By AL HACKLEahackle@statesboroherald.com
The new Parker's convenience store rapidly taking shape at the Brampton Avenue and Veterans Memorial Parkway intersection features a drive-thru that is a first for the company.
Expected to open in June, it will be The Parker Companies' fourth store in Statesboro and the 36th in the chain. From a single store he opened at Midway in January 1976, Greg Parker, from Collins, Ga., has built a Savannah-based company with a half billion dollars in annual sales and a reputation as an innovator in the C-store industry.
A store with a glass wall where drive-thru customers can see merchandise from their cars is the latest such innovation. The company is putting $3 million into the Brampton Avenue project.
"We are spending a lot of money doing the drive-thru. It's a lot more equipment, a lot more paving," Parker said last week, on a visit to the construction site where the roof, already up, protected him and other visitors from a sudden downpour.
To be clear - no pun intended - the store will also have a more traditional, walk-in front from the direction of the sheltered gas pumps on Brampton. But motorists approaching the drive-thru along the opposite wall will first see pictorial representations of products and then, after making a turn toward the service window, the glassed area with a view of what is inside.
One of the extra equipment costs is in double-sided coolers. One side will be handy to an employee working the window, the other to customers inside the store. In comparison to more traditional convenience stores, this store will also need one additional employee per shift.
Products expected to be most popular with customers in their cars - brewed iced tea, ice-cold lemonade, coffees, soft drinks and chewy ice, for example - will be positioned nearest the drive-thru. "We sell a ton of drinks," Parker said. But his intent is for every product in the store to be purchasable from the drive-thru.
Not just other convenience stores, but fast-food places such as Sonic and McDonald's, are Parker's competitors, especially for drink sales. This is a major motivation for the first-time venture into drive-thru access.
"Our research showed us that 70 percent of quick-service restaurants' business - companies such as McDonalds - was through the drive-thru," Parker said. "Our target customers are working moms who are time starved. Often they are traveling alone with children in the car. They need a drive-thru option."
Parker and his company are known for their extensive use of market research, and for taking carefully calculated risks. In an October 2013 article in the convenience store and petroleum retailer magazine CSP, Parker said he intends to grow his business from a $500 million company to a multibillion-dollar one in a decade.
"My goal isn't to achieve a specific number of stores by a particular date," he told CSP readers. "Instead, I'm looking for a steady 20 percent return on investment for every dollar spent and am planning to operate the most profitable stores possible."
Parker's best known prior innovation is the PumpPal Club. Members authorize a debit card on their bank accounts and receive a discount of 10 cents per gallon at the pump. He refers to the discount totals as profits taken from credit card companies and big banks and given back to Parker's PumpPal customers.
"We've got over 80,000 PumpPal Card users and we've given back over $4 million since we started the program two and a half years ago," Parker said.
In addition to drive-thru convenience and PayPal, the Brampton Avenue store, like other Parker's locations, will offer a bright, clean, safe shopping area with clean restrooms, he said.
As much as possible, construction jobs on the project have been kept local, said Mike Canady, owner of Canady Construction. His company, based at Hagan in Evans County, has been general contractor for the last 15 or so new Parkers' stores and renovation projects.
Subcontractors on the Brampton job include Statesboro-based Ellis Wood Contracting for site work, Brooklet-based Starling Plumbing and others from Pooler and Glennville to Beaufort, S.C.
Unless the city of Statesboro amends its alcoholic beverage ordinance to allow drive-thru sales of beer and wine for off-premises consumption, the new store will not be able to offer all its contents to customers in their cars. In March, City Council let an amendment proposal die for lack of a motion after hearing some citizen objections. Parker's project was never mentioned by name, but the connection is now confirmed.
"It's a big commitment that we're making to the consumer," Parker said. "We're saying that with over 4,000 (individual items) we have in the store, you pull in here, you've got it, just whatever you want, and I think it gets complicated when we say, ‘Oops, but you can't have this, you can't have that.'"
His company has a strict policy of requiring identification for alcoholic beverage purchases regardless of the buyer's apparent age, he added
"We are the most militant about age verification for age-related products," Parker said. "We are very militant about it as a company. We want to be good corporate citizens."
Parker's has a fifth Statesboro store planned for construction this year. It will not have a drive-thru but instead will include hot food service. The location has not been announced.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454. Herald Business Editor DeWayne Grice contributed to this story, and Louise D. Phelps, director of corporate communications for The Parker Companies, supplied information about the company and project.