The Valero gas station in Coronado switched its branding last week. And it has some customers reminiscing about family road trips through the Midwest. The station, at 400 Orange Avenue, had been a Valero station. The signs changed to Sinclair — home of Dino the Green Dinosaur.
Sinclair gas stations haven’t been seen much outside of their traditional market — the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. Only 23 of the brontosaurus-mascoted stations can be found in Southern California.
The company has plans to expand rapidly in SoCal, said Sean Conja. He and his family own the distributorship for the Sinclair brand for areas south of Los Angeles. He also owns one of two other San Diego County stations recently converted to Sinclair. His station in Alpine was converted last July. The Circle K on Hwy. 94 in Campo was converted to Sinclair in January of 2016 and became the first Sinclair station south of L.A.
“You wouldn’t believe the promotional products people come in to buy — air fresheners, pens, T-shirts, hats, everything,” said Conja. The company’s dinosaur logo has been used since 1932, and was even parodied in Pixar’s Toy Story and Cars films, as DinoCo Gas.
Conja says he offered regional independent gas-station operators Sinclair-branded gas at 10 cents a gallon cheaper than Arco. And unlike Arco, Sinclair stations take credit cards. (Arco charges 35 cents to use a debit card.) “I’ll spend $100,000 on your station. I’ll make it solar, and add all the latest technology,” he says.
The company's website states Sinclair Oil was founded in 1916, the brand was once owned by Arco/BP until the Utah-based Earl Holding family took it private in 1976. In 2016, Forbes magazine reported Sinclair was the 62nd largest privately owned company in the U.S., maintaining the brand with 2067 stations, and expanding its presence with 12 large truck-stop terminals along major interstates in the Midwest.
Supported by their own refineries in Casper and Sinclair, Wyoming, the company also has over 1000 miles of its own fuel-delivery pipelines. The Holding family expanded into the lodging industry with its Grand America hotel and resort chain and owns the Westgate Hotel in downtown San Diego.
Proving Conja’s point on Sinclair’s lower prices, on March 22, his Alpine station was 10 cents lower than any of the town’s five competitors, according to gasbuddy.com. However, the new Sinclair dealer in Coronado was reported as the highest priced gas in the county at $3.89/gallon. But when it was the former Valero station, the location was always in the top five list of highest-priced gas. The only other station in Coronado, the 76 at 900 Orange Avenue, also reported their price at $3.89.
Historical footnotes: (1) Harry F. Sinclair, founder, was convicted for his role in the Tea Pot Dome oil reserves bribery scandal, credited as causing the ouster of Warren G. Harding in the 1924 presidential election. Sinclair received a vote of confidence from company shareholders, and remained CEO while incarcerated. (2) The company claims to have opened the first “modern” filling station in 1922. The Chicago station offered oil changes, tire repairs, car wash, air and water, and minor mechanical repairs. And restrooms for customers. (3) In 1924, Sinclair was the first oil company to offer high-octane gasoline.