Selling America’s Fuel

April 12, 2019  read

Consumers fuel their vehicles about four to five times every month at convenience stores across the United States. But who owns these fueling locations? It’s likely a local business. 

There are about 122,000 convenience stores selling fuel in the United States. Overall, 58% of the convenience stores selling fuel are single-store operators, representing more than 70,000 stores. Many of these operations may not have the resources to brand their stores separately from the brand of fuel they sell and promote on their canopies, often leading to consumer misperceptions that they are businesses owned and operated by a major oil company.


 (Source: NACS/Nielsen 2020 Convenience Industry Store Count)

Big Oil A Small Percentage of Retail
Major oil companies have recently begun to reemerge within the retail landscape, reversing a decade-plus trend that reduced their share of the market to less than 0.1% by 2020.

Even as the major oil companies withdrew from retail operations, their brands remained. In fact, roughly half of retail outlets sell fuel under the brand of one of the 15 largest refiner-suppliers. Most of these branded locations are operated by independent entrepreneurs who have signed a supply contract with a refiner/distributor to sell a specific brand of fuel, but these retailers do not share in the profit/loss of their suppliers.

The remaining 50% sell “unbranded” fuel. These stations often are owned by companies that have established their own fuel brand and purchase fuels either on the open market or via unbranded contracts with a refiner/distributor.

Other Retail Channels Sell Fuels
In 1971, just 7% of all convenience stores sold gas. Convenience stores saw enormous gains in market share for fuel over the next 39 years. Over the past decade that growth has slowed, but the number of convenience stores selling fuels still has grown by 6%. Today, about 122,000 of the 152,000-plus convenience stores sell fuel and these stores collectively sell 80% of the fuels purchased in the United States.

The retail channels that have their fueling locations most this century are grocery and mass merchandising stores. As of January 2020, there were more than 6,300 such locations (Walmart, Kroger, Sam’s Club, Costco, Safeway) selling fuel. These sites accounted for an estimated 16% of the gasoline purchased in the United States, representing sales volumes that are approximately twice the amount sold by traditional retailers, according to Energy Analysts International.