Certified Oil Company is a successful company in Ohio dating back to 1939 and a thriving company 140 strong gas station presence today despite the fierce competition between oil companies as they compete in the convenience store and retail fuel market. They are in fact celebrating their 75th anniversary bringing a great public service to the communities and people around them.
The gasoline crisis of the 1970’s resulted in the closure of many gasoline stations across America and a number of competitors went out of business. I joined the Certified Oil Company as a franchise station owner in 1977. We had just endured the gas wars and the gas shortages days and rebounding to a strong market showing a good profit in owning one of these stations.
Certified had an affordable franchise plan that allowed payments be taken out of the profits. It was a business deal that required little down which usually covered the inventory of oil and automotive accessories kept in the station. Through the vision, guidance and steadiness of people running Certified was able to weather the storm and remain a strong and viable marketer of gasoline in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.
The entrepreneur in me flourished from the start. It was never a touch or go situation as the location was one of the best on the eastside of town. I remember it was on 555 East Fifth Avenue where it still stands today only in its most modern form. The company management was great to work with and although the work was dirty, it was profitable. Being a grease monkey had its advantages those days.
Pumping gas was the main business as it was the main staple of the company and selling oil and accessories was secondary. It had two bays that we could have used for mechanical work but I didn’t have a mechanic and my experience was limited to tune-ups and tire changes. Eventually we did oil changes, lube jobs and minor repairs.
The venture really took off and I needed help. The station was open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and I was working those hours by myself and wearing myself out quickly but I liked the profits and simplicity of bookkeeping the store. Taking on help would sap the profits in my pocket but losing customers was unacceptable and forced me to take on help. At first I hired my brother Carlos who was a born salesman. A charmer and a smooth talker he could sell a customer an air filter even if they didn’t need one.
Gifted with the golden touch in charming women customers, he was named a salesman of the month several times because he sold items that didn’t need to be replaced but his smooth talking got him a sale. This was important as the profit margin on oil and accessories was much higher than that of the gas which had to be sold in volume in order to pay the lease and inventory at hand.
Certified Oil was and still is committed to treating customers with a high standard of courtesy and we did rate the highest at times by our customers who were very pleased and satisfied how quick we pumped their gas, checked their oil and wiped their windshields even if they only bought 4 or 5 gallons of gas. It was important to make them feel important. In fact even today they focus on customer relationships that keeps their business growing and prosperous.
Because Certified was so concerned about customer service they carried the best brands at the lowest price. It would be the foundation of a long successive run in the business and gave me an opportunity to grow with it. I was in seventh heaven for at least a year until I ran into some problems other station owners had talked about but often prepared for in real life. It was a devastating experience to say the least.
The business was booming. I was working days and my brother was working afternoon but Carlos was being pressured at home to get a day job. I completely understood the logic for a family man needs to be home at night and since we lived only two houses apart, him being home also created some social time for the families to share and do things before it got dark outside.
We hired this red headed kid, Clint, who must have been about 19 years old. He had come to the station frequently and asked if he could have a job. He drove an old junker of a truck that helped us haul trash away from the station on weekend and he was certainly not lazy. He was energized and polite and we saw he had the potential to help us keep the place going.
At the advice of my brother, we hired two beautiful gorgeous sensual girls who attracted our customers into the station and spend their money on stuff they didn’t need to buy because of their persuasive methods of selling our goods and using a little flattery and flirtation to seal the deal. On hot days they wore booty shorts and tee shirts that revealed their assets clearly and unashamedly.
Weeks went by after we hired him. We had part time help as well but he was full time and as he demonstrated his will and ability to learn he was given more responsibilities. Finally he worked himself into a position of trust and we allowed him to drop the daily cash into the safe instead of the drop box we opened in the mornings. There was no reason why we couldn’t trust him with a key to the front door and a key to the safe. It was a logical solution as the safe was more secure than the drop box.
One I entered the station to open the safe and take the money to the bank for the daily deposit. Almost immediately I noticed the money was missing and looking closer I was also missing my gun I carried for protection while at the station. It was a .38 caliber stainless steel derringer double barrel double shot that fit neatly in my pocket undetected.
The first thing I did was try to call at home and his mother answered the phone. She said he had gone to Pennsylvania to visit a friend and didn’t know when he would return. I thanked her politely and hung up the phone wanting to call the police next.
I treasured this weapon and because I had been apparently robbed I had to call the police. I had written down the gun’s serial number and model in my ledger book. I also had the license plate of Clint’s junker Chevy truck and gave that to the officer who came to the station to take the report. All we could was hope they could locate him but the chances were slim those days as he was far gone.
The profits were used to make the lease payment and pay the salaries of myself and Carlos as well as the two part timers we hired. It was a mess. I couldn’t meet the payroll and I had to let the help go as Carlos and I agreed to cut our salary to take the hit of the loss.
No insurance and no guarantee of paying the lease on time, the franchise manager called us and asked us for the payment even though he knew we had been robbed. Awkward and broke we had to sell our share of the franchise interest to someone who had been chomping at bits to buy it because he knew it was a money maker.
Selling out this gas station was a heartbreaker. We were doing so well until we trusted the wrong person. It was a life learning lesson and unfortunately something that changed our lives significantly. The station stands today and is a modern full service gas station located in one of the best retail locations on the east side of Columbus, Ohio. Someday I may take the time to visit it and see if it resembles anything like the station I owned back when it was small and prosperous making me an independent owner and making good money even back then.