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Gasoline retailers say gift cards are strong sellers this season.

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Amidst rising heating and transportation costs, many people are giving the gift of gas - both natural and liquid - as Christmas presents this holiday season.

Gasoline retailers say gift cards redeemable for gallons of fuel are strong sellers this season. Meanwhile, natural gas utilities in Ohio and Michigan report increase in sales of gift certificates that can be applied to the recipient's monthly bill.

"A gas card is something that everyone uses. My mother, who's 85 and doesn't want stuff, still does drive. You know they'll use a gas card if they get one," said Chris Fox, a spokesman for Speedway SuperAmerica, of Enon, Ohio.

Gerald Davis, a spokesman for Sunoco, said sales of pre-paid gas gift cards have posted double-digit growth in recent years.

At Consumers Energy, the natural gas utility that covers parts of southeast Michigan, spokesman Jeff Holyfield said sales of gift certificates are up 25 percent this year from 2004, when the utility sold about 4,000.

"We have done this for a number of years. But we're seeing a lot of interest in them this year. People are trying to be practical in their gift-giving this year and how much more practical can you get than this?" he said.

The utility sells certificates in $10, $20, $25, and $50 denominations through its office and 11 credit unions in Michigan. "You just mail them in with the bill or redeem them at a direct-payment center," Mr. Holyfield said.

At Columbia Gas of Ohio, which covers most of northwest Ohio, spokesman Chris Kozak said sales of gift certificates are increasing, although he did not have specific figures.

Columbia Gas sells the certificates at its payment center, but customers need to supply the account number of the customer to whom the certificate will be given, Mr. Kozak said.

Meanwhile, area gasoline retailers said that after a year of rising prices

that have left gasoline over $2 a gallon, gift cards are becoming a prime stocking stuffer.

"They have become more popular once the word got out," said Marilyn Fox, co-owner of Barney's Convenience Stores. "You can use them at the pump. You just pop them in like a credit card."

Mary Caprella, a spokesman for BP Plc, said gas gift cards were becoming popular last Christmas.

Last December one Toledo BP station sold $11,000 worth in just two weeks, Ms. Caprella said.

BP estimates that 30 percent of sales of gift cards occur in December.

"Who doesn't like to get free gas?" said Pamela Gerhardt, marketing director for SVM LP, a Des Plaines, Ill., company that issues, markets, and resells gift cards for several gasoline retailers.

"In days gone by, how could you give somebody gas as a gift? You couldn't. But now it has become a practical gift and a lavish gift."

She said many companies have started using gas cards as employee incentives or promotions.

"Obviously the higher price of gasoline has helped increase sales of gift cards. But gift cards in general have become more popular," Ms. Gerhardt said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.

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