Nevadan at Work: Gas station owner likes solving puzzle of workaday business


It's 5:15 p.m. You've just left work, and on your way home, you decide to stop for gasoline.

As you pull into Trop Stop's parking lot and choose your pump, you decide to run in to the convenience store and grab a cold drink. After paying, you pump the gasoline, then climb back into your car and head home.

Not once did you stop to consider the man working behind the scenes who makes this all possible, the Wizard of Trop Stop, Jeffrey Marshall.

Marshall and his family own and operate Trop Stop, a supersized gas station/car wash/convenience store/used-car dealership on West Tropicana Avenue at Decatur Boulevard. Marshall's wife, Mia, and daughter Ranya manage the grocery section while his son Troy manages car sales.

The businesses sit on a 1.75-acre parcel that Marshall also owns. He employs 26 people.

Before his turn at Trop Stop's helm, Marshall helped develop tools for Steelman. If you knew him, this would surprise you.

"The funny thing about the tool business is, I'm a mechanical idiot. I cannot fix a car," Marshall said. "I can barely change oil."

Since opening his station under the Texaco banner in 1996, though, he's learned how to repair fuel pumps, among other things.

"It's just necessity. Something breaks every week," Marshall said. "I fixed a toilet yesterday. We're hands-on around here."

Texaco left town in 2004, so the Marshalls renamed the business Trop Stop Gas. In 2010 the family completed an expansion of their site, which included adding 12 new pumps, for a total of 16 two-sided pumps, which equates to 32 fueling points.

"We're like a midsized, inner-city truck stop without the trucks," Marshall explained. "We were just overwhelmed with business and we needed to provide fueling points to satisfy that demand and I'm glad we did."

Then, in May, the Marshalls opened a used-car dealership attached to the back of the Trop Stop convenience store. In June, the family partnered with Sinclair for its gasoline needs.

While life at a gas station can be unpredictable, Marshall said most of his daily ups and downs relate directly to his employees, in terms of how hard they're working -- or not.

"If you are not instrumental to my business, you are in fact detrimental to my business," Marshall said. "There's no gray area there."

When he's not preaching a strong work ethic, Marshall can be found at Trop Stop doing any number of things. He might even sing a tune or two.

Question: What do you think about running a business in Las Vegas?

Answer: Obviously, it's been very good to us. When we go to other places, it's like these other cities are all sound asleep. This town is wide awake, and I'm not talking about party life and everything else. We have the most shrewd group of people in this town that know how to build an entertainment capital and I have great respect for the leaders in our community and also owe a debt to them. My business is a much better business because I am in this city.

Question: How does aligning your gas station with a national brand differ from going independent?

Answer: Well, the unbranded fuel, normally speaking, is less costly because the oil companies are not applying their marketing structure.

Question: Why did you choose to partner with Sinclair in June?

Answer: I knew that volumes would skyrocket when we added all these new pumps. I wanted to firm up my supply.

Question: How do you manage all the moving parts of your business?

Answer: When machines break, they do not make an appointment with you. They just go, and so our commitment to our customer is that we're going to be up instead of down. We're going to provide them with service. To ensure that, we do engage a lot in preventive maintenance. We are checking our gas pumps for leakage, or a number of things that are in the normal course of running a gas station that most people don't think about.

Question: What is the dynamic like, owning and operating a business with your family?

Answer: I couldn't be happier. You're surrounded by people that love you and care about you. How does it get any better?

Question: What are some of the challenges of running a gas station?

Answer: There are a lot of dynamics here going on at any given time.

Question: How has your business fared through the economic downturn?

Answer: You're going to make me use one of my favorite expressions. We have had our nose into the north wind, driving straight through the storm. We have, from '07, '08, '09, 2010, 2011 and now 2012, with substantial increases in business.

Question: Who is your mentor in business?

Answer: I always wanted to be the best that I could be every single day. When I wake up I promise myself I'm going to find some way to be a better person, a smarter person. I've had that outlook for 40-some odd years.

Question: What's your favorite item in the convenience store?

Answer: Just about all of them. That's why I stay back here. It's pretty dangerous for me out there.

Question: You mentioned you were a music education major. How does that come into play these days?

Answer: I taught myself how to play instruments when I was young and I took formal piano lessons for seven years, so I ended up playing quite a bit of pretty heavy-duty stuff on the piano. My major was vocal. I studied opera. I think what a lot of people don't realize about music is that it is so detailed. ... By nature I am an information gatherer and analyzer. That fit pretty well with me because I have formal training in it. This business is an ongoing puzzle that needs to be figured out on a daily basis.

Contact reporter Laura Carroll at lcarroll@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4588.

 

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