Georgia-based gas chain thriving in Beaufort County

gmartin@islandpacket.comDecember 3, 2011 

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It's hard to miss Beaufort County's newest non-native residents.

They're sprouting along major roads in Bluffton and soon will spread onto Hilton Head Island and across the Broad River into Beaufort.

And Savannah-based Parker's convenience stores, which first crossed the state line three years ago, says it's only begun.

"We're hoping to open a new store in Beaufort County every two months or so," company president and CEO Greg Parker said.

Of its 25 locations, only three are in Bluffton, but a fourth is set to open near Tanger Outlet Centers early next year. The first opened near the traffic circle at S.C. 46 and S.C. 170 in 2008.

Parker's proliferation stems from its contention that people in the county have been overpaying for gas.

A data fiend -- he's quick to repeat his mantra, "knowledge is power" -- Parker says he crunched the numbers and determined he could exploit the margins and corner the market in southern Beaufort County.

"Before coming there, the prices in Bluffton were just so high," Parker said. "We saw this opportunity to come in and be the low-price leader. And we've lowered them dramatically."

The price of regular gas at the newly opened Parker's on U.S. 278 was selling Friday for 2 cents per gallon less than at a station across the street.

Although the cost of gas here first sparked Parker's interest, the low price of construction offered further incentive.

"Property costs are down, construction costs are down and interest rates are really low," Parker explained. "It's a great time to be building."

When building each store, Parker says he keeps a certain demographic in mind.

"We focus heavily on working mothers," he said. "They're time-starved and very demanding, as they have to be."

To that end, Parker says, he tries to make his stores as attractive to them as possible by incorporating professional landscapers and ensuring each location is well lit at all times.

Parker said he's especially proud of his company's "Fueling the Community" program, which donates 1 cent for every gallon of gas sold on the first Wednesday of each month to local public schools.

According to the company's website, three schools in Beaufort County -- Bluffton Elementary School, H.E. McCracken Middle School and Bluffton High School -- benefit from the program.

Parker's business practices, however, have not earned everyone's praise.

Parker is involved in litigation with the state of Georgia, which he sued earlier this year in a bid to keep his PumpPal program intact. The state contends it's deceptive for the chain to advertise club prices alongside prices for nonmembers on roadside signs.

On Wednesday, Parker was awarded a preliminary injunction allowing him to temporarily continue the practice. The judge called him an "astute businessman."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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