For the past 37 years, Greg Parker has done more than build a thriving convenience store business – he’s established lasting relationships with both employees and customers. “Our success is because of the incredible team of people I work with,” says Parker, founder, president and CEO of the Parker Cos. “We’ve literally all grown up together, so we’re all wicked smart and incredibly hard-working. Everyone treats the company like it’s their own.”
Many of the company’s managers and staff have more than 25 years’ tenure at the company, and a few of its top executives first joined Parker as customer service representatives with the opening of his first store in 1976. Today, Parker’s – the convenience store brand owned and operated by the company – has 32 locations in Georgia and South Carolina. “I’ve personally worked 24-hour shifts and have worked three years without a day off,” Parker says. “The people who compete with us have their hands full, because we’re so actively engaged in the company and have built it from the ground up, which I think gives us a profound advantage.”
Parker’s employees are not the only ones loyal to the company. The stores’ customers also show their devotion to the brand by making it their sole destination for fuel, snacks, beverages and other “on the go” goods. This is measured at least in part by the store’s high number of proprietary debit card purchases. Purchases made on “Pump Pal” cards make up 34 percent of gas sales, Greg Parker adds.
Customer loyalty is attributed at least in part to the stores’ commitment to quality service as well as their general cleanliness. The company several years ago positioned itself to focus on meeting the needs of the working mother, a decision that greatly influenced its overall appearance and marketing approach. “We think that by pleasing the most discriminating and time-starved consumer you can win in the retail marketplace,” Parker notes. “Everything we do, from landscaping and lighting to technology, is about making that consumer happy and making them feel valued.”
Technology plays a large role in the Parker Cos.’ ability to offer quality service. “Technology is the key to succeeding in business in the 21st century,” says Parker, who was in recent years a winner of Convenience Store News’ “Tech Executive of the Year” honor. “There’s so much data out there, I think the problem is often that people don’t know how to use it. I think we partner with the right providers, who we like working with and who help us do innovative things.”
The “Pump Pal” card, a partnership between the company and the National Payment Card Association, is just one example of Parker Co.’s embrace of technology. When used, the card automatically rolls back the price at the pump by up to 10 cents, giving consumers an instant discount. The card, introduced just two years ago, has already saved more than 70,000 users $3 million. “We’re already the lowest gas price on the street, but the gas card gives an even biggest discount,” he adds.
Other technologies in Parker’s stores include the LIFT retail marketing system, which offers suggestive selling opportunities to customer service representatives at the point of sale; SPACEMAN, a retail space planning tool; and PriceAdvantage, a fuel price management system that allows for remote gas pump pricing from a mobile device.
Parker’s also uses PeopleMatter, an innovative human resource management program that helps hire, schedule, train and engage employees. “It’s a one-stop shop in terms of doing hiring, on-boarding and scheduling,” Parker notes.
The company has historically embraced a number of tools that ultimately become standard in the industry, such as real-time customer surveys taken during transactions. “We are very innovative and do things other companies don’t yet,” he adds.
Two areas the company is looking to refine are mobile payment and loyalty program management systems. “We’re working very hard on loyalty in a very robust and complex way,” Parker says. “There are so many iterations of these solutions available, we want to be sure we’re picking the right one.”
The Right Fit
The 32nd Parker’s store recently opened in August 2013 in Effingham County, Georgia, and six additional stores are slated before the end of the year.
To achieve this growth, the company is looking to attract “the best of the best” employees. Parker says he believes in giving employees the right training and incentives to keep them engaged, and focuses on helping people find their strengths and finding roles for them that match those strengths.
“Employees want to be valued, and we believe everyone wants to do a good job, but you have to give them the right tools,” he adds. “If you hire the right people, others will want to work with them.”
Having the right staff in place will help the company retain the quality experience the Parker’s brand is known for. “Our biggest challenge will be preserving our quality and ensuring that as we grow, we retain the same commitment to service that we’ve always had,” Parker says. “We can build as many stores as we want, but the biggest thing for us is really making sure they fit our brand.” O