6 Questions About Parker's Market's Renovated Flagship

Retailer builds a distinctive customer experience

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

Photography by Darla Clarkson

Based in Savannah, Ga., The Parker Cos. has embarked on a major growth initiative, both in store count and in-store offerings.

Its latest renovation of Parker’s Market Urban Gourmet, in Savannah’s National Landmark Historic District, features an enhanced foodservice program with a salad bar, hot panini and much more. Greg Parker, president, CEO and founder of the 49-store chain, offered CSP some insights into the store’s remarkable architectural design and its mix of better-for-you and comfort foods.

Q: What propelled you to launch this concept? How have you continued to maintain Parker’s distinctive customer experience?

A: We opened Parker’s Market Urban Gourmet in 1999 because there was a need for an upscale convenience store in downtown Savannah. There was nothing else like it, and it was very much a trial-and-error process in the early days. Parker’s Market resonated with residents and visitors in Savannah and enjoys a loyal base of customers.

The key to making Parker’s a unique customer experience is our focus on making data-based decisions, analyzing every SKU. We’re focused on providing items our customers want. Our customers love our homemade lemonade and sweet tea, as well as our hot deli featuring Southern favorites such as chicken tenders, mac and cheese and crab stew. At the same time, customers are looking for healthy food choices, which is why we added a chopped salad bar with 32 toppings and a hot panini press.

We had no idea when we opened Parker’s Market how successful prepared foods would be. Over time, we’ve listened to the consumer to determine the ideal mix of retail items. When we started planning our current remodel, we realized we had too much space at Parker’s Market devoted to wine and gifts. We needed to dedicate more space to packaged beverages and prepared foods.

Q: Your newly renovated location is unlike virtually any c-store in the country, with a distinctive Mediterranean motif. What inspired your design, and who participated in the decision-making process?

A: In many ways, the building itself inspired the design of the store. Built in 1899 as a center for automobiles, the building has a sleek Mediterranean style infused with a decidedly modern sensibility. We wanted to keep the historic integrity of the building while meeting the demands of today’s customers.

We’re extremely proud that Parker’s Market Urban Gourmet has been named the No. 4 restaurant in Savannah by TripAdvisor. That’s a real testament to the impact our foodservice program is having on the community at large.

We worked closely with Joel Snayd at Rethink Design to create a fresh, industrial-inspired environment rich with tile and ironwork accents. The fuel island, which features three one-sided fueling stations, has a vintage feel that ties in with the in-store experience.

Q: Your foodservice offering includes a high percentage of fresh food. Do you have any concerns about excessive waste or an overreach for the healthy consumer?

A: Parker’s Market Urban Gourmet has a big focus on healthy food offerings as well as traditional Southern comfort foods. Sales are strong for our salads, panini and pastries since the renovation. We now offer expanded bean-to-cup gourmet coffee options; a sauce and condiment bar offering more than 30 selections; and an expanded pastry case featuring freshly made cookies, bagels, muffins and brownies.

We’re quite strategic about waste and are intentional about making smaller batches of fresh items more often. We also repurpose our proteins, using bacon and sausage from the breakfast bar in our egg casserole and integrating chicken in various dishes. Waste is part of our metrics.

Q: From a design perspective, your store is very open. Does this create a different shopping environment? How does it influence market basket?

A: Absolutely. If you create a comfortable c-store atmosphere, it enhances and stimulates shopping behavior. If you create a store that looks good and feels good, people will stick around. And that influences market basket, without question.

This store has been in operation for more than 18 years and has undergone three total remodels. As part of the [latest] renovation, we moved the checkout area, expanded the kitchen and created a queue for impulse items. We also replaced coolers, ordered custom-made equipment, replaced fixtures and finishes, upgraded lighting, retiled walls and added porcelain brick and flatiron accents, as well as Mediterranean-style tile. We also refreshed our inventory and now offer a wider selection of fountain drinks, frozen drinks and milkshakes as well as artisan juices, craft sodas and cold-brew coffees.

Q: What effect do you see your latest store having on the rest of your retail network? Also, how might it influence future new-to-industry stores and remodels?

A: Parker’s Market Urban Gourmet has always been a one-off store and a unique concept within our larger brand. We frequently pilot items at this flagship retail location before we roll them out in other stores. In many ways, Parker’s Market serves as a laboratory for our company, where we can experiment with various products that fit our “fast, fresh, friendly” model.

There were some customers who didn’t like our remodel at first, when we rolled it out in January. However, they have grown to love the new look and have become some of our biggest fans.

Q: What are your growth plans for 2017 and beyond?

A: We’re in the middle of a five-year plan to exceed $1 billion in annual sales and are consistently trending ahead of our goals. We would love to open a new convenience store every month, but permitting and other issues can make that challenging. Parker’s has three stores under construction and 30 sites in process in Georgia and South Carolina. We continue to add new stores and new employees regularly.

The remodel of Parker’s Market Urban Gourmet is another way for us to grow strategically, responding to the evolving needs of our customers. We are experiencing explosive, strategic growth throughout our regional footprint. By any measure, the future is bright at Parker’s.

With 46 c-stores, Savannah-based Parker Co. ranked No. 132 on CSP's 2017 Top 202.