By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
Last week the tiny town of Buford, Wyoming, was a buzzing topic on a Cheyenne Facebook news group.
Cheap gas was what the members of the page were talking about and many claimed that the four-pump gas station in the middle of a windswept prairie on Interstate 80 had the cheapest gas in Wyoming.
This was a change. Almost a decade ago, when the gas station and the town of Buford made international news for being purchased for $900,000 by a Vietnamese businessman, the gas sold there was among the most expensive — if not the most expensive — in the state.
Now, according to GasBuddy, an internet site that tracks gas prices in the country, Buford stands alone as the cheapest place in the Cowboy State to buy gas — at least it was on Monday.
At $2.84 a gallon for regular, it was more than $1 less than some stations in Cheyenne. The story was the same for premium gasoline.
Why, when an owner could get away with charging through the nose because of its remote location, is gas so inexpensive in Buford?
It’s the business strategy of Mintu Pandher, the owner of Akal Energy who also owns a truck stop 20 miles west of Laramie in Queally Dome, the Tumbleweed gas station in Laramie and a few other gas stations in Colorado and New Mexico.
Pandher, who will not sell cigarettes, alcohol, or lottery tickets in any of his locations, said it’s an ethical decision for him to keep the prices low because people need to buy gasoline.
“It’s not like a Louis Vuitton purse where they have a choice. People have no choice, they have to buy fuel,” Pandher told Cowboy State Daily.
He compared fuel to utilities such as electricity or natural gas.
“There’s a cap on how much they can sell it. But for fuel, there is no cap,” he said. “Anyone can charge anything.”
Pandher, who lives in Laramie, said he is against government overreach but felt like there should be some limit on gas prices because it is a necessity.
He said he feels for the consumer who purchases gasoline for $3.89 a gallon in one location and then fives miles down the road sees a place where they could have bought it for $2.79.
“That’s $9 that you could have used for lunch or your kids’ lunch,” he said. “And someone took that away.”
Gas station owners are still making money even at the lower price, he said
“You’re not taking his cake away,” he said. “But you did take $9 away from someone’s pocket and that’s what bothers me.”
Pandher, who has been in the fuel transport business since 1999, isn’t waiting around for government to step in. He’s using what he calls the greed of others, to build his own competitive advantage.
He can sell gas cheaper because he buys it cheaper. In fact, he “chases it.”
Pandher watches where fuel is being sold at the cheapest amount and sends his fleet of trucks to that location to fill up.
He said he has 19 fuel trucks in his fleet and they were dispatched two weeks ago to El Paso where he could buy cheap fuel and bring it up to his gas stations.
Does it pay off? Absolutely, he said. High volume is the key.
“Look at the Tumbleweed in Laramie. It’s a little dinky gas station but it stays busy day and night,” he said.
Back to the Facebook page, many people from Cheyenne make the 40-mile round trip trek to Buford, they say, to save money.
“I buy my gas there. Best price in Wyoming and way less than Cheyenne,” said Rodger McDaniel, a former Wyoming legislator who now serves as a pastor in Cheyenne.
“I stop there several times a week,” Claude Womble wrote. “I work in Laramie but live in Cheyenne. This is my fuel stop, I try and give them all the business I can.
“Sorry Cheyenne unless you can compete with their fuel prices my business goes to them!!” Womble added.