elevating the customer experience

Innovation, commitment to service is the hallmark of the Parker business strategy.

The Parker Cos. is a dynamicoperation with interests inreal estate, building retail centers and offices, the storagebusiness (Urban Attic), Spin Citylaundry, Parker’s Market UrbanGourmet and, of course, Parker’sConvenience Stores.

The Savannah, Ga.-based company, which is also a BP andChevron jobber, is owned and headed by Greg Parker, who possessesmore than 30 years of retail experience. Parker has been active in theNational Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and is theimmediate past chairman of BP’sMarketers Association.

Parker’s solution for growing theretail business is predicated onexecution. “Everything you do hasto meet the needs of the consumer,” he said. “Whenever youmeet the needs of the consumerthe retailer ultimately wins.”

Parker’s mantra boils down to”elevating the experience for theshopper,” and judging from Parker’sConvenience Stores sustained success, this customer-focusedapproach is effective and profitable.

Parker discussed his retail strategy and marketing efforts withConvenience Store DecisionsPublisher Shahla Hebets, and evenrevealed that he recently considered selling the business.

CSD: Why do you think you’ve earned areputation as an industry innovator?
Parker: We have negative breakeven centsper gallon, and we work hard to elevate theexperience for the convenience shopper.We’ve also been in business for 31 years.People know us and they watch to see whatwe’re doing.

CSD: What specific innovations have hadthe greatest impact on your stores?
Parker: Freshness and speed of service areimportant, so we’re really focused on digitalsignage and media. The other area we arecarefully monitoring is energy costs. With bigstores that have a great deal of glass andhigh ceilings, we have higher energy cost perlocation than anybody in our study group.We’re also exploring how lighting canenhance the customer experience. We arelooking at our fixtures and replacing themwith high-efficiency lighting, and we aredeveloping innovative lighting within thestore where color is taken into account.

CSD: You have also been active in a number of industry initiatives. What have youlearned from these experiences?
Parker: I’m very fortunate to have been onthe NACS/Coca-Cola Leadership Council,and was exposed to what’s occurring in other retail channels. By engaging with ourindustry, it helps you see, hear and think indifferent ways. You’re getting back ten-foldwhat you give.

Another important experience is ourinvolvement with retail-focused study groups,which are made up of marketers in non-competing, diverse geographic locations. Dr.David Nelson began Petroleum MarketersNational Study Group 22 years ago. Throughthis program, we compare our financial performance against each member and theaverages of the more than 170 members.We share our best practices and act as eachother’s outside board of directors. In addition, it puts you in the position to help otherpeople. If you’re not involved in a studygroup, then you’re crazy. It is the most powerful thing you can do to improve your bottom line. If you are a top retail performer,contact me and we may find you a place inour group.

CSD: You opened your first c-store in 1976.What early experience helped shape yourbusiness in a profound way?
Parker: I didn’t know much about retail operations at the time. I had just graduated fromcollege and came back to finish a store construction my father had started. It was a fullservice station located on an interstatewhere I would pump gas, run back and cook,and then go up front to collect the money. Ihad to learn how to keep books and orderproducts, and I didn’t have a mentor toteach me, so I learned by making mistakes.As a result, I have a profound understandingof how to run a store and how to sell to theconsumer.

CSD: Why hasn’t the Parker Cos. opted tosell the business for new ventures?
Parker: I’ve been approached about sellingthis year. When an industry is hot, peoplepay higher multiples of earning. This is happening in the c-store business right now. Currently people are paying multiples of upto eight times store level earnings. It’s thehighest I’ve ever seen. When someoneoffers that type of money, you start thinkingabout retiring. I thought about it and came tothe realization that I like to work. I’m excitedabout the industry, and the people I workwith are like family—some have been withme for 30 years. I’m sticking around.

CSD: Parker’s Convenience Stores havestrong brand recognition. Do you target aspecific demographic?
Parker: We worked with a consultantbecause we wanted to be brand focused.Our target demographic is the working mother. She is the toughest consumer to pleasebecause she is the mother/wife, she’s theshopper, she’s the driver and she works. Wepay careful attention to cleanliness, thebathrooms and customer service, and wetry to offer things that would allow her tomulti-task. For too long we focused on “Bubba.” The truth is everybody, including”Bubba,” likes feeling special. We need toelevate our standards to satisfy everyone.

CSD: Your stores have attractive exteriorsand clean, well-lit interiors. Why is thisinvestment in appearance important toyour market strategy?
Parker: We love great architecture. We usevery tall glass, and pay attention to landscaping and lighting. We sell basically thesame things as our competitors, so theseefforts say to the consumer that this is asafe, inviting place to shop. Retailers thathide the inside of their stores with signs inthe windows create lots of opportunity fortheft and diminish safety. My question tothem is: Where do you want your wife toshop?

CSD: Parker’s Stores are known for outstanding foodservice offerings. How do youplan to build on your success?
Parker: There’s always room to improve.The SOI showed that most top quartile performers are into foodservice. We are currently looking for a foodservice manager (topperformers should feel free to apply). Werecently signed a contract with Chester FriedChicken, which has the best chicken andbrings a deep understanding of the category.Made-to-order sandwiches are also a focus,and we modeled our offering after one of thebest in the industry: Nice N Easy.

CSD: In 2007, what categories do youthink will surpass sales expectations?
Parker: OTP (mainly single-serve cigars), prepaid cards, bottled water, energy drinks andisotonics, dark chocolate and super sourcandy. Packaged beverages will also showgrowth as CSD consumers move to higherpriced energy drinks. These categories wereall highlighted at the SOI. I encourage everyone to attend the SOI to learn about emerging categories and profit centers.

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