On many weekend days throughout the year, Nadir and Azeem Khan, owners of the Shell gas station at 3100 Maple Ave. in Brookfield, like to offer “customer appreciation” specials. Some days it’s free bottles of water or free coffee or hot dogs.
On July 15 about 11 a.m., they introduced a different strategy — dropping the price of gasoline by about 20 cents. According to Nadir Khan, the plan was to offer the discounted price for a couple of hours as a way to attract customers.
But that kind of thing doesn’t sit well with the folks at the Maple Quick Mart Clark gas station at 3045 Maple Ave., which sits kitty-corner from the Shell. So Clark undercut the price being charged at Shell.
And the mother of all gasoline price wars commenced.
“All I wanted was to beat him,” Khan said of his rival across the street. “He’s my competition.”
By that evening, the price of gas had plummeted below $2 and by 8 p.m. plunged to less than $1 a gallon. Social media posts spread the word, complete with photographic and video proof, and around 8:40 p.m., police arrived to direct traffic as cars backed up for blocks waiting to get to the pumps on both sides of the street.
“It was pretty much a chaotic scene,” said Brookfield Officer Ed Weissgerber, who was officer in charge for the shift that night.
Between cars turning from all directions to get into the gas stations, cars jamming the intersection and spectators lining the sidewalk to take photos, Weissgerber said five police officers were called to the area to control traffic.
“There was just no order, so we implemented a plan to maintain order,” Weissgerber said. “All you need is that one guy cutting in line and causing a problem.”
At the height of the battle, the price for gasoline at Shell dropped to 73 cents a gallon, while at Clark it fell to 70 cents.
“People loved it,” Khan said. “It was crazy outside.”
By 9:45 p.m., said Weissgerber, the prices on the display signs at each gas station reverted to normal and the crowd quickly dispersed.
It’s not the first time the two gas stations have played a game of chicken with their fuel prices, and Khan said he figured that Randit Singh, who owns the Clark station, would push back.
In November 2015, shortly after the Khans took over as operators of the Shell station, the two gas stations went toe-to-toe, though the prices at that time never fell below $1.70 a gallon.
Khan hoped this time Singh might simply match his price. Instead, he got undercut every time he dropped it.
“I was thinking about [lowering the price] to my cost, so my customers could take advantage of it,” said Khan, who noted that the price he paid for gas that day was about $2.35.
Both businesses sold a whole lot of gas. But instead of breaking even on gas — the minimart is where the business make most of its money — both he and the folks at Clark took a beating.
“I was losing money, he was losing money,” said Raj Abrol, who manages the Clark station. “Everybody was losing big time.”
But Khan said as long as the Clark station was undercutting his prices, he had to respond.
“I don’t want to lose my customers,” Khan said. “I wanted to take care of our customers.”
As traffic at the stations reached its peak, said Khan, he got a call from the Clark station and the two agreed to a truce. By Sunday morning, prices were back at their usual level, above $2, though Clark was still a couple cents per gallon cheaper.
“It happens sometimes,” said Abrol, “but I hope it doesn’t happen again soon.”
Khan isn’t swearing off his customer appreciation campaign, however, and predicts that sometime in the future, he may cut prices again for a couple hours.
“I will do it again for sure,” he said. “It’s like a part of business.”