Power Players: Convenience and Customers
Originally published in Georgia Trend
By Patty Rasmussen
Greg Parker has a pedigree of business ownership in the automotive fuel industry, but he might never have discovered his own genius for it if he had stuck with his post-graduate “Plan A,” law school. Instead, he returned to Glennville after finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia in 1976.
While he considered his next move, his dad offered him the opportunity to open a gas station in Midway. He was just 21, but he was intuitively entrepreneurial.
“I worked every day for three years,” Parker says, “including Christmas. When I opened the first Parker’s store in Midway, I knew instinctively that it was important to offer a superior experience for every customer who walked in the door. The décor was appealing, and we served hot prepared food. The original Parker’s in Midway was one of the first convenience stores to have a carbonated beverage fountain. Things like that didn’t really exist in our industry at the time.” The net result was that the store was successful, and he was hooked.
Parker, CEO of Parker Companies, now has 30 Parker’s gas stations and convenience stores at locations in coastal Georgia and South Carolina with an annual revenue exceeding $256 million.
“We have 17 stores in the pipeline with contracts or Letters of Intent on them,” he says. “We are building new stores in Beaufort and Bluffton, South Carolina, Falkville, Statesboro and several other cities right now. We like rural areas and small towns.”
Parker was slated for recognition in April as the 2013 Technology Leader of the Year by Convenience Store News.
Parker’s stations are as famous for their style as they are for their substance. Yes, they sell gasoline, snack food and beverages – Parker’s is known for its “chewy ice” – but in a setting that’s uncommon for convenience stores. Stores are bright and inviting, with open floor plans, Wi-Fi and, above all, impeccably clean bathrooms.
“The Parker’s brand is all about quality, community and loyalty,” says Parker. “We believe our core demographic is the working mother. She is the filter through which we look at everything in our business. She’s the hardest customer to please because she is time-starved. She demands a clean, well-lit, safe environment, where she can multitask and enjoy exceptional customer service in the quickest time possible. When you capture the working mother as your loyal customer, you get every other customer in the process.”
Parker offers a PumpPal debit card program, bypassing credit card fees and passing a 10-cent per gallon savings on to the consumer. The card is also the means Parker’s uses to pump funds back into local schools, through its nationally recognized Fueling the Community program. Parker’s donates one cent for every gallon purchased to area schools, public and private, on the first Wed-nesday of each month. Cardholders select the school where they want their donation to go.
“We wanted to start a charity that could have a touch point in every community where we have stores,” he says. “I truly believe education is the sea that floats all ships. Everything is affected by education, including crime, quality of life, healthcare, employment and the general economic viability of a community. I believe businesses have a responsibility to give back to the communities that support them.”
A longtime resident of downtown Savannah, Parker created an upscale convenience store in a renovated gas station on Drayton Street. Parker’s Market offers freshly prepared foods, produce, wines and gift items. “We lost money for the first two years,” he says. “Parker’s Market is successful because we listen to our customers and we know how to create an exceptional retail experience.” That store alone now does about $6 million annual sales.
Parker is enthusiastic about what he does. “I love figuring things out and working hard to create a successful business,” he says. “I also love the collaborative process. I have an amazing team of brilliant people.”