By Heather Mullinix
It takes fuel to keep cars and trucks moving, taking people to and from work and delivering goods around the country. In Cumberland County, much of those fuel products and related automotive products have been provided by Deloy Brown Petroleum, LLC, for more than 50 years.
Deloy Brown started with the company in 1958 as a driver. He took over the business in 1968 and welcomed his son, Rodney Brown, to the business in 1977. The third generation has now joined the family business, with Rodney’s son, Tyler, taking the reins of Johnson Petroleum, a part of Deloy Brown Petroleum, in Dunlap.
Between drivers of gasoline deliveries, support staff and five stores across the region, the company employs about 40 people.
“We’re here everyday,” said Rodney Brown, president of the company. “We cover from Chattanooga to the Kentucky line up 127 and 60 miles to the east and west.”
The company provides ExxonMobil, Gulf, Petro-Canada and Pure products. Non-ethanol gasoline is available at the Elite Markets on West Ave. and Peavine Rd.
Brown explained there is a difference in gasoline brands and, in fact, ExxonMobile tests samples from stations regularly to ensure customers are getting the Exxon products they think they are.
“We don’t know when they’re coming. We don’t ever know that they’ve done it,” Brown said. If tests of those samples find something other than Exxon gasoline, the company would lose its contract with the gasoline giant.
Gas is delivered by pipeline to Knoxville, with a pipeline coming south from New Jersey and north from Louisiana. The price changes every day.
“I buy gas every day, and there’s a price change every day or sometimes two times a day,” he said. “I don’t have enough storage to keep gas for a long period of time, so it’s buy and sell for us.”
Some larger operators may be able to buy several days supply of gasoline at a time. Sometimes that works in their favor, Brown explained, such as buying several days in advance when prices are lower. Sometimes, they’ll still be paying the higher price even though the cost of fuel has fallen.
More than 750,000 gallons of gasoline leaves Knoxville each day. The two pipelines help ensure the station has a supply most of the time; however, events in one part of the country can affect gasoline supply and pricing across the nation. There is also limited oil refinery capacity to keep up with demand.
“They can divert gas up the East Coast if they need it,” he explained.
A common misconception about the gasoline business, Brown explained, was the amount of profit those delivering the products make. He broke down the cost of fuel by the gallon, taxes and delivery and charges for processing credit and debit cards.
“Debit cards do cost us money,” he said. “They’re not like cash.”
After all the taxes and fees are paid, the distributor may make just pennies per gallon. Some days the distributor may even lose money per gallon.
“It’s not a large margin,” he explained. “It’s a good business, though. It’s been good to me and my family.”
Brown enjoys his work, though he is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, making sure customers get the products they need.
In addition to delivering ExxonMobil fuel products from the Georgia to the Kentucky lines, the company also offers diesel fuel and many specialty oils, greases and lubricants used in a variety of industries, including agriculture. Those looking to hit the track can also find racing gas.
“Whatever you need in the petroleum business, if we don’t have it, we can get it,” Brown said.
In addition to delivering fuel to a number of gas stations in the area, Deloy Brown Petroleum, LLC is also the owner and operator of the Elite Exxon stores in Crossville and Sparta through a partnership with Brown’s uncle, Junior Hixson.
“We built our first store in 1989 in Sparta,” Brown said.
Today, the company owns and operates five stores, all Elite Markets. In Crossville, Elite Markets, offering the Exxon brand, are found on Hwy. 127 N., West Ave., Peavine Rd. and Plateau Rd. The newest store is branded Gulf and is in Pikeville. The stores offer a selection of convenience items, snacks and drinks and deli sandwiches and salads.
“We are looking to serve what our customers need,” Brown said.
The company has a long history of supporting local schools, athletics and charitable causes.
“I try to help and do our part if it’s a good cause,” Brown said. “We are locally owned and operated. All of our people are from here.”
Those causes include programs to assist under-privileged children and local schools. A grant program once offered $600 to $700 per school, with about $75,000 provided to Cumberland County Schools over a 20-year period.
The company is also a sponsor of the Cumberland County High School’s student of the month program, a student recognition program. At Stone Memorial High School, the company sponsors a civics education program through the National Right to Vote Committee, providing class supplies and literature for the teacher.
School and youth athletic programs have often found support from the company, whether it be softball, baseball, football or other sports.
The business also provides the book “Come Unto Me” to local funeral homes to give grieving families, and supports a number of local organizations working to help those in the community.
“I ask people, whether it’s me or someone else, if you’ve got people in the community who are sponsoring programs for our youth, please do business with them,” he said. “People need to support the people who are supporting their kids. I have a real soft spot for that.”