Stephen Ballard on Friday raised the price at his two Purcell gas stations to $3.99 a gallon, a level he's reached three times before, but never crossed.
“That's a psychological barrier,” he said. “Our customers hate it. We hate it. Gasoline is the most highly watched retail price in the world. There's hardly anybody who doesn't know what local prices are every day.”
Ballard owns the Varsity Valero and Guzzlers convenience stores in Purcell.
Two years ago, he spent $500 to upgrade his signs so they can display prices above $4. He said he hopes he doesn't have to use them. But with wholesale prices soaring as much as 70 cents a gallon in the past five weeks, there seems to be no end in sight.
Convenience store owners throughout the state are facing the same challenge.
“I would much rather sell gasoline at $1 than at $4,” said Jim Griffith, CEO of Stillwater-based OnCue Express. “At higher prices, my credit card costs are a lot higher, the customers are not happy, and we're not happy. People blame us, and my poor clerks catch a hard time about it.”
Retailers typically operate on small margins for gasoline, making most of their profits inside the store by selling drinks, snacks and other items.
“There are no margins when prices climb,” said Mike Thornbrugh, spokesman for Tulsa-based Quick Trip. “Your job is just to keep as close to even as you possibly can.”
Quick Trip stations typically sell a full load of fuel one or two times a day, Thornbrugh said.
“Every time we get a new load of gas, we pay a new price for it,” he said.
Lately, each new tank has cost much more.