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Who Sells America’s Fuel?

Posted: February 2, 2011

Americans, on average, fuel up their cars about five times every month at one of the country’s nearly 160,000 fueling locations. So who owns and operates these stations that fuel America?

Small Businesses Fuel America
There are 117,297 convenience stores selling fuel in the United States. These retailers sell an estimated 80 percent of all the fuel purchased in the country. Overall, nearly 58 percent of the convenience stores selling fuel are single-store operators. These small businesses often don’t have the resources to brand their stores as anything beyond the brand of fuel they sell, often leading to consumer misperceptions that they are owned and operated by a major oil company.

(Source: NACS/Nielsen TDLinx 2011 Convenience Industry Store Count)

Big Oil Continues to Exit Retail
Large integrated oil companies, especially since late 2007, have exited the retail business to focus more on resource production and refining operations. ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and ConocoPhillips have either begun or completed the process of selling off all of their directly operated facilities. Of the 117,297 convenience stores selling fuels, about 1,180 1 percent – are owned the one of the five major oil companies.

Major oil-operated retail outlets


(Source: Nielsen TDLinx, May 2010)

Major Oil Keeps Its Brand Presence
While the major oil companies are withdrawing from retail, their brands remain. In fact, approximately 50 percent of retail outlets sell fuel under the brand of their refiner-supplier. Virtually all of these branded locations are operated by independent entrepreneurs who have signed a supply contract with a particular refiner/distributor to sell a specific brand of fuel, but these retailers do not share in the profit/loss of their suppliers.

Of the 159,006 fueling stations in the country, approximately 34 percent have a major oil company brand, and another 18 percent carry the brand of a refining company. The remainder 48 percent sell a private brand. These outlets are independent business owners who have established their own fuel brand (i.e., QuikTrip, 7-Eleven) and purchase fuels either on the open market or via unbranded contracts with a refiner/distributor.

Major oil-branded retail outlets

54,266 total sites – 34 percent of fueling locations

(Source: National Petroleum News’ MarketFacts 2010)

Top refiner-branded retail outlets

28,884 total sites – 18 percent of fueling locations

(Source: National Petroleum News’ MarketFacts 2010)

Other Retail Channels Sell Fuels
Convenience stores sell an estimated 80 percent of the fuels purchased in the United States, and their dominance continues to grow. In the past decade, the overall number of fueling locations (including convenience stores) has dropped 9.6 percent from 175,941 to 159,006 sites. Meanwhile, the number of convenience stores selling fuels has increased 25.5 percent from 93,444 to 117,297 stores.

The remainder of fuels sales in the United States is roughly split equally between traditional service stations without convenience operations and big-box retailers that sell fuels (such as Costco, Walmart and a number of grocery chains).

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