Some BP stations see drop in sales
Customer anger about gulf oil disaster is misplaced, they say
Roughly 1,000 miles separate the Gulf of Mexico and Maryland, but the massive oil well leak in the gulf is cutting into Majid Adam's sales at his BP station in Gaithersburg.
"When people go running scared from BP, they punish me, the owner," he said.
In June, Adam said, his sales dropped by half. He was selling about 2,000 gallons per day before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, triggering the undersea gusher, but now is down to about 1,000 gallons per day.
Former customers make their opinions known when they fill up at a Shell station next door, he said.
"Some people were very impolite and aggressive," Adam said. "People getting gas from Shell were shouting bad words and insults."
Boycotts and anger about the estimated 2 million barrels of oil that have gushed into the gulf have affected BP stations across the country.
A protest in front of a Washington, D.C., station in June called for a swift cleanup of the oil and stricter industry regulation, while a group called Boycott BP on Facebook has about 785,000 fans.
Sales at BP stations in all parts of the country have dropped, said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, as customers angry about the environmental disaster look for someone on whom to take out their frustrations.
"What you're seeing locally is happening nationally," Townsend said. "Dealers are the ones paying the price."
That is unfair, he said. A state law established in the 1970s prohibits BP from owning any of its gas stations in Maryland. All are independently owned franchises.
And not all have been the target of customer anger.
A BP station on River Road in Potomac has seen no decline in gas sales, manager Brian Hannam said.
"We hope that most people would understand that we're not BP. We feel bad about [the oil leak] like everyone else," he said. "We're just individuals trying to make a living."
On the rebound?
John Phelps, president of Carroll Independent Fuels, which provides gas to 105 BP stations in the Baltimore-Washington area and 150 other branded stations, said demand at his BP delivery spots had dropped slightly, but is on the rise.
"It has leveled off, the outrage," he said. "We noticed it seemed to be demographically based."
Some stations in suburban areas saw sales drop to 15 percent of normal, Phelps said, while stations in metropolitan areas saw almost no change.
The low point came about two weeks ago, he said, when sales were down an average of about 7 percent and stations were being vandalized.
Average sales have started to rebound slightly.
In 2003, Gary Richard, owner of the BP station in Damascus on Ridge Road, signed a 10-year agreement with BP.
"I'm obligated to buy from them for 10 years. If I stop they can sue me for what I'm supposed to buy on a base monthly contract," he said.
He gets a bill for the gas he does not buy, he said.
In June his volume was about half of what it was in April, and he still is not sure if he will get billed for it.
John Hannam, owner of the Potomac BP, said his station is selling about 4,000 gallons per day, which is on par with normal sales.
"I think people realize at this level we have no control over stuff like that," he said. "[Customers] ask us about it. Ask how us business is. We haven't seen any reduction of business at all."
Mitch and Bill's Texaco gas station across the street has seen sales increase.
Night manager Kevin Ridge said the station is selling more than 5,000 gallons per day, up from its usual 4,000 to 5,000.
BP to the rescue?
BP officials have promised to pay from $50 million to $70 million to station owners to offset the decrease in gas sales, but that money is not expected to arrive until August. And it will not go to every station.
BP will make payments to oil distributors such as Phelps, who will then dole out the money to stations that have suffered the most.
Phelps said he has been monitoring sales closely so he will know whom to pay, but he expects it to be a small percentage of his 105 stations.
"The majority of that will be for the Gulf Coast stations," he said. "They have felt the impacts the most."
Bob Fletcher, owner of the BP station off Georgia Avenue in Olney, said his sales have fallen upward of 10 percent.
"Fortunately, we're a neighborhood gas station," Fletcher said. "Compared to some of the locations we've heard and talked about, we're holding better than most. We know our customers by name, which minimizes the impact."
Fletcher said his father started the business 51 years ago at the same location.
"We just hope that BP is going to make it right, get it right, and have the leak stopped," Fletcher said. "We want that just like everyone else. It's devastating to watch, but we hope they will get it fixed."
Staff Writers Cody Calamaio, Mimi Liu and Susan Singer-Bart contributed to this report.