NEW ORLEANS — BP gas station owners across the country are divided over whether the oil giant stained by its handling of the Gulf spill should rebrand U.S. outlets as Amoco or another name as part of efforts to repair the company's badly damaged reputation.
Some who saw their sales plunge after the spill say BP has already sought a fresh start by naming an American to replace its British CEO, so why not change the name on gas station marquees to Amoco, which once stood for American Oil Co.?
But some station owners worry that a name change is risky given all the marketing dollars already spent building up the BP brand.
There is precedent for a name change. Think AirTran after the ValuJet crash and Xe Services after the killing of civilians by Blackwater Worldwide guards in Iraq.
"I think they should change the name to something else with all the problems with the oil spill," said Jerry Thomas, 64, who was filling his tank at a BP station a few miles north of downtown Cincinnati on Friday. "It's done terrible damage that's not over yet, and I think that's hurt the BP name a lot."
After the spill, set off by an April 20 offshore drilling rig explosion, some BP-branded gas stations reported sales declines of 10 to 40 percent from Florida to Illinois. BP responded by offering distributors cash, reductions in credit card fees and help with more national advertising.
John Kleine, who heads a trade group that represents distributors of BP gasoline in the U.S., told The Associated Press that interest in changing names has not reached a fever pitch, but it has supporters and is percolating among station owners ahead of their annual convention with BP executives in October.
The BP name and green-and-yellow sunflower logo replaced the Amoco name and its blue-and-red torch inside an oval logo after BP acquired Amoco in the late 1990s. Bob Dudley, the American who will replace Tony Hayward as BP's CEO on Oct. 1, worked at Amoco Corp. for 20 years.
Kleine noted that many distributors would still like BP to try to rebuild its existing brand, and two BP officials said in e-mails that the company is not considering rebranding U.S. gas stations.
In Chicago, one customer at a BP station Friday morning said he didn't think changing the name would do any good if he wanted to avoid buying gas from the company.
"I think I'd be able to put two and two together," said Jamie Toal, 40.
And at the station in Cincinnati, Charlotte Sargent, 45, said as she filled up her 1992 Buick that she doesn't care what they call the BP stations as long as they don't change the product.
"It's good for my car, and it makes it run better," she said. "It doesn't matter to me whether they call it BP or something else. I feel sorry for the people hurt by the spill, but I'm not going to stop going to BP, or whatever they call it, because of that."
BP owns just a fraction of the more than 11,000 stations across the U.S. that sell its fuel mostly under the BP banner. ARCO, a BP affiliate, is predominant in the West. Kleine said the Amoco name is no longer supposed to be used but may still exist in a few locations.
Most BP-branded stations are owned by local people whose primary connection to the oil company is the logo and a contract to buy gasoline.
Bob Juckniess, who owns 10 BP-branded stations in the Chicago area, wants the company to consider rebranding them as Amoco stations.
"The BP brand is very tarnished right now, not just the brand but the reputation as a company is tarnished," Juckniess said. "Amoco was very well-known and had a great reputation as a name and a brand."
On the other side of the debate is Jeff Miller, whose company owns, operates and supplies roughly 56 BP-branded stations primarily in southeastern Virginia.
He said that if BP invests back in its brand and customer base, it stands to gain more by keeping the name.
"When you look at all the case histories of all that have done it well, whether it is Toyota, Tylenol or Exxon, they have all reinvested in their brand and done a better job," Miller said. "If you just change the name and don't change the behavior, have you really gained anything?"
Miller said he has heard from a number of station owners who have suggested BP rebrand U.S. stations as Amoco, but he describes that as a "knee-jerk reaction."
"I think you get a better return by working on repairing your reputation than starting fresh," he said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.