Fueling the Future

Greg Parker

It may seem like it’s all gasoline and fried chicken, but the technological and psychological underpinnings of Parker’s Kitchen are quietly revolutionizing the industry.

Greg Parker never set out to change the entire convenience store industry. He was just doing what comes naturally to him, outlined by a strengths evaluation he took several years back: besides being hyper competitive, the test revealed, Parker was something of a futurist.

Both have served him time and time again, as his convenience store empire has grown from a single Midway store to a regional goliath based on innovation.

Innovation may seem like a strange concept to apply to a convenience store. After all, the template is pretty much the same nationwide, right? You get your gas pumps, racks of chips, beer cooler, cigarette case and maybe some hot dogs. But that’s just where the industry has been. Parker is far more interested in where it’s going. Or rather, where he’s taking it.

“In the convenience store business, if you’re not changing faster than the world around you is changing, you’re in trouble,” said Parker. “You might feel overwhelmed by the change, but we’re not. We’re energized by it.”

“The future is not going to be about car ownership. We’re moving toward autonomous vehicles and ridesharing, powered by alternative fuels. ”

Ambitious expansion plans have seen Parker’s kitchens popping up in Charleston, and the company is eyeing more spots up the coast.

One of the many pioneering concepts birthed in Parker’s stores has been the loyalty program, a multi-pronged approach to customer service backed by some staggering data. Utilizing state-of-the-art machine learning and cloud computing, Parker’s captures the data of more than 125,000 transactions a day, feeding them through algorithms and giving each store a deeply robust knowledge base. That knowledge lets them eliminate overtime, slash waste, and tighten up operations across nearly every aspect of each store.

“We can now portend how many transactions we’ll execute in the next 15 minutes. We can even tell you how many chicken fingers we’ll sell in the next 15 minutes,” he said. “Data is power, right?”

That computing power also fuels the customer experience — beyond ensuring your chicken fingers were prepared fresh, the Parker’s app gives you the ability to start your gas pump, order your items, and pay for them all with your phone. All while you’re teaching the cloud a little bit more about the typical Parker’s customer, helping the experience get better with every bit and byte. It’s a startling contrast to the rest of the industry, which is only now starting to play catch up.

Catching up is probably the smarter option than competing against Parker’s penchant for innovation, given how it turned out last time. A few years back, spurred on by some of his competitors, the state of Georgia took Parker’s to task, issuing a cease and desist over his use of “club pricing.”

Essentially, Parker’s was accused of deceptive pricing. This, despite the fact that the average person could read the clearly marked signs delineating the regular price from the club price.

“I said, ‘Oh no, I’m going to cease and desist. I’ve spent over a million dollars creating this platform.’ So I took the state of Georgia to court and in hindsight it was a bold thing to do,” said Parker. “We won not only in court, but in the court of public opinion. And if you you look around the industry now, everybody has a club price.”

Subscribe now to the print edition for the full article.