Planning for Strategic Growth

Greg Parker on his plans for the next decade and how he intends to become a multibillion-dollar company.

By  Greg Parker, President and CEO

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In every community where Parker’s does business, we raise the bar, offering bright stores, clean bathrooms, friendly staff and signature Parker’s products such as fresh-brewed iced tea, ice-cold lemonade, gourmet-coffee bars and chewy ice. We target our stores to the working mother, who is the most time-starved customer. She wants clean stores, wide aisles, easy-to-find merchandise, bright lighting and a helpful staff. And that’s what we deliver at every Parker’s location, every day.

For the past two years, Inc. has recognized Parker’s as one of the fastest-growing companies in America, putting us on an elite list with some of the nation’s name-brand corporations. We’re proud to be at the top of our class and to exceed our own high standards for success.

However, we simply can’t grow fast enough by building new stores. The reality of the land acquisition process and the red tape associated with permitting can put store openings on a longer timetable than is desirable. That’s why we’re developing a plan for a series of major acquisitions, coupled with organic growth.

Fortunately, growth serves as an opportunity to learn and to reflect. At Parker’s, we’re taking a deeper look at who we are and what we value most.

Is Bigger Better?

There are more than 150,000 convenience stores in the United States, all of which offer similar goods and services. The reality is that we’re in a mature industry with an oversupply of product.

The c-store industry is facing diminishing profits in key areas such as gasoline and cigarette sales. Gas consumption is down more than 8% from its peak in 2007, which is hurting many retailers. We can’t outrun the bear, so we have to confront the challenges our industry faces head on to outrun our competitors.

Let’s face it: We all sell gas, cigarettes, packaged beverages, beer, salty snacks and candy. What differentiates a successful retailer in an industry with razor-thin profit margins is an uncompromising commitment to quality and an understanding of relationships. Relationships matter at Parker’s, which includes our connection to customers, the community, our suppliers, our business partners and our employees.

There are many businesses that have compromised talent in pursuit of growth. The Home Depot was lauded for having experts at every aisle who could assist your every home need. However, as the company rapidly expanded, the quality of personnel couldn’t keep pace.

Fundamentally, we are facing a critical question: How do we embrace ambitious growth without undercutting our demands for the very best talent? One tool we use is StrengthsFinder by Gallup, which enables us to match the best employees for the right positions within our company. When we work with an employee’s natural strengths, we’re able to get better performance on the job, coupled with increased employee satisfaction.

With interest rates still relatively low and the economy rebounding, now is an ideal time for growth. At Parker’s, we’ve been fortunate to operate with virtually no debt. We have almost as much cash as we do debt, but we aren’t afraid to borrow money strategically to fuel our expansion.

Is it always better to be bigger? Not necessarily. Larger c-store companies certainly have more buying power, which translates into lower prices from vendors and, in turn, higher retail profits. More stores translates into more revenue and more potential profits, but it can also mean a higher risk of failure.

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