Why’s Buc-ee’s in the news this week?
The Lake Jackson–based convenience store giant is suing a Houston-area company with a similar name and logo.
Hm, that seems like it might be a stretch. What’s this store called?
“Buky’s.” Take a look at its logo:
Yeah. The owner, Saarim Damani, told the Houston Chronicle that he called his store “Buky’s” because it was his childhood nickname, which—sure, okay, that’s certainly possible! He didn’t answer other questions from the paper, which presumably included whether he found the letters for his sign on the back of a truck that was supposed to be dropping off a new sign at a Buc-ee’s gas station. (Damani also didn’t respond to Texas Monthly‘s requests for an interview.)
Is this the first time Buc-ee’s has tried to sue a competitor?
Not hardly. While the Buky’s case involves some striking similarities (look at the swoop on that B!), the beaver, contrary to his laidback image as a mischievous lil’ critter who just wants you to enjoy some delicious snacks and have a clean place to poo en route to your next adventure, is actually surprisingly litigious. Most strikingly, in 2018, Buc-ee’s won a suit against Choke Canyon—a San Antonio–based roadside barbecue joint and gas station—over its cartoon-alligator logo, after a federal court found that Choke Canyon had, in fact, violated the Buc-ee’s trademark.
But Buc-ee is a beaver, not an alligator.
Good call, that’s true. Alas, the courts found that it didn’t matter. Buc-ee’s even acknowledged that in its opening argument before the court. “Even a four-year-old knows the difference between an alligator and a beaver,” the chain’s attorney in the case, Tracy Richardson, admitted, before noting the similarities: “They put a human hat on the alligator, they opened his mouth. Then they made him stand, which I’ve never seen an alligator stand,” Richardson astutely observed. The Choke Canyon gator shared other traits with Buc-ee, including big eyes, a red tongue, and a yellow background on the logo. Plus the company touted its clean bathrooms, a signature claim Buc-ee’s has long marketed itself on. The court surprised trademark experts by finding for the beaver. Choke Canyon, as part of the settlement, ditched the gator and is now represented by a winking portrait of Tom Skerritt or Sam Elliott or a similar cowboy-esque figure, who appears before an orange background and keeps his mouth closed.
Have there been a lot of these Buc-ee’s lawsuits?
We’re just getting started. There was also the Frio Beaver (RIP), the mascot for the Frio River Grovery out near Uvalde, which Buc-ee’s sued out of existence back in 2014, after successfully arguing that this state ain’t big enough for two snack-selling beavers. A year earlier, in 2013, Buc-ee’s settled a suit against a Bryan gas station called “Chicks,” which had no aquatic animals, circle-shaped seal, or big round eyes in its logo (but which did, according to Richardson, attempt to sell its own version of Buc-ee’s famed “Beaver Nuggets”). Chicks was eventually acquired by gas station chain Stripes. Another shop—Irv’s Field Store, in Waller—was similarly targeted by the Beaver’s lawyers that year, this time for, uh, using red letters over a yellow background and a blurry cartoon cowboy, which Buc-ee’s argued constituted “improper use of friendly smiling cartoon characters.” Irv’s, which has since closed, ended its time in business with a logo in red and white, with a decidedly not-friendly or smiling longhorn skull in front of its store.
Yeah, it’s a lot! And that’s not even getting into the long battle between Buc-ee’s and the Nebraska gas station chain Bucky’s Express, which operated two years before the first mischievous twinkle ever appeared in the beaver’s little eye. (Buc-ee lost that one.)
Is there anyone Buc-ee’s hasn’t sued?
Yep. Last November, a Plano man opened a website called “BeaverSnax.com,” which sold Buc-ee’s in-store products online (an avenue Buc-ee himself has yet to explore), and the chain declined to intervene, telling Texas Monthly that it was chuffed by the enthusiasm. “We are glad to see that our prices are so good that customers are willing to pay a premium for direct delivery,” a representative said at the time. (The chain did rebrand as “TexasSnax.com” shortly thereafter, but without the court’s involvement.)
How was that legal?
If you buy a thing, it’s yours, and you can resell it. The Plano dude would list the stuff online, then actually drive to Buc-ee’s, buy bags and bags of beaver nuggets, and then put them in the mail, which is a right anyone has. He was mostly trying to get Buc-ee’s to use his company for e-commerce, which the chain—which does not currently sell online—has yet to try.
Huh, so it sounds like this Buky’s place might be in trouble.
History certainly suggests that Buc-ee’s will enthusiastically defend any perceived infringement of its trademarks. The all-powerful beaver is usually successful in its claims against competitors, and it certainly has the resources to go after them even in cases where the infringement is more conceptual than one in which the party they’re suing has virtually the same name and signage. They were able to take down the gator, after all.