Thursday, July 8, 2010

BP Brand Shrinking Already As Station Owners Switch

Some gasoline stations are stuck with multi-year BP contracts. But those that can, are switching to other brands. From the Free Press:

BP gas station owners switching brands as customers boycott

What’s important to note is the financial effect of the boycott, despite its limited scale. The loss of one customer every 15 minutes was enough to get one station to change brands, while others with larger revenue losses may be forced to raise prices just to hold on until their BP contracts expire. Some BP stations may elect to shut down, either temporarily or permanently, as there is little to be gained by operating at a loss. The declining volume at retail will be forcing adjustments at BP’s regional distributors, potentially forcing the BP brand out of some towns.

All this is happening despite an organized boycott that only 3 to 5 percent of Americans are participating in. Most of the decline in BP gasoline sales is not from the boycott, but from a subconscious aversion to BP. People associate the BP name with bad news, so they try not to see it, and one way to not see BP is to not see the BP signs along the highway. This reaction will only expand as the oil spill’s effects expand to Cuba and the U.S. east coast over the coming two years or longer. BP is making a mistake by addressing the boycott (with the misleading talking point that any boycott will mostly hurt independent local businesses) but failing to address the subconscious side of its tarnished image. One thing BP station owners can do, if their contracts will permit it, is change their signs so that the BP logo and colors are not so prominent.

Of course, part of the decline in revenue is not limited to BP, but reflects a new aversion to petroleum in general that Americans are feeling in response to the oil spill, and this is affecting all brands of gasoline. This so far has led to small changes, probably less than 1 percent when you look at gasoline sales, but it too is likely to expand over time.

BP is in denial about how badly its image has been hurt, and the U.K. news media hasn’t recognized the extent of the damage either. This is why, while U.S. financial analysts are starting to ask whether a BP liquidation can be arranged that will leave some money for stockholders, British financial analysts are still asking how quickly things at BP can get back to normal.