Technology’s Biggest Fan

The Parker Cos. CEO Greg Parker is unlike most every other chief exec

It’s rare that a chief executive wins Convenience Store News’ Top Tech Executive Award. The honor is almost exclusively reserved for a chief information officer or chief technology officer. But this year is different because winner Greg Parker is not your typical CEO.

Parker, chief executive of Savannah, Ga.-based The Parker Cos., is unlike many of his peers. He has long been a champion of technology and understands exactly how it can improve his 29 Parker’s convenience stores in South Carolina and Georgia.

“I’m not a technology guru by any means, but I do understand the consumer and am always focused on how to deliver the ultimate experience to Parker’s customers,” he told CSNews. “My biggest strength is finding solutions. I’m relationship-driven and tend to work best by finding smart technology partners and making the most of that relationship. I have the ability to ask questions of technology providers to get real solutions that benefit our customers.”

While some CEOs view technology as merely a necessary evil to advance a convenience store operation, Parker believes it gives retailers a specific advantage.

“Whether it’s knowing what products are selling, being able to communicate with the consumer, measuring customer service or delivering on your brand promise, technology is key to succeeding in the 21st-century marketplace,” he said. “Technology is a tool that encourages customer loyalty and, in turn, helps forge an emotional connection with consumers.”

Parker’s PumpPal loyalty program is one such technological innovation that has boosted the chain’s profits. The Top Tech Executive first brainstormed the idea while attending the NACS State of the Industry Summit in 2008. Today, the PumpPal loyalty debit program boasts 65,000-plus members and has saved customers more than $2.7 million since its launch.

“In 2007, convenience store industry profits totaled $5.2 billion and that same year, MasterCard, Visa and the big banks made $8.4 billion by processing our credit [cards],” Parker recalled, explaining why he started the PumpPal program. “I saw how much money the c-store industry was giving to Visa and MasterCard, and I was stunned. That was the moment I realized we needed to find a better way.”

His investment in technology didn’t stop there. The Parker’s chain recently implemented the PriceAdvantage and OpenStore platforms at its stores. The chief executive reported that both technology solutions have been successful endeavors thus far.

“PriceAdvantage enables us to change our gas prices at the point-of-sale, on our LED signage and at multiproduct dispensers from a smartphone, streamlining our systems and making it easy to stay on top of price changes,” Parker remarked. “OpenStore serves as the platform for the Parker’s website, as well as our [mobile application] and allows us to send texts and PumpPal e-blasts to our customers. PriceAdvantage and OpenStore enable Parker’s to optimize our operations and our communications, which means we can do our job even better.”

PeopleMatter, a suite of human resources recruiting, training and scheduling software, is another technology that Parker implemented and is impressed by.

“I’m a big fan of PeopleMatter. [It] allows us to exchange information with our team about special offers or deliver an ‘atta boy’ for a job well done. Our employees can ask for days off or make specific scheduling requests through this user-friendly platform,” he said. “To me, technology serves as a critical tool to help us serve our customers, maximize sales and create a sense of community around the Parker’s brand.”

Looking ahead, Parker expressed that he has every intention to maintain his c-store chain’s reputation as a technology leader. In the near-term mobile payments — particularly mobile wallets — appear to be the next innovation ready to take the industry by storm.

“There’s no question [a] mobile wallet is the payment system of the future ” he said. “There’s a mad race going on to be the first and the best. As an industry we went from cash to checks to credit and now we’re moving toward mobile payment. Mobile payment is huge and it ties in directly with customer loyalty. If you can marry customer loyalty with [a] mobile wallet that’s the Holy Grail.”

Further down the road Parker is also excited about GPS and related geolocation technologies as well as creating customized offers for each customer based on their buying history which he said could be a real “game changer.”

“One of the most important things in our industry is to understand your customer and to anticipate their needs wants and desires ” he concluded. “When a customer swipes a card at the pump GPS technology allows us to know that individual is on-site so we can provide a barcode for a customized deal. It’s an instant offer so they’ll be more inclined to use it inside the store. By using this technology retailers can increase customer loyalty and help create an emotional connection with their consumer base.”

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