Back in the day, you could pull up to a gas pump and relax in your car listening to the radio while someone else took care of your car’s needs. This person would fill up the tank, check the oil, tires, and even clean the windshield. The business owners of these establishments stayed in business selling only gasoline, oil, and a few other miscellaneous items to keep your car rolling smoothly down that two-lane highway. If you wanted refreshment, it was in the Coke machine by the door.
That all began to change on June 10, 1964, when inventor Herb Timms stopped by a convenience store in Westminster, Colorado with a box that would allow the clerk standing at a register inside to simply flip a switch to activate a pump outside. The clerk was now free to perform transactions with other customers while the store was making money at the pump without the need of an outside employee. It started slowly at first, with only 124 gallons sold to maybe a dozen customers. Soon, Americans everywhere were learning how to operate pumps and check the tire pressure. Many still have issues locating dipsticks and reading fluid levels and just let it go until they hear something weird.
Although, profits from the sale of gasoline were enough to keep the old-style gas stations in business, these days, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores, after credit card fees and other operating costs, net profit for gasoline sales averages 3 cents a gallon. It does not matter if regular grade gas is $1.39 a gallon or $2.99 a gallon. The profit always stays at 2-4 cents a gallon.
Convenience store owners make money from what is sold inside the store. You might be able to get a Monroe County Reporter for a good price, but that is about it. Those chips, drinks, and boiled peanuts are more expensive than what you pay at a Walmart for a reason: convenience.
A lot of Forsyth citizens do not fill up their tanks at our local gas stations. They put five buck’s worth in the tank which is just enough to get them to Macon, and they fill up there. If owners could bring in more business by lowering gas prices, it makes good business sense they would. Gas is the product that brings customers to their facilities.
According to local gas station owners, Forsyth prices vary time-to-time from Macon prices for different reasons. Most Forsyth stations are located at interstate exits where rent is higher compared to a neighborhood location. Branded stations are expected to maintain a level of cleanliness and appearance. Providing clean operating rest rooms, clean premises and modern equipment costs more money to maintain, as well as needing a larger number of employees. Most of our local stores are clean, bright and have up-to-date equipment inside and outside. Fuel is shipped from either Macon or Doraville at a cost of up to 6 cents a gallon
These small businesses also have stiff competition from corporations like Flash Foods, Kroger, Murphy, QuikTrip and RaceTrac. 90% of the convenience stores in Forsyth are operated by independent local business owners. National chains have more buying power and have the capability to take a loss or operate at a low margin to kill the small business owner. You can see this happening in Macon with stores located close to any national chain.
A recent check on the GasBuddy.com website, I discovered gas prices are higher on Bass and Zebulon Roads than in Monroe County. You must travel well into Macon to find lower prices, mainly at stations not conveniently located on interstate exits and usually lacking in upkeep. Forsyth prices aren’t dropping to Macon levels, Macon stations have been raising theirs.
Our local small business owners are not the only ones losing when we do not spend our gas dollars here. We all are. We are giving our hard-earned tax dollars to Bibb County. We probably could use some of that money here. No, there is no Gas Mafia in Forsyth despite rumors we have heard.
Steve Reece is a contributing writer for the Reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.