By G.G. Rigsby
For the Savannah Morning News
Greg Parker wants to revolutionize the way America buys gas.
Parker is encouraging customers to sign up for a debit card that takes money directly from their bank accounts. He returns to customers the money he saves on credit card transactions — plus some — as a discount on gasoline.
It’s his way of fighting a credit-card system that makes more money from fees than convenience stores make in profit.
“This is revolutionary,” he said. “We think this is going to revolutionize the way we buy gas in America.”
About 150 people — a standing-room-only crowd — came to hear Parker talk about gasoline prices and business Wednesday at the Savannah Morning News auditorium during a BiS Forum sponsored by Hancock Askew, the HunterMaclean law firm, Abshire Public Relations and Marketing and Business in Savannah.
In 2008, convenience stores made $5.2 billion in profit and paid $8.4 billion in credit-card fees. In 2009, convenience stores made $4.8 billion in profit and paid $7.4 billion in credit-card fees, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores.
Parker started something of a local gas war this year, prompting Flash Foods to raise their 5-cents-a-gallon discount on gas for using a Flash debit card to 15 cents a gallon, but only at stations near Parker’s stores.
Parker quickly matched the 15-cent discount at five of his stores closest to Flash stations.
Enmark also upped its discount for using a cash card from 3 cents a gallon to
10 cents a gallon, at stations near Parker’s stores.
On Monday, Parker announced he was spreading the 15-cent discount to all 24 of his stores. Parker said he’s losing money, but he wants to help his customers at a time when many people are struggling to make ends meet.
The discount may help cushion the impact of a 3-cents-a-gallon hike in the state gas tax that takes effect Sunday.
Parker told his audience Wednesday he did not start out with the goal of owning convenience stores.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Georgia in 1975 and was headed to law school but didn’t like his scores on the Law School Admission Test.
He decided to take a year off to finish building a convenience store his father had started and take the LSAT again later.
The second time around, he made the same score on the LSAT and decided against being a lawyer.
He said he was 21 years old when he started in the business that would become his career and quoted Warren Buffett as saying, “The biggest predictor of success is the age at which you start your own business.”
His top business tips include perseverance, working hard, hiring good people and always listening to the customer.
These days, Parker has
400 employees, $300 million in annual sales and 50,000 transactions per day.
In addition to the 24 convenience stores, Parker runs a Parker’s Market gourmet grocery store, two Spin City laundries and a retail and office center called Parker’s Square. He also has other real estate holdings.
“We’re successful because of our people, because of our huge focus on customers, because we pay attention to categories that bring us the most profit,” he said.
“Our people work hard and yes, we pay them better than most. We incent on performance and hire on attitude.
“You can take a happy employee and make them competent, but you can’t take a competent employee and make them happy.”
Parker said all of his ventures have not been profitable. An office center in Richmond Hill, two Quiznos Restaurants, a third Spin City and one Parker’s Market were failures, he said.
“We have a philosophy of fast failure,” he said. “We do a good job, but if it doesn’t work, we get out of that and move to something else.”
Someone in the audience asked Parker if he would ever run for mayor.
Parker laughed and said he hopes our elected officials take the debt problem seriously and said who we elect is very important.
But no, he said, he won’t run for public office.