GAS STATION OWNER TALKS FUEL PRICES AND CUSTOMERS WHO CAN'T PUMP
BP station's Parul Patel sees customers who don't want to pay sales tax and shoplifters she catches with ease
Folio Weekly: How long have you been in the gas station business?
Parul Patel: I want to say 12 years. Owning your own business and working for yourself is great.
What would you be doing if you weren't working in gas?
I always wanted to be a businesswoman, so maybe sitting in the office running the corporate business. That's a dream.
Do you get difficult customers?
Oh, yeah. A lot of times, we get fussy customers who don't know how to pump the gas, or sometimes their cards don't work, or they don't know how to operate the machinery. They don't follow the instructions and they take it out on us.
You really get customers here who don't know how to operate a gas pump?
At least five people a day. At least. They blame us, that our machine is bad. And we get a few customers that don't want to pay tax.
They refuse to pay tax?
Of course, all the time. Sales tax, yeah. Like if it's a dollar item, I say $1.07, they throw a dollar at you and say "I don't have 7 cents." Sometimes I have to make a very blunt comment saying the government is not my uncle. That's the only thing I can say: If you don't pay, I've got to pay, my register is going to be short. Sometimes customers say, "Forget the change," which makes up for others, but we definitely have people with attitudes.
What beer do you sell the most?
Bud Light, pretty much, by a wide margin.
What about cigarettes?
Marlboro. Marlboro Lights specifically. But most anything in the Marlboro family.
With soda, we pretty much go through a lot of Mountain Dew, but we sell more energy drinks. Monster and Rockstar, any time, morning, noon or night.
What do you sell the most out of everything I asked about?
That's a hard question. But probably cigarettes and then energy drinks, then beer.
I assume Friday paydays are your busiest.
Pretty much. Mondays are slow days. Weekends are slow. Sundays are our slowest.
Break down your gas sales for me.
Most people get regular, the cheapest you can find. [Laughs.] Fifty percent, I would say, is regular, 15 percent is diesel, 15 percent high-grade gas; the rest is mid-grade.
How is the price per gallon of gas determined?
We normally get a phone call from corporate. I guess they figure out according to the market, and then [they incorporate] whatever their expenses they have, like their trucks or whatever, and then we get a phone call.
How often do you change gas prices?
It all depends on the stock market, I think. Gasoline prices change every day. Every morning, we have to survey the neighborhood. Whatever the prices are in a certain range, we tell corporate. They'll say if somebody has gone up we'll go up, if somebody has gone down, we'll go down.
So what you charge customers for gas is not your choice?
No, it's not our choice. We have to go with whatever corporate does. Sometimes we end up losing money, too. It's not our decision. If gas is four bucks but our surroundings are charging $3.85, then we have to stay at $3.85, too.
Why doesn't corporate take that revenue loss into consideration?
If we go up in price [when others stay the same], then that day we don't see customers. We try to stay within a few cents' range.
Do you catch folks with fake credit cards or IDs?
Oh, yes. With fake or stolen credit cards, there are ways you can tell. With fake IDs, that's hard, I mean, if you have a driver's license, we don't have that kind of eye to catch it.
Do you spot a lot of shoplifters?
We've had a few people try their luck more than a few times. When they get to the register, we know they put something in their pocket and I ring up the item and I say, "I know you put it there."
What kind of response do you get to that?
"Oh, I forgot."
Have you ever had to kick anyone out because of the no-shirt, no-shoes, no-service rule?
We've seen them — I've seen people wearing robes even — but no, we haven't. They're just a character, you see. They just wake up and they come in with the robes and bear shoes. What are you gonna do? [Laughs.]