domestic partner benefits, but I hope they do, and I hope they follow through as Nadalo expects.

Anyway. I’m in the vicinity of a Buc-ee’s maybe twice a year, so any behavioral changes I make are not going to be noticed by anyone. We’ll probably still take potty breaks there, because the kids like the place. Let’s just say my feelings about the franchise are a lot more complicated now. Campos and Texas Leftist have more.