Just in time for summer road trips, National Review's Kevin Williamson has penned a charming economics lessons on Buc-ee's - the Texas-based gas stations and convenience stores that have a devoted following among travelers.
"Among the peculiar features of 21st-century American life is the loyalty some people feel for particular chains of filling stations," Williamson writes. "In my home state of Texas, the locus of devotion is Buc-ee's, a chain offering an aquatic-rodential theme and the promise of the cleanest roadside bathrooms across the fruited plain."
And the bathrooms live up to that promise. But it's the economics of Buc-ee's that Williamson is truly concerned with. And the kolaches.
"Over the weekend, I stopped to buy gas at a Buc-ee's in Bastrop, and was greeted by (in addition to a man dressed as a giant aquatic rodent) an A-frame sign advertising Buc-ee's version of the minimum wage: cashiers, $12 to $14 an hour; food-service and car-wash help, $13 to $15 an hour; team leaders, $14 to $17 an hour; assistant, $17 an hour and up," he writes. "Each job came with three weeks paid time off each year, which employees are welcome to use, roll over, or exchange for cash. If you want 40 hours a week, there's 40 hours a week to be had; if you want more than 40 hours a week, that can happen, too."
The Buc-ee's business model works, obviously; people waited in line to be some of the first customers of a new Buc-ee's when it opened last month in Fort Worth. Each of the stores can employee as many as 200 people, with good wages and benefits, as Williamson notes.
"Assuming a couple of raises and a bit of overtime, a married couple both working at a gas station could bring home something close to a six-figure income between them," he writes.
But this isn't an argument for a higher minimum wage, he adds.
Because "in a free market, consumers can choose between lots of price points offering different levels of service and amenities," he writes. "Given how purchasing decisions are actually made, I think they're on to a pretty solid strategy here: A single man traveling alone may go to the funky service station across the street to save 80 cents - Hello, Dad! - but a man traveling with a wife and children is going to stop at the place that is famous for having the cleanest bathrooms in the business, even if it costs him an extra buck-and-a-half for a tank of high-test. Or he's never going to hear the end of it."
The point is that different business models call for different wage scales; mandating any one-size-fits-all solution is bound to fail.
"Every situation is different, and every business is a social-science experiment, trying out different approaches to solving social problems, which is what entrepreneurs and successful firms actually do," he writes.
As Texans, we know kolaches are important. So is economic freedom. And in life's journey, we all need some of both. And clean restrooms.