It’s 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, and after 44 years in the industry, no one would blink if Parker’s Founder and CEO Greg Parker took some time off to enjoy a beautiful fall day in Savannah, Ga. But on this warm October morning, Parker is already an hour into training on how to use the company’s new foodservice fryers to ensure they are easy and safe to operate.
“It’s important to me to know our team has the best equipment available so they can do their jobs as effectively and as efficiently as possible,” Parker told me. “I’d never want our people to use equipment that I haven’t already tested and feel comfortable using.”
This kind of leadership is precisely why Parker’s has been one of the most successful chains in the industry for more than two decades. The industry’s leading chains all share the same winning characteristics: exceptional leadership, great stores and unsurpassed customer service. Parker’s embodies all of these hallmarks and so much more. Following these guiding principles, CStore Decisions is proud to honor Parker’s as the 2020 Convenience Store Chain of the Year.
The Chain of the Year Award showcases the best of the best in convenience retailing, and Parker’s is certainly deserving of its place in this rich tradition. As many industry marketers are struggling to reinvent themselves and to identify a strategy that will lead them into the future, Parker’s continues to blaze its own trail. The Georgia-based company operates 66 stores in Georgia and South Carolina and has aggressive plans to build 60 new-to-industry stores in 60 months. This aggressive growth would be impressive during normal times, but it’s even more impressive amid a global pandemic.
Over the past two years, Parker, who still leads the daily operations of the family business that bears his name, has pushed the needle forward with a host of projects that have made the chain a force in the Southern market. He has expanded retail operations into the metro Charleston, S.C., market with eight new stores and plans to build 32 more units in the area over the next four years. Under Parker’s leadership, the company has significantly enhanced its focus on foodservice, operating 42 Parker’s Kitchen locations serving Southern-inspired food prepared fresh on-site daily.
“Being named the 2020 CStore Decisions Chain of the Year is an incredible honor that validates our team’s hard work and ongoing commitment to serving Parker’s customers and giving back to every community where we operate stores,” Parker said. “Since our founding in 1976, we’ve been focused on delivering the ultimate customer experience. In recent years, we’ve strategically expanded our commitment to high-quality foodservice, cutting-edge technology, charitable giving and customer loyalty. We deeply appreciate this recognition and will continue to set the bar even higher in the future.”
Parker’s has implemented cutting-edge technology to enhance the customer experience and digitize operations. Upgrades include food-ordering kiosks, self-checkout lanes, a new Parker’s Rewards app and investing in internal “smart applications” to increase efficiencies.
The company’s goal is to have at least 40% of all transactions completed through the Parker’s Rewards program, Parker said.
As the chain moves toward establishing itself as a billion-dollar business, it will remain keenly focused on foodservice, technology and providing a better experience for customers.
Technology is one specific area that is driving change. Parker’s is currently using predictive analytics and machine learning to determine the most seamless, frictionless and time-efficient ways to complete more than 125,000 daily transactions and to prepare the freshest possible food to meet customer demand. For example, the Parker’s Smart Kitchen technology was developed internally and allows foodservice managers to predict food demand down to the minute based on complex analysis of a wide range of data, from local traffic patterns to area weather forecasts.
“Not only can we predict foodservice sales in real time, we can forecast sales out to 2021 or 2022,” Parker said. “We can tell you with 94% accuracy how many chicken tenders are going to sell at any store from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on March 21, 2021. It’s that impressive.”
To understand how impressive Parker’s growth is, you have to understand how it all began. Parker opened his first store in Midway, Ga., in late 1976, when he was just 21, and he has been a student of the industry ever since.
“I wish I could tell you that I had some master branding and growth plan when I opened that first store, but I learned everything I know about this industry by being involved and developing metrics to improve every day,” he said.
Parker grew up in the industry. His father, Jack Parker, was an Amoco jobber along Interstate 95 in Georgia. As the state was developing new corridors and suburban neighborhoods, Parker saw an opportunity to serve these growing areas. He partnered with a local dairy farmer to acquire the land for his first store and a local bank to finance construction, and he has never looked back.
“I was very involved in the designing and building of that first store,” Parker said. “I learned a lot by being there every day. Then, when the store opened, I was the only employee. I opened the store, closed the store, figured out how to do the books, make bank deposits, kept inventory; I mean everything. Back then, there was no playbook to guide you, nor were there study groups to learn from. You had to figure it all out by doing and asking questions.”
And doing he did. Parker worked at the store for three and a half years before taking a day off. “I pumped gas, washed windshields and checked the oil. In between servicing cars, if a customer wanted food, I’d run in the back, wash my hands and cook the food,” he said. “It used to be a full-service business in those days, so you really had to work hard to be successful; but I loved it, so I was curious, and I was hands-on.”
For all his hard work, he paid himself just $75 per week. By contrast, Parker’s today employs nearly 1,200 team members in two states, sells more than 165 million gallons of fuel annually and has more than 150,000 Parker’s Rewards members.
To grow the business in the mid-1970s, Parker explored many different avenues, even investing in a tow truck to rescue stranded vehicles for the local sheriff’s office. “Whenever I got a break between customers, I’d lock the doors to the store, hop in the wrecker and drive out to the interstate to tow a car that had broken down. I didn’t have experience with any of this stuff, but I was good at taking care of people,” he said. “I was good at figuring things out. When I wanted to learn how to do the books, I took a class. Then, when I wanted to learn about inventory or marketing or operations, I asked a ton of questions until I knew it as well as anybody. After a few years, you can learn a lot in this industry.”
It is not an easy industry to learn, and it’s even harder to succeed, so a good work ethic has become the foundation of Parker’s success.
“The odds were against me,” he said. “I understood that I needed to be good at operating the store because if I couldn’t make the business profitable, I would fail. Then I would have felt like I was letting my family down, so it was important for me to be smart and work harder than everyone else.”
It wasn’t until 1979 that Parker opened his second store in Richmond Hill, Ga. As it stands today, he is planning to open an average of one store a month through 2024, almost entirely with cash reserves.
“I wish I could tell you that I had our long-term business strategy figured out, or that I saw the bright light at the end of the tunnel, or that I realized that this industry was going to be able to withstand hurricanes, pandemics and economic recessions, but the truth is, I didn’t realize any of that 44 years ago,” Parker said. “What I did realize was that if you exceeded the customer’s expectations, that you can engender loyalty. And with that loyalty, I saw opportunities. So I just kept my head down and worked really hard. I sacrificed vacations and family time and other personal opportunities to grow a successful business.”
This is a timeless lesson that Parker continues to teach the next generation of business leaders. Parker teaches college business classes at Georgia Southern University as well as a proprietary Parker’s leadership class for store managers-in-training.
“When I’m teaching, I like to explain the history of our company. I appreciate that young leaders are eager to work, but I will remind them that they will never clean as many toilets as I have. They will never sweep as many parking lots or pump as much gas or clean as many windshields as I have. They probably won’t even cook as many things as I’ve cooked because I’ve been doing it for nearly 45 years. You have to be committed to hard work to be successful. So while we have achieved a level of success, I still very much envision myself as a blue collar guy who’s in a white collar position.”
The one common trait Parker sees in all young leaders that he recognizes in himself is curiosity.
“I’m sure anybody who knows me would tell you how curious I am. If I don’t know something, I’ll ask a million questions until I understand it,” Parker said. “This goes for cutting-edge technology or simply brewing a cup of coffee. I learned by doing, asking questions and avoiding mistakes. Great young leaders share this curiosity.”
Parker met one of these aspiring young leaders, Jeff Bush, in 2012. Bush was handpicked to become the chain’s director of fuel operations after impressing Parker, who served as guest speaker in an economics class at Armstrong State University in Savannah, with his thoughtful questions. He rose through the ranks and was named president of the company in 2019.
For many years, the entire team at Parker’s has been recognized as one of the hardest-working groups in the industry. The team’s dedication to detail, outstanding customer service programs and constant evolution as a convenience retailer make them the perfect choice to join the elite list of Chain of the Year honorees.
Parker is effusive in his praise of his team. “Personally, this award means so much to me because of our humble beginnings, but what this award represents is the hard work of what I think is the most talented leadership team in the industry,” he said. “They truly are the key to our success at Parker’s.”
In addition to operations upgrades, the chain increased its commitment to the Fueling the Community charitable program, giving back to every community where Parker’s operates stores. The company’s policy is to generously support education, healthcare and other important initiatives that touch communities within its corporate footprint.
Through the Fueling the Community Program, which donates a portion of the profit of every gallon of gas sold on the first Wednesday of the month to area schools, Parker’s has donated more than $7 million to educational initiatives. The company endows the Parker College of Business at Georgia Southern University and the Parker’s Emergency and Trauma Center at Memorial Hospital in Savannah, and spearheads a successful anti-litter campaign in Savannah.
“At Parker’s, we’re committed to meeting the changing needs of our customers and to raising the bar for the convenience store industry,” Parker said. “We work hard, we believe in what we do, we take care of our people, and we give back to the communities we serve. It’s a wonderful feeling to have the team recognized for the hard work they do. I look forward to going to work with them every day.” CSD
Parker’s by the Numbers
Founded in 1976 and headquartered in Savannah, Ga., Parker’s was recently named the CStore Decisions 2020 Convenience Store Chain of the Year, earning the convenience store industry’s top award. The company operates 66 stores in coastal Georgia and South Carolina and has plans to build 60 new retail locations in 60 months.
The chain’s 42 Parker’s Kitchen locations demonstrate a focus on foodservice that reflects its region’s flavor through a Southern-inspired menu prepared fresh and on-site every day. “Fast, Fresh, Friendly is more than just a slogan at Parker’s. It’s a promise we make to every customer we serve every day,” said Greg Parker, company founder and CEO.
“’Good enough’ is never good enough for Parker’s,” he said, adding that the company is about “people, process and technology.” He cited as ingredients to Parker’s success its dedicated technology department that’s focused on innovation. Parker is also proud of the company’s philanthropy efforts in the areas of healthcare and education, as well as underscoring the work of the chain’s executives on down to team members working in its store locations.
- Number of stores: 66, including 42 Parker’s Kitchen locations
- Total donations to local schools through the Parker’s Fueling the Community charitable giving initiative: more than $7 million
- Number of Parker’s Rewards members: 150,000
- Amount saved by Parker’s Rewards Members: $15 million
- Number of gallons of gas sold annually: 165 million
- Number of transactions per year: 55 million (125,000 per day)
- Number of employees: nearly 1,200
- Number of chicken tenders sold annually: 3 million
- Number of fountain drinks sold annually: 6.5 million
- Website: www.parkerskitchen.com
- Social Media: Facebook.com/parkersav, Twitter.com/parkerspumppal, Instagram.com/parkersav
The Parker’s Leadership Team
- Greg Parker, Founder and CEO
- Jeff Bush, President
- Amy Lane, Senior Vice President of Special Projects
- Brandon Hofmann, Chief Operating Officer
- Brian Prevatt, Chief Financial Officer
- Eric Jones, Chief Innovation Officer
- Powell Jones, Chief Information Officer
- Blake Greco, General Counsel
- Kate Smith, Chief of Staff
About the Chain of the Year Award
CStore Decisions’ Chain of the Year award annually honors a convenience store or petroleum chain that has established itself as a superior retailer and innovator in its markets of operation. CSD’s first Chain of the Year award was given to Wawa Inc. in 1990. Parker’s follows 2019 Chain of the Year winner Weigel’s. Other winners of this prestigious award include Sheetz, Maverik, RaceTrac, Krause Gentle Corp., Alimentation Couche-Tard, QuikTrip, Rutter’s and Family Express.
Past Chain of the Year Winners
- 1990 – Wawa Inc.
- 1991 – SuperAmerica
- 1992 – QuikTrip Corp.
- 1993 – Casey’s General Stores Inc.
- 1994 – Sheetz Inc.
- 1995 – Diamond Shamrock Corp.
- 1996 – MAPCO Express
- 1997 – Speedway Inc.
- 1998 – Krause Gentle Corp.
- 1999 – Dairy Mart Inc.
- 2000 – Amerada Hess Corp.
- 2001 – Huck’s Food & Fuel
- 2002 – Petro-Canada
- 2003 – Exxon Mobil Corp.
- 2004 – Kwik Trip Inc.
- 2005 – 7-Eleven Inc.
- 2006 – Valero Inc.
- 2007 – Alimentation Couche-Tard
- 2008 – Chevron Inc.
- 2009 – Nice N Easy Grocery Shopper
- 2010 – Rutter’s Farm Stores
- 2011 – Thorntons Inc.
- 2012 – Tedeschi Food Shops
- 2013 – Maverik Inc.
- 2014 – RaceTrac Petroleum Inc.
- 2015 – Family Express Corp.
- 2016 – QuickChek Corp.
- 2017 – Sheetz Inc.
- 2018 – Kwik Trip Inc.
- 2019 – Weigel’s Inc.
- 2020 – Parker’s