From Buyer to Seller

Ports Petroleum to sell retail assets, cites high prices

WOOSTER, Ohio -- Frustrated by high prices for low-quality acquisition targets, Michael Ports, president of Wooster, Ohio-based Ports Petroleum Co. Inc., has changed his mind. Instead of buying retail sites, he's selling. Ports is selling his company's retail operations, which include the 62-store Fuel Mart chain and three Tobacco Town discount and specialty tobacco outlets. The stores are located in 12 states, mostly in the Midwest.

The decision may come as a somewhat of a shock to many in the industry. Ports Petroleum has made no secret in the past [image-nocss] few years that it was seeking to grow through acquisition. I'm sure there has been an immense amount of surprise that we were on the selling side, Ports told CSP Daily News.

Ports and his team decided to sell the retail businesswhich his grandfather founded more than four decades agobecause they could not find high-quality locations for prices they were willing to pay.

We spent the last couple years trying to acquire stores, and we just felt that the prices for properties we've been trying to acquire were in excess of what we were willing to pay, Ports said. At one point we just said, If we can't be a buyer, maybe we should be a seller.'

The sale, which Richmond, Va.-based Matrix Capital Group is handling as an auction, is not happening because of problems in the business, but instead represents a shift of focus, Ports said. The reality is we're doing as well as anybody in this business, he said. Some days are good, some days aren't. We just looked at it strategically and thought maybe we should look [at selling.]

Ports Petroleum will still operate its sizeable wholesale operations, which serve commercial, government and retail locations in 15 states with gasoline, heating oil and diesel fuel. We're still in the business, said Ports, who is past president of the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.

However, it is emotional to sell the family business, he said. I think it's always difficult, Ports said. We had obviously built up that side of the business. Yeah, it's difficult; there are emotional ties. We just felt it was the right thing to do at this time.

Ports said he understands why people would be surprised to hear he is selling after spending so much time looking to acquire. I've been told by many people already that they expected us to be a consolidator, not a consolidatee, he said.