We have never owned a small business, but have been around those who have for many years.
It’s not for the faint of heart.
The early years of the business can be unprofitable, and even then the owner is usually the last to get paid. Often, profit margins have to be low to deal with much greater competition. And if the business is not successful, life savings may have been lost.
We think about all of this today as we read the story of the Chattanooga man who was honest enough to recently tell the owner of an East Ridge gas station that his gas pump was registering a gallon of gas at about 45 cents.
We’re not sure if we’ve ever bought a gallon of gas for a car for that amount, but we can remember such cheap gas. It was almost 50 years ago.
When Chattanooga man Henry DeHart told the owner that 12 gallons of premium gas only cost him $5.64, the owner initially didn’t understand because of a language barrier. When DeHart showed him the receipt, the owner checked his machine and realized the error. The customers had been pumping gas at 45 cents a gallon for five hours, and no one had said a word to him.
In the days when gas was 30 or 35 cents a gallon, stations close to each other sometimes had “gas wars” to attract customers. They might lower the price by a gallon per nickel or more to attract motorists to their business.
What happened with the East Ridge station was not a gas war, and no driver today would think that was the case with premium gas prices around $4.64 a gallon and the price of standard unleaded gasoline just under $4.
(We could take an entire editorial to explain why gasoline is as expensive as it is today, but that would miss the point.)
The fact is, the price of a gallon of gas, as a Tribune Content Agency article that newspaper published on Friday points out, is keeping customers at convenience stores like this one in East Ridge from coming in and buying other thing. That something else could be a candy bar, a 64-ounce drink, or a lottery ticket, but it’s extra cash for the owner whose gas markup would only be 10 to 15. cents per gallon.
At this rate, our 17-gallon fill could net the owner $1.70. So it would take about 60 fills like ours for the owner to earn $100. And that doesn’t count what he has to pay for electricity, internet access, heating, etc.
This is what inflation is doing all over the country. Simply put: when you have to pay more for items, you buy less. And it’s hurting businesses large and small.
When the East Ridge owner realized what his pump had registered, according to DeHart, he was “on the verge of tears.”
After all, he’d paid a lot more per gallon to buy the gas than the customers for the past five hours had paid him.
We could agree that there are people who stick their credit car in the pump, pump the gas, snatch the receipt and stuff it in their pocket without looking at the price (we did), and we could admit that there are a few customers who could legitimately believe that a “gas war” is underway.
But five o’clock?
Growing up in a small business environment, we remember the dirty tricks of a rival who canceled a confirmed deal and another customer who refused a special order that still had to be paid for. But people were generally honest.
Today we had a series of presidents of the United States who cannot tell the truth. We saw dishonesty surface in the Hamilton County mayoral race last week. We have seen local officials accused of theft. And we’ve seen the rise of intellectual dishonesty in trying to convince young children that they’re different from them and in trying to convince the public that biological men in women’s sports don’t harm women.
We have seen an increase in domestic violence, suicide and opioid drug use in many cases because people cannot be honest with themselves. And in our view, another type of intellectual dishonesty is the rise in the number of drivers running red lights, cutting you off in traffic, or weaving into lanes to squeeze an extra 20 seconds out of a trip.
DeHart, whose Facebook page says he might own some type of small business himself, put himself in the owner’s shoes.
“What I find most frustrating about this is that this man…who has the guts to own a small business gets screwed over by people for half of [the] day…”, he wrote on his Facebook page. “I understand, times are tough and gas is expensive, but nothing in this world is free. In the end, someone always pays the bill.”
So today, raise a glass of your favorite drink to a man who is willing to be honest with the owner of one of the nation’s prized possessions (a small business), and if the opportunity arises to act the same way, do the same.