Station owners make most of their profits in their stores, on sales of food and drinks, as well as alcohol where sales are legal.
“The idea is to have a very competitive gas price, and when they go in the store, you can make money off that transaction,” Lenard said. He said a recent survey by the convenience store association found that almost 60 percent of people who come for gas also go inside the store.
Nordman said he hasn’t noticed customers’ nearest gas station near me curbing their spending at his stores when they fill up, but he’s bracing for it. “Eighty percent of the transactions are credit card transactions. … It will eventually hit the consumer when that credit card bill comes in,” he said. “That’s when I think we will see it.”
And station owners are being hit by inflation and product shortages just like small businesses everywhere. Wholesale prices for coffee to toilet paper to beef jerky have soared over the past several months, and labor prices are also climbing.
“On pretty much everything, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase on our costs,” Nordman said. He said some snack food makers were adjusting their wholesale prices so often that he stopped putting price tags on the items.
But he’s found a way to offset some of the price hikes: fire up the grill. The markup on hot foods like pizza and burgers can be as high as 30 percent. “I want the guy that’s buying fuel to come in and buy a hamburger from me,” he said. “A good kitchen person will have onions on that grill whether they’ve got customers or not.”
Normand’s been in the business for seven years, and he said his stores have built a good reputation as places to get a hot meal, which keeps his customers coming back. “That’s how the mom-and-pop businesses have to distinguish themselves from the corporate stores,” he said. “In the gas station business, you need to be in the hot food business.”