The original plan for Greg Parker was to go to law school. Running a convenience store and then building one of the most successful convenience store chains in the U.S. wasn’t the idea.
What started with a store in Midway right off Interstate 95 has grown into an operation with 45 stores and nearly 700 employees in Georgia and South Carolina.
"I wish I had a great thing to tell you, that I had this vision to be the greatest convenience store operator in the country," Parker said. "I didn’t know what I really wanted to do. It wasn’t like I had this grand passion to be in the convenience store business. But I stuck with it. And if there’s one thing I did I kept one foot in front of the other. I worked for three and a half years without a day off."
It’s been 40 years since Parker decided to take a year off after graduating college and help his father finish the Midway store. Now, Parker and his company are celebrating those 40 years with a series of rewards for its customers.
Among the incentives for customers are fountain refills for 40 cents, a Jeep Wrangler giveaway and the top 40 Pump Pal users will be recognized each month over four months, getting gas for 40 cents a gallon beginning this week.
"We want to thank our customers for 40 years of support," Parker said. "We’ve worked our tails off, but we’ve been fortunate to have such a successful business."
Since Parker’s started the PumpPal program, he said users of the card have saved $7 million.
"I’m so proud of that," Parker said.
The company continues to expand, with seven stores opened since December and 17 more planned for the next 13 months.
There are a number of factors that go into where to put a store, Parker said, with a range of metrics including traffic counts, density, lines of sight and ease of access.
"There are 40 different things we look at," Parker said. "We portend what the sales volume will be. We portend the profitability in gallons. We know what it costs to operate a store. If you can make it measurable, you can make it achievable."
Parker’s has been listed on Inc.’s top 500 for four straight years. Based on store profitability, the company was the most profitable convenience store chain in the U.S.
"We continue to improve what we do," Parker said. "It’s never been about being the biggest. It’s about being the best, and doing things in a way where people want to come back and do business with us."
Part of the philosophy for the chain is to appeal to the working mother, Parker said.
"She is the most time-starved, demanding, highest standards of any of our market sectors," he said. "If we can please her, we can please everyone. Everything we do in our company, we look at through this lens, this filter, of ‘does it meet the needs of the working mother?’ So it’s given us a more competitive advantage."
The mentality, though, is to have a broad appeal, with clean stores, responsive employees and well-landscaped stores with appealing architecture.
Parker noted that 50 percent of Americans shop in a convenience store, and one of every three new brick and mortar retail businesses is a convenience store.
"We are where America shops," he said.
The creed of "fast, fresh and friendly" is also an operating guideline for Parker.
"Our fountainheads are cleaned every single night in every single store. Our water is filtered for all our ice, our water is filtered for all our fountainheads," he said.
Parker’s is developing training modules for the district managers to enable them to continue to strengthen the workforce, and there are 100,000 transactions at Parker’s stores every day.
The Parker’s CEO boasts of how little turnover there is in his company, and within the ranks, the status quo isn’t good enough, he said.
"The person who is curious, the person who is hungry, the person who is a nimble learner, a person who is a problem solver, those people love working with us," he said. "Those characteristics probably best define a success."
Parker went to court to keep the PumpPal program going, and he won a battle with his own people over Chewy Ice.
"My team said, ‘you can’t brand ice.’ I said, ‘yeah, we can,’" he recalled. "Since we’ve branded it, over 15 years now, everybody uses it. We sat around wanting something to differentiate ourselves. Who knew?"
While there are 100,000 transactions each day throughout his stores, Parker said the next step is the mobile wallet, where the customer pulls up to the gas pump, says the pump number and a four-digit code, and the price is rolled back to the PumpPal level for them. The new credit cards with chips can take as long as 14 seconds for a transaction.
"We’re doing all kinds of things," he said.
Parker’s has started food service at its Rincon and Claxton locations and has added drive-throughs at others.
As part of the PumpPal program, users can choose a school to receive their donation, and Parker’s "Fueling the Communities" effort — with one cent from every gallon sold on the first Wednesday of the month — generates more than $100,000 each month for schools in Georgia and South Carolina.
The company also has endowed the emergency and trauma center at Memorial University Medical Center, with a $15 million renovation. When completed, the emergency department and trauma center will be 46,000 square feet, almost triple in size, and will accommodate more than 95,000 patients a year.
"It was a way to give back to everyone," Parker said. "Memorial takes care of the lion’s share of the indigent care in this part of the world and the people who use an emergency and trauma center are our customers. It’s the only level 1 trauma center in this part of the world."
Aside from education and health care, the company also backs cultural endeavors, underwriting the annual Picnic in the Park, spearheading the Keep Savannah Clean program.
"We believe in being a responsible corporate citizen," Parker said. "We give back to every community we do business and it’s damn fun to do it. We love giving back. It makes us a little different."
From taking a year off before going to law school to cooking at the first store, Parker says now his team is better at each of the disciplines of the company than he is.
"This team is incredible," he said. "We eat, breathe and live this industry. It’s been fun to do what we do. It’s been fun to get better at what we do. We are where America shops. Who else can say that? And to say we’re one of the best is something we’re really proud of. But what I’m really proud of is this team. It’s unbelievable how good the people here are. We have a good time."