Boycott won't hurt BP's bottom line

Lamont Calandros calls it a gesture, his way of sending a message to BP.

Two weeks ago, the retired juvenile justice counselor stopped getting his morning coffee from the BP a block from his home in Hudson. He began traveling to a RaceTrac a mile away to gas up his 18-foot boat, his Mercedes and his Miata.

"I grew up in the '60s when little gestures led to big results," the 59-year-old said.

With oil gushing in the Gulf of Mexico for six straight weeks, calls to boycott the company responsible are becoming more fervent. Protesters are showing up outside BP stations around the world. About 500,000 people have joined a Boycott BP group on Facebook. Even radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge Clem is calling for a boycott.

But the complex nature of the oil industry means that boycotting BP stations will have little effect, even if lots of people do it, says Akshay Rao, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota.

"It's like trying to hurt an elephant with a fly swatter."

• • •

To understand why boycotting BP stations won't really work, you have to understand how the oil industry works.

The stores that sell fuel are simply franchise owners, people who have paid BP for the right to use the name. The fuel they sell may or may not come from BP. Similarly, other gas stations that you may now be going to in your efforts to bypass BP may carry some BP fuel.

"When one producer has a glut, they sell to the other producer," says Fred Taub, a business consultant who studies boycotts and writes about them.

The only way to harm BP is to actually know exactly where all its fuel is going and boycott those stations, too.

Rao said the success of BP long-term will be determined by its stock price. It has dropped about 38 percent since the spill and continues to fall.

But he's not sure Americans want BP to suffer so much that the company goes out of business. Who would pay to clean up the spill?

BP is the second largest oil company in the world, second only to Shell. It has more than 9,000 stations in the United States. None of those retail stations are owned by BP, says Hejdi Feick, a BP spokeswoman.

She said BP has suffered no significant impact on its gasoline sales since the spill.

• • •

Carl Smalling has owned a BP station in Channelside in Tampa for seven years. He says business has not fallen off since the spill, even if his gas canopies are ringed in BP green and sport the much-maligned logo.

"Everybody recognizes BP, but the station is owned by me," he says. "I don't even deal with BP. I deal with APEC (Automated Petroleum and Energy Co.)"

He pays for the rights to use BP signs, but that doesn't mean his tanks are filled with BP petroleum. He says he has had conversations with a few of his customers, and they understand a boycott of his station would hurt his pocketbook, not BP's.

Someone called the other day and said they were organizing a protest.

"I said, 'Wrong … place, my friend,' " he said.

The protest never happened.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8640.

Boycott won't hurt BP's bottom line 06/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 8, 2010 8:11am]

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