Local economy betrayed by the $5 customer

By Tom Read

Centennial Service, not a mere commodity seller, but a key part of our island's local economy

Centennial Service, not a mere commodity seller, but a key part of our island's local economy

Centennial Service has the best commercial location on Texada Island. Its prominent spot at the corner of Blubber Bay Rd and Gillies Bay Rd greets traffic flows coming in from the ferry, or travelling between Van Anda and Gillies Bay, making this a true corner gas station. Even the greenest first-time visitor just can’t miss it.

The owners, John and Linda, have lived on Texada much of their adult lives. I’ve observed the way they conduct business during my nine years living here, and I’d like to point out a few realities that visitors and Texadans alike should consider about our only local gas station.

Let’s start by getting one thing clear: Centennial is not really a commodity-selling business, like gas stops in the cities. For example, if you ask the city gas station attendant for directions, you might get a very brief, often uninformed answer, as in “I don’t live anywhere near here, sorry” while they shift their focus back to the long line-up waiting to buy junk food. Note that it’s an “attendant” you’re usually talking to, not an “owner” or someone who thinks and acts like an owner.

But if you ask John or Linda or Ian (whom I consider an honorary owner, given his dedication) for help, you get real, well-informed, interested help. This could include detailed directions (with a local map) if you’re lost, being a trusted drop-off point for an envelope or package for pickup by someone else later, or having the station opened up after hours so you can get gas if you’ve run out. That’s service, not commodity-selling.

Speaking of after-hours service, consider that in last winter’s snowfalls, our local gas station owners came in to work very early and stayed very late so that our intrepid highway maintenance guys, Al and Sy, could refuel the island’s snowplow/sand truck as often as needed to keep our roads open.

Yet this is a business where volume is everything. If you don’t sell “x” amount of gas each month, you’ll end up paying a higher wholesale rate than your competitors, who will eventually drive you out of business if people choose to buy their gas solely on the basis of price. Our Texada station really can’t offer the lowest prices in the region. It must contend with being off the beaten path for fuel distribution, so the owners often must pay more to bring gas and diesel here. Thus, we “regulars” typically pay a bit more per litre than the city people across the water do. But that’s ok for a loyal customer, because we know that the price spread on fuel between island and mainland isn’t price gouging, it’s just necessary to stay in business. And, believe me, this community really doesn’t want to lose this particular business.

Conclusion: there is just no way this gas station can survive without the loyal support of local people. My understanding is that Texada’s Centennial Service has about 75 such loyal customers who are keeping the station afloat, sometimes just barely. So where are all the other hundreds of vehicle owners who live on Texada buying their gas? Ah, here’s where the $5 customer comes in, pulling up to the pumps right now: “I’ll take $5 worth,” says the polite lady in the nice car, who has lived here a decade or two. “I just need enough to get to Powell River,” where, obviously, she will buy her fill of gas.

Does this hurt? Of course it does, especially for local business people who pride themselves on giving the community superb service that would be unheard of in a city. Local business people who care about their customers are treasures, the very foundation of our local economy.


1 Response to “Local economy betrayed by the $5 customer”

  1. 1 David Parkinson June 12, 2009 at 19:18

    One of the typical features of a Transition effort is a buy-local campaign to raise awareness of the implications of keeping money within the local economy. Your post makes a very good point: the local economy is sometimes very local indeed: if Texadans want to preserve their ability to buy gas and take advantage of the other services provided by Centennial, they need to consider the island as the ‘local’ in local economy.

    And as always, I think about the amount of hard work that will need to go into a campaign to get (some not all) people to understand the importance of supporting the local economy, even when it’s cheaper not to. It’s a classic ‘tragedy of the commons’ problem: it may be in everyone’s interest (defined narrowly) to by gas in Powell River, but the sum total of these individual decisions will be a severe loss to the fabric of the community of Texada.

    But we are not well equipped to think or talk about the value of such intangibles as ‘community’ or the ‘common good’. Not yet, at any rate.

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