Business Monday: Low gas prices pump up business at Woody Creek Station
January 7, 2019
It's a little before noon Friday, and there's a line of motorists waiting to fill up their vehicles with the regular, some of the cheapest gas in the Roaring Fork Valley.
That wouldn't mean much if it weren't for one detail: The service station has an 81611 ZIP code, which belongs to the greater — and expensive — Aspen area, notorious for its high gasoline prices.
On Friday, the Woody Creek Station was selling regular unleaded gas with an 85 octane rating — the cheap stuff — for $2.41 a gallon, or $2.37 if customers paid cash.
"It's awesome," said Basalt resident Ben Brennan as he drew a pump from one of the fuel dispensers, saying he heard about the deal through a radio advertisement.
Meanwhile on the same day, Aspen's two gas stations on Main Street, Conoco and Shell, were selling the same regular unleaded at $3.28 and $3.39 a gallon, respectively, while the Conoco in Snowmass Village was charging $3.49.
As of Wednesday, Glenwood Springs gas stations charged an average of $2.55 a gallon for regular unleaded, while both the state and national average was $2.25, according to the American Automobile Association.
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The owners of the Woody Creek Station, who bought the property and the store's inventory for $1.85 million in April, said they had no experience in running a commercial enterprise. They did, however, believe that lower prices would both draw more customers into their upgraded convenience store while giving them a break on gas.
"My whole thing with Ryan (Warren, her partner and business partner in the service station), is if we're going to do this, then we would try to create something for the locals and still make money," said Wendalin Whitman, also president of Whitman Fine Properties in Aspen.
The couple conceded that they had to learn a lot about the service station business, "but I think locals appreciate what we're doing," said Whitman, who had been watching the property while it was on the market before acquiring it with Warren and other investors when the price was right.
Warren said Whitman's proposal caught him off guard.
"I said, 'What they heck are you thinking? Neither one of us had done this before,'" said Warren, who practiced law in Denver before moving to Aspen 31/2 years ago. He also is a volunteer firefighter. "She said, 'I think we could do something special with that place, I really do.'"
He eventually came around.
"She kept talking to me and I kept pushing back, and then finally we came down and visited and took a look around," Warren said. "And I remember the nursery (next door) was rocking and rolling and I was impressed with that, and I started to get a little bit more on board. And finally I bought in completely, and it was Wendy's vision, really. I've got to give her the credit in terms of the vision. She said from the very beginning, 'We're going to drop our gas prices.' She said, 'We're going to do something that benefits this community.'"
After buying the 1.4-acre property, they made such improvements as building a trash room and boosting their store's offerings, such as adding a taco bar. They also sold pumpkins and Christmas trees at the nursery over the holiday season. The place needed lots of TLC, Warren said, adding it could use some more dispensers, too.
Warren, while giving a reporter a mini-tour of their business, said they base their prices off how much they pay the wholesalers for gas. They keep their profit margin low, he said, but make enough to sustain the business.
"Our gas will sometimes drop to very low levels like it is now," he said.
Vehicles crammed into the service station's lot is now a common occurrence.
"The gas sales have gone sky-high," Warren said. "And the inside sales have risen, not as much as I'd like for them to, but they've certainly risen."
The Woody Creek Station has an agreement with Phillips 66, which has no say in what it charges, Warren said.
"There's not a single day, and I'm not exaggerating, that somebody doesn't thank me profusely for the gas prices," he said. "I've had people hug me. I had one woman in there crying, because she was elderly and she's on a fixed income and she was scared to death to drive to Glenwood and said, 'I don't have to do that anymore.'"
Gas prices nationally are the cheapest they have been in three years, according to numerous reports, but they will naturally rise as the weather gets warmer and more people hit the road. National and international economic forces and whether oil-laden countries will cap productions are other factors.
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