Special Reports

Local businesses say oil boycott hurts them, not BP

MANATEE — For Kevin Headlee, BP boycotts have meant serious business.

As the co-owner of the Creekwood Crossing BP station, he has seen a 30 percent decrease in business since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the Gulf Coast of Louisiana in April.

To cope with lost revenue, Headlee has had to lay off three people.

“The ones that are boycotting us, they just drive by,” Headlee said. And that boycott, he says, hurts local business owners much more than BP.

Five of the 25 other BP owners in the area say they have seen between 2 to 15 percent decline in sales. Others refused to comment, could not be reached or did not return calls.

Ashok Patel, owner of two BPs in Manatee County, says his business has been down 10 to 15 percent since oil began gushing into the Gulf more than two months ago. But, Patel notes, he doesn’t even work directly for BP.

Patel receives his franchising and fuel, along with Headlee and all other BPs in the area, through Atco Inc., a Sarasota-based petroleum distributor, which has a contract with BP and provides franchising to all local BPs.

“People say things about the oil spill, but we can’t do anything about that,” Patel said.

Even so, he assumes an apologetic stance when customers confront him about the disaster.

“We say ‘sorry about that,’” he said.

Patel leases the land for his BP stations from Atco and is able to brand his store BP in return. Franchised stations sell BP-branded gasoline, but Atco owns the fuel until it is pumped into a customer’s tank, said Alan Elwell, president of Atco.

“The gasoline in the ground is ours,” Elwell said. “They (the stations) are really convenience stores more than anything.”

That BP-branded gas, along with several other brands sold in the area, begins with base gasoline purchased from the Chevron terminal at the Port of Tampa, said Gus Santoyo, a spokesman for Chevron.

When a tanker truck fills its 9,800-gallon capacity at the terminal, it hooks into two lines: One pumps generic gasoline, the other injects the additive of the station which will sell it, Headlee said.

If a Texaco or Chevron station is selling the gas, then the Techron additive is mixed.

BP’s additive is called Invigorate, which they market as having been recently reformulated to clean out engines.

“What makes it Shell or BP or Chevron gas are the additive packages added to them,” Headlee said.

While several fuel terminals serve the Tampa Bay area, including Shell, TPSI, Kinder Morgan and Marathon, all BPs in the area receive their fuel from the Chevron terminal.

The unbranded gasoline sold from Chevron’s terminal at Port of Tampa is delivered from a Chevron refinery in Pascagoula, Miss., which receives raw oil from a variety of sources, Santoyo said.

“Typically we process our own crude, but that’s not to say we don’t buy on the open market sometimes,” he said. “(Our supply) is not beholden to one well.”

Local station boycotts

Elwell has heard complaints of boycotting from several BPs in the area.

“No one likes what’s going on,” Elwell said. “It’s terrible, let’s face it. But it’s not the fault of local business people.”

He encourages owners to explain that by boycotting the station, consumers are hurting the local business person much more than BP. “And so far most consumers understand that,” he said.

Those who have recently protested in the area say that, while they are against purchasing BP’s gasoline, they are concerned for local business owners.

Kaylee Shockley, who protested outside a Bradenton BP station June 2 holding signs with slogans such as “Boycott the polluters,” offers a compromise: Purchase products other than gas from BP shops.

“When we started (to protest) we went first into the BP, we spoke to the BP and we bought our waters there,” she said.

Rather than having an impact on local business owners, Shockley said her mission is more about creating awareness that people are angry about the disaster.

“The last thing we want to do is hurt the small business owners,” Shockley said. “But people need to see this and that’s why we were out there.”

Consumers want a voice

David Aron, a professor of marketing at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., studies consumer dissatisfaction and complaint behavior and has kept an eye on consumers’ reaction to the oil spill.

“They want to do something,” Aron said. “They want to be on the right side of the argument.”

Aron says he sees the conundrum of consumer reaction being played out.

“How can you send a financial message to BP without withholding your dollars?” he said. “But then you’re hurting the local guy.”

Hurting the local store owners to get at BP could end up backfiring on consumers in the end, said Patrick Kelly, a professor of finance at the University of South Florida.

If a significant number of local owners go under, then competition is reduced — and that could mean higher prices in the future, he said.

“It’s like reducing the income of a doctor by killing all his patients,” Kelly said.

J. Hunter Sizemore, Herald intern, can be reached at 941-745-7041.