Why do gas stations with convenience stores love Ohio? Location

Lack of regulatory oversight on fuel may play a role, analyst says

What’s fueling the interest gas stations with convenience stores have in Ohio?

The straightforward answer seems to be: Location.

“There are a lot of interstates in Ohio. There are a lot of possibilities,” said Patrick De Haan, head petroleum analyst with gas price tracker GasBuddy.com.

Any retailer who wants vehicle traffic will give the confluence of interstates 70 and 75 more than a passing glance.

“We sit almost right in the center of a large amount of traffic, between Honda’s presence in Indiana and Ohio, you have the automotive industry in Detroit, then you go down into Kentucky and Tennessee — just all the activity from a logistical standpoint,” said Dave Dickerson, Midwest market president for Miller Valentine Construction.

In the past year, numerous gas retailers have made announcements about expanding their stores to the Dayton region to compete against companies already here like Speedway, 7-Eleven, Circle K, BP and Shell.

Sheetz last year announced it would open some 20 locations in the Dayton area over the next five years. At that time, Sheetz officials said it would open its first Dayton store in 2024.

They’re about to join an area where Casey’s General Store has been established since 2017 or so.

In an interview, Kendra Meyer, Casey’s vice president of real estate, said her company has almost 2,500 stores total, with many in the Midwest. Casey’s already had nearly 150 sites in Indiana, so a move east to Ohio was a natural one, she said.

Iowa-based Casey’s has 28 Buckeye State stores, most in western Ohio. The company has doubled its number of Ohio stores in a short time.

“Ohio was just a perfect opportunity to expand,” Meyer said.

Wawa also has Ohio plans.

“While we can’t confirm specific locations, market projections or timelines for construction at this stage in the process, we can say that we are actively looking into potential sites for new Wawa stores including in the Dayton market, that will open sometime after 2025,” Wawa spokeswoman Lori Bruce said in an email response to questions.

Bruce said, in general, her company looks for sites that offer 1.5 to 3 acres free-standing, on a corner near a signalized intersection, with zoning for gas, retail and convenience uses.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Wawa needs sites that can accommodate a building of 5,000 to 7,000 square feet and a minimum of six multiple product/fuel dispensers — and room for 40 to 60 parking spaces.

Casey’s Meyer seemed unfazed by the prospect of competition with Sheetz and Wawa. Casey’s operates in 16 states total.

“It’s no surprise when there are operators who want to enter an market,” Meyer said.

‘Robust growth’

These gas station/convenience store chains tend to be efficient, De Haan said. Casey’s is seen as a prime pizza retailer, he said. Wawa and Sheetz are “extremely competitive” in fresh offerings.

“You can stop in, and you get an actual sandwich that isn’t scary,” De Haan said, adding:

“I think we’re going through a period of robust growth with a lot of these major convenience store brands.”

Dayton has long touted its place near the intersection of I-70 and 75, within a day’s drive of 60% of the U.S. population.

There are 148,026 convenience stores nationally, of which 116,641 sell fuel, according to Chris Sands, an analyst with Matthews Real Estate in Walnut Creek Creek, Calif.

About 80% of the fuel Americans buy is sold at convenience stores, according to Sands.

Lack of fuel quality oversight

Beyond traffic and proximity to interstates, another factor may be at work in location choices for these businesses.

“Ohio has no regulatory program to test and ensure the quality of fuel,” Sands said in an interview.

“If you’re selling 87 (octane fuel) at a 91 (octane) price, that would appear to me to be a large benefit,” he said.

Ohio is one of three states (with Nebraska and Alaska) without statewide authority to test or monitor fuel quality. Only Summit County, with a unique charter government, tests fuel in Ohio.

In an interview, Montgomery County Auditor Karl Keith Keith said the issue is meaningful to him and other county auditors. He has advocated for testing authority for some two decades.

“No one in Ohio is testing those things,” Keith said.

He declined to surmise whether lack of oversight makes Ohio attractive to fuel retailers. But he added: “We’ve had people ask us, ‘Do you think Ohio is a dumping ground for bad gasoline?’ And again, I don’t know that I want to say that we’re a dumping ground. But I do know this: Ohio is one of three states that does not have a fuel quality program.”

A bill to establish a testing program died in the most recent Ohio General Assembly, despite bipartisan support, Keith noted.

In 2019, at least four drivers were stranded at a Middletown-area gas station when they pumped bad fuel into their tanks.

“How many more vehicles are we going to see damaged because of no action on fuel quality testing in this state,” Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds told this news outlet at the time.

Fuel is just one part of Casey’s business, Meyer said, who added that Casey’s abides by all local and state laws and regulations.

“In this case, (Ohio) regulations were not a driver or a deterrent,” she said when asked if Ohio’s oversight posture was attractive.

Sheetz announced it would expand to the Springfield area at the I-70 exit at South Charleston Pike, with Sheetz Inc. buying the property from Gallery 59, owner of the Springfield Antique Center, for $3.13 million, according to Clark County Auditor’s Office property records last September.

Representatives of Sheetz did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Expect more churn in this market, De Haan said. Not every station will be in the business of selling gasoline 10 years from now.

“It’s going to be survival of the fittest,” De Haan. “That’s why we’re seeing a lot of consolidations.”

Last summer, after a $21 billion acquisition of Speedway, 7-Eleven announced plans to lay off nearly 900 support staff and field operation employees, including Speedway staff in Enon. (7-Eleven did not respond to messages seeking comment.)

“It puts pressure on everyone. It’s not just Speedway,” De Haan said. “It will put the pressure on every retailer to be firing on all cylinders.”

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