Steve Parker knows what it takes to start from humble beginnings and pull oneself up by the proverbial bootstraps of life.
In the late 1980s, he worked as an electrician’s helper, eventually receiving his journeyman’s license in 1990. Supermarket renovations became his bread and butter as a professional electrician, a niche which, in 1998, landed him a position at BJ’s Wholesale Club, a membership-only buying club. Today, Parker is BJ’s assistant vice president and director of facilities services, responsible for management and strategic planning for the company’s 209 locations and their corporate headquarters—a total of more than 22 million square feet of property.
He attributes his success to the community of business associates he’s formed along the way and the confidence he’s won among colleagues in the industry.
“My network is what landed me here,” Parker says. “I always tell people, ‘Don’t just stay in your lane all the time and operate in a vacuum. Meet people, talk to people, understand things that are going on outside your direct area of responsibility.’ Especially in the facilities world, that’s huge.”
Parker has always made a point of getting comfortable with certain skills that might be outside of his area of professional training, but will give him a leg up in the business world. He’s knowledgeable about all skilled trades—not just electrical, which makes his role as a facilities manager much easier. Negotiations with vendors are smoother when you can speak their language, he says. When it comes to the hard skills of business administration, he’s made it work by learning on the job.
“I don’t have a finance background, but I have been fortunate enough to work with people who have groomed me for the opportunity to take a stab at it,” Parker explains. “I’ve made a few mistakes along the way. But I believe that as human beings you have to learn from your mistakes. That’s how I got to where I am.”
As the man in charge of executing improvements to existing BJ’s facilities, Parker has become quite deft with the R&M budgeting and capital-planning process.
“It’s not much different than balancing your own checkbook,” he laughs. “It’s just on a much larger scale with bigger numbers.”
Parker has a way of making everything seem easier than it is, but he’s forthright about his agenda as a business leader: building a “well-oiled machine” in the facilities department. On a practical level, this translates to pitching projects to senior management that he believes will increase efficiency, raise the bar on worker comfort, and improve customer experience. That’s where those business skills come into play.
“When you’re building a business case for senior management, you need to prove why it is the right thing to do for the company,” he says. “You can’t just say, ‘I need $40 million,’ and not back it up. You need to explain it from a business standpoint.”
To those ends, current projects in the works for BJ’s include new roofs, new parking lot paving, new HVAC installations, concrete floor polishing, and lighting upgrades. All of the projects contribute to the bottom line in their own way, but Parker also is keen to point out how some of his sustainability initiatives are making BJ’s more competitive, in addition to doing the right thing for the environment. He spearheads company-wide programs for recycling cardboard and shrink wrap, and he’s also involved with BJ’s participation in Feeding America, a food donation program that delivers food products to homeless shelters and food banks. The benefits are multipronged, he says.
“We’re helping to feed the hungry in the communities we serve, but by donating that food before it goes bad, we keep it out of the landfills, which is a sustainable practice,” Parker says. “It also offsets transportation expenses, because were not paying to take food to the landfill.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Chill program is another external initiative that Parker’s team employs to reduce BJ’s environmental impact. Green Chill is a partnership between the EPA and some of the nation’s largest food retailers aimed at reducing toxic refrigerant emissions and decreasing their impact on the ozone layer and global warming. It’s a voluntary program, but it puts participants on the leading edge of the EPA’s mandate for all refrigerants in the country to be swapped out with environmentally friendly alternatives by 2020. As part of BJ’s involvement in the program, Parker uses Verisae refrigerant-tracking software to keep tabs on all of the company’s refrigerant use and has implemented a leak-detection system that is currently being rolled out to the entire chain.
The basis of Parker’s work is he always looking out for BJ’s bottom line.
“In the facilities world, we’re not generating sales, so it’s not a real glamorous position,” he says. “We’re the ones behind the scenes, keeping the clubs open and looking fresh. We spend money versus the merchants who are driving the sales, but everybody understands that facilities is that necessary evil you have to budget and plan for.” As Parker’s career has shown, such budgeting and planning pays dividends.
BJ’s Natural Disaster Strategy
In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy gained force as it moved up the eastern seaboard, culminating in a history-making deluge in the New York City region. As an East Coast chain, two-thirds of BJ’s store locations suffered damage during the course of the storm.
Though the losses were significant, it could have been much, much worse, according to Steve Parker, BJ’s assistant vice president and director of facilities services, who also leads a company-wide disaster preparedness initiative. Thanks to the advance preparation of Parker’s team, many of the stores reopened just a few days after the storm passed.
“In a lot of communities, we were the only store open and the only gas station open,” Parker says. “We were the only place that emergency responders could come to get the supplies they needed.”
After life returned to normal in the most devastated areas of New Jersey, the governor sent a letter thanking the company for their contribution and being there for the community in a time of need. In addition, BJ’s insurers were “blown away with what we do to get prepared and how we handle a disaster,” Parker says. “Not only were they blown away, they wanted to know if it was okay if they talked about some of our best practices to the other companies they insure.”
BJ’s strategies for minimizing losses as a result of natural disasters include:
- Establishing a network of strategic service partners that can be called on in an emergency
- Negotiating ahead of time for rates on special rental equipment (generators, fuel, refrigerated trailers, heavy equipment, pumps, bucket trucks, etc), along with skilled tradespeople to operate them, so they are not charged exorbitant rates during times of need
- Utilizing weather tracking apps with text and email alerts to keep current on changing conditions on an hourly basis
- Installing monitors on critical equipment that allow power supply, temperature, and other key information to be monitored remotely
- Knowing the sites that are most prone to flooding, or that may be cut off from access during a disaster, and staging technicians in nearby hotels if necessary
- Putting emergency equipment on standby in a timely fashion, ensuring that fuel and generators can be put into place in a moment’s notice