Shining Through the Muck

BP marketer success stories provide silver lining amid dark cloud

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- Like many BP-branded retailers, Taylor Cash saw a significant change in his in-store sales and fuel volume when the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began dominating the headlines in late April. Unlike those other BP marketers, however, he saw his numbers climb uncharacteristically upward.

Cash's store in Raleigh, N.C., called Taylor's BP & Wine Shop, notched a 20% improvement in gallons sold for the month of May compared to 2009, followed by a 22% improvement in June. In-store sales have been equally impressive. He attributes the unlikelyand unexpectedsuccess [image-nocss] amid the BP spill to superior customer service and a ridiculously rich assortment of wines, high-end coffee brews and other surprises.

"We had a 44% increase in wine sales over last May, and last May I thought we just couldn't sell any more," Cash told CSP Daily News. "We've been able to bring on two more full-time workers because of it. That's been our salvation. If we operated like we did 20 years ago, surely we wouldn't be making a lot of money. You're going to have to reinvent yourself and become something bigger and better."

He added, "There are things out there we can't controlthe spill, for examplebut what we can control is customer service."

The Gulf Coast spill has caused myriad effects across the country, from paralyzing volume losses to astonishing sales increases such as those seen in Cash's store. Post-spill results have varied based on geography, whether stores were in urban versus rural markets, and whether stores were branded BP or ARCO, for example. Intangibles, such as a retailer's ability to connect with the community, often determine the difference.

Bob Juckniess, president of Oak Brook, Ill.-based ampm franchisee RWJ Management Co., has used BP-supplied "Locally Owned, Locally Operated" signsslightly modified with additional language to emphasize his disappointment in his supplier's culpability in the largest offshore spill in U.S. historythat appear to have curbed some of the initial customer backlash, which early into the crisis caused volume declines at several of his ampm stores.

"Our intent has been to inform the public that we're independent business owners, and we live and work in the communities, pay taxes in the communities and support the communities," said Juckniess. "We've let people know that if you boycott us, you're not hurting BP, you're hurting us. You can go to a Gas City or a Thorntons or Costco, and odds are you'll be buying BP fuel there and still be supporting BP. That's the message we're sending."

In other words, the Locally Owned campaign has "put a face" to the BP brand, according to John Kleine, executive director of the Savannah, Ga.-based BP Amoco Marketers Association, and helped customers understand that not all BP stationsvery few, in factare owned and operated by the same entity responsible for the Gulf Coast spill.

"The [Locally Owned campaign] connects right away and has been very effective," Kleine said. "I think it is developing an even more respectful understanding between BP and the jobber or dealer. Customers understand that that face [of the BP marketer] is BP's brand. The other part is that the business results are very different by site, by geography.

"Along the Gulf Coast you see more of an impact than in the Midwest," he continued, "but even within that area there's a very big differences from site to site, from corner to corner. Namely it's a matter of how well the operator or the employees of that store are known within the community. The better they're known, the lesser the effect."

John Strickland, president of Goldsboro, N.C.-based BP distributorship Wayne Oil Co., saw a slight volume falloff in the immediate aftermath of the spill, but he doesn't feel comfortable attributing it solely to the spill. Furthermore, he thinks BP has handled the spill as well as possible and that, in the end, retailers' ability to adapt in the spill's wake further underscores the industry's resilience.

"We're the guys doing the last 8 feetfrom the tank to your carand for most of us, this is all we have," Strickland said. "We're going to get up tomorrow and serve the public as best we can given the circumstances we've been handed. Most marketers I've talked to are making lemonade out of the lemons they've been handed, so we may come out of this as marketers a bit stronger."

(Click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage.)

For more on the oil spill and its long-term effects on the industry, look for the September issue of CSP magazine.