Many are the letters I get from wronged consumers. Seldom do I check into a wrong and discover that the business in question is in the right. But here's one of those seldoms. It has to do with a gas can -- and the Kenwood Mobil station on River Road in Bethesda.
Vincent J. Cushing started the ball rolling by running out of gas while on the way to get gas. So he walked to the nearest station (it turned out to be Kenwood Mobil) to borrow a gas can.
However, the station's policy is to sell gas cans, not lend or rent them. Vince thought that was rotten, mean-spirited and a few other nasty things. So he walked a little farther down the block, where an Exxon station cheerfully let him borrow a gas can in exchange for a deposit.
Vince says he was surprised by the Mobil station's policy, so he wrote to the Mobil district office to try to stir up a little grief for the dealer. But the district office backed its man all the way.
"Stations are operated by the individual dealers, who are independent businessmen," said Robert Wolf, a customer relations administrator. " . . .We plan on having a local representative talk with the dealer and make him aware that customers are upset . . . . We hope for a positive response, but he could flatly refuse, and he has that right."
It's a right the owner plans to exercise, he told researcher Wendy Melillo.
"I have that policy because people won't bring the gas cans back," said the owner, who refused to give his name for publication.
"A good gas can goes for five or six bucks. We don't sell very many of them. This policy does upset people, and people may never use our station again. But those people who borrow the cans don't come back, either. We are near the Beltway and my guess is they don't want to take the time to come back down and return the can.
"This policy has been in existence for several years," the owner said. "Ninety-five percent of the time the can does not come back. After that happens several times a week, you get sick of it. On some days, we get up to five people a day who have run out of gas. They have a choice. It won't kill a guy to walk a few hundred feet down the road to another station.
"I charge $5.15 for the can, and we buy them for about $3.25 to $4 . . . .I tried cash deposits but they don't work because most people out of gas don't have any money. We won't take a driver's license or credit card as collateral, either. Last week, a man who works here lent three of his own cans out of his car and they never came back."
It's hard not to sympathize with Vince Cushing. Most of us have run out of gas in our long lives, and it ain't the greatest feeling in the world.
But gas stations don't run on sympathy. The owner of Kenwood Mobil has it exactly right when he says "you get sick of" losing cans. His bank account would get equally sick if he had to give away a $5 gas can every couple of hours.
I'm glad the Exxon station came through for you, Vince. But the owner of Kenwood Mobil makes a pretty persuasive case.