NEW ORLEANS – Oil has stopped spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, but BP remains unusually vulnerable to the prospect of U.S. gas stations defecting to other brands.
In interviews with The Associated Press, station owners from Wisconsin to Virginia say BP dealers are being courted by other brands or are approaching them on their own.
While the practice is common in such a competitive business, it has become more frequent since the April 20 offshore rig explosion and spill that tarnished BP’s image and led some customers to go elsewhere for gas, the owners say.
“The door was opened when the Gulf leak happened and people will pry on those emotions,” said Randy Meffert, who together with his brothers owns, operates or supplies 52 gas stations in south-central Wisconsin. All but eight fly the BP flag.
BP is expected to detail its strategy to repair its brand when it meets with hundreds of fuel distributors next week in suburban Washington. The meeting comes at a critical juncture. Sales have rebounded, but are still down at some stations that saw sharp declines after the spill, even though BP offered incentives to help them get through it.
BP owns just a fraction of the more than 11,000 stations across the U.S. that sell its fuel, mostly under the BP banner. ARCO, a BP affiliate, is predominant in the West. Most BP-branded stations are owned by local people whose primary connection to the oil company is the logo and a contract to buy gasoline.
Those contracts can range from several years to more than 20, and BP would not say how many are up for renewal this year.