By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 13, 2008
Exxon Mobil said yesterday it would sell off the 820 U.S. gasoline stations it operates and the land it owns under 1,400 additional franchise stations but hopes to keep selling its brands of gas by getting company distributors to acquire the stations.
Consumers aren't likely to notice any outward difference in the stations, and about 9,200 other Exxon Mobil stations will not be affected. Those stations are owned and operated by distributors, who deliver fuel and often own several stations.
But it will mean the end of small independent gasoline station operators such as Sohaila Rezazadeh, who owns an Exxon franchise in Oakton but pays rent to Exxon, which owns the land. Rezazadeh, who has complained about rising rent and tight profit margins, has not been able to afford new gasoline supplies for the past week. After 12 years as an Exxon dealer, she is closing her doors today.
"As the highly competitive fuels marketing business in the U.S. continues to evolve, we believe this transition is the best way for Exxon Mobil to compete and grow in the future," Ben Soraci, Exxon's U.S. director of retail sales, said in a statement.
The gas stations owned and operated by Exxon are mostly in three states: Texas, Florida and Tennessee. The stations owned by Exxon but operated by dealers are mostly in California, New York, Maryland and Massachusetts.
Rezazadeh said she has tried to negotiate a new rent agreement with her territory and district managers but has not heard from them for days. She said customers who read about her plight in a Washington Post story last month have been wishing her well.
"I had a very emotional week," she said. "Everybody was coming in to say goodbye."
She has moved the goods from her convenience store to a nearby Texaco station run by her husband.
Premlata Nair, an Exxon spokeswoman, said the "fuels marketing sector continues to be challenging, with reduced margins and significant competitive growth from hypermarkets, petropreneurs and grocer markets." She said the company, which sells 14 billion gallons of Exxon-branded gasoline a year in the United States, remained "committed to a strong brand presence."